How To Revive Your Old PC

A few simple and economical upgrades to the motherboard, processor, and memory can bring an old PC back to life, with less expense and hassle than replacing the machine.

David DeJean, Contributor

December 28, 2007

3 Min Read

So what did I get for my $433? I've got a PC running Windows XP Pro on a Core 2 Duo E4500 with 2 Gbytes of RAM, 160 Gbytes of disk space, and two CD-ROM drives.

What would a new PC with those specs cost me? Dan's current price sheet lists an "economical" E4500 system for $699 and a "deluxe" package for $859. The low-end system includes Windows XP, a 17-inch LCD display, but only 512 Mbytes of RAM, embedded graphics, an 80-Gbyte hard drive, and a DVD read-only drive. The high-end offering bumps up the RAM to 1 Gbyte and adds a GeForce 7200GS graphics card, a 160-Gbyte SATA drive, and a 20xDVD-RW optical drive.

My rejuvenated PC is closer to the "deluxe" version -- it has a more expensive version of Windows, even more RAM, and the same disk space -- but no DVD drive, graphics card, or monitor. I'll probably have to upgrade to a DVD drive next -- I install a lot of software in my line of work, and more of it comes on DVD these days. I've got a good 20-inch monitor, but I still haven't made up my mind about the embedded GMA 950 graphics. Am I seeing some flicker I wouldn't get with a more powerful graphics card? I'll have to do some experimentation.

A brand-name retail PC would be cheaper than Dan's white-box PCs. For example, I tore an ad out of a newspaper recently for a Dell Inspiron 530s desktop. It was on sale for $449, a price even lower than Dan's "economical" package, but with specs that compare to Dan's "deluxe" box: a 1.6GHz Pentium dual-core E2140, Vista Home Basic, 1 Gbyte of RAM, 250-Gbyte hard drive, DVD player/CD burner, and 17-inch monitor. It comes in a "Slimline" case even smaller that my Micro-ATX case, by the look of it, but there's evidently room for a couple of expansion cards on a riser. The expansion options are good, but seem pricey -- a second gigabyte of RAM is $100, for example, the price I paid for 2 Gbytes. There's at least one more drive bay, but not the eight the Micro-ATX case offers.

Bottom line, it looks like by rejuvenating my old PC I saved considerable money compared to buying a new PC from Dan because I didn't need an operating system, hard drive, optical drive, or monitor. And while it's impossible to tell from the Dell Web site whether the Slimline case takes a standard motherboard or exactly how much future expansion it would support, I think I got a more upgradeable PC for my $433 from Dan than I would for $449 from Dell.

I'm sure I could have spent even less than $433, too, if I had been willing to scour the Web for the absolute best price on each component I needed and put them together myself. I paid Dan something for the luxury of letting him build the box. Lazy won out over cheap again. But I figure it's smart, too -- I want Dan there for the next six years to support the machine, remove the inevitable viruses, recover the inevitable crashed hard disks, and help me when its time to rejuvenate the PC again in 2013.

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