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Save Money & The Environment On Your Next Computer Purchase

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    Save Money & The Environment On Your Next Computer Purchase

    By Tina Parcell

    Did you know the current upgrade cycle for a personal computer is about three years? An 'upgrade cycle' is the length of time someone typically owns a computer before buying a new one. With the unending changes in technology, it is inevitable that you will have to upgrade at some point in time if you still want a usable computer. In addition to the actual monetary cost of an upgrade, there's also an environmental cost. Many charities will no longer accept computers as donations due to software piracy. Also, most areas do not have the capability to recycle computer components, even though they all contain trace amounts of gold, silver, and copper. As a result, your old computer will most likely wind up in the dump (although <a href="">it doesn't have to</a>) when you replace it, and your money will be lining someone else's pocket.

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    If you're facing a computer upgrade and are starting to shop around, the goal is to choose a computer that will be efficient now and in the future for both you and your wallet. Something that will be fast enough to do what you need it to do, without going overboard, and without spinning your electric meter like a top. Something that you can add to and improve when the time comes, not just replace. With some planning and forethought, your next computer purchase will last you well past the normal upgrade cycle.

    <b>Get An LCD Monitor</b>: An LCD monitor uses anywhere from 40-60% less electricity than a CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor of equivalent size. The only drawback is that an LCD monitor cannot be color calibrated as finely as a CRT monitor, but for most users this is definitely not an issue. Unless you use your computer for professional desktop publishing or image editing where screen-to-print color calibration is a must, opt for the LCD monitor.

    <b>Skip The High-End Graphics Card</b>: A top shelf graphics card can use as much power as the CPU, or more! Do your ears perk up when you hear ATI X1950 XTX? Are you an avid gamer, videographer, or graphic designer? If not, then you probably don't need a high end graphics card: your computer and programs will run just fine with a standard issue card.

    <b>Make Sure There's Room To Expand The Memory (RAM)</b>: Have you ever been happily typing away on your computer only to have it slow down and take way too long to respond? Chances are, you saw the effects of too little RAM. All the programs running on your computer require a certain amount of memory to be available to run, and that's called RAM. A slow processor with plenty of RAM will perform better than a blazing fast processor with next to no RAM. Therefore, it is to your advantage to select a system with that includes a generous allotment of RAM and the ability to upgrade it in the future. This leads to the next point...

    <b>Get A Processor That Is Compatible With 32 Bit & 64 Bit Systems</b>: Here's where it gets technical. Long story short, a 32 bit system will handle 4 gigabytes of RAM, while a 64 bit system can handle much more RAM (some say thousands of times more). Chances are very good that any computer you buy will be a 32 bit system, and it's almost certain that your current software is designed to run on a 32 bit system. The problem is that it's hard to do a big RAM upgrade when the system you buy comes with 2 gigs and it will only handle a total of 4. But, if you buy a processor that is compatible with 32 bit and 64 bit systems, you can safely run all of your existing 32 bit software now, plus you have the option of upgrading your current computer when the 64 bit time comes rather than getting a whole new system.

    <b>Opt For A Mid-Range, Dual-Core Processor</b>: Think of your computer like a car. Now, tell me, which car is going to get better gas mileage: a 4 cylinder sedan or an 8 cylinder sports car? What about driving 55 miles per hour versus 90? The same holds true for your computer processor: the faster and more powerful it is the more electricity it uses. All that power has to come from somewhere, right? The trade-off of getting a mid-range processor is of course speed; just like the 4 cylinder sedan won't fly like the 8 cylinder sports car, a mid-range processor is a little slower. Getting a dual-core helps to off-set this difference in speed without compromising your power bill.

    <b>Choose An AMD Processor</b>: Two separate tests (one from late '05 and another from earlier this month) both show that AMD processors use less wattage than equivalently powered Intel processors. Who knew? They also tend to generate less heat than their Intel counterparts. This is a double benefit, as cooler running processors last longer and result in less electricity used to run the fan.

    <b>Size Isn't Everything: Look For A Hard Drive With Higher RPMs</b>: I told you your computer was like a car. Hard drives offer two important specifications: size and RPMs. Size is pretty familiar to most consumers, but the RPMs are just as important as they determine how fast your processor can access your hard drive (and therefore your information). You can have the fastest processor available and still get bogged down by a slow hard drive. Even worse is the possibility of a 300 GB hard drive with a slow access speed. Most computer listings will have a section for the hard drive specifications, and it should say IDE, SATA, or SATAII and then the RPM.

    Re: Save Money &amp; The Environment On Your Next Computer Purchase

    Two articles in one day? Hit the ground running there, eh?

    I just want to add that I am highly enamored with Via's CPU and mobo. It isn't the cheapest parts you can find, but it is amazingly energy-efficient (at 3.5 to 7.5 watts!).

    I know some may criticize that this is a niche suggestion, but I would say it really depends on the needs of the user.


      Re: Save Money &amp; The Environment On Your Next Computer Purchase

      actually BA, there are 3 but they've been sent in over a couple of days

      i think that for the lay person the thoughts of replacing the processor and mobo (mother board) are absolutely frightening, and i can understand that. i wouldn't want to do the job myself, either. with that said, there's a very good chance there's a capable technician in your area who could make the swap for you.

      consider the prices of upgrading to a new processor and motherboard right now (all prices are from radio shack, so both the components and the PCs could be had for cheaper):

      $208.49 - Athlon64 3800+ Dual-Core Low-Voltage 2GHz Skt AM2 Processor
      $160.00 - MSIŽ NVIDIAŽ nForce 570SLI ATX Socket AM2 Motherboard
      $100.00 - estimated labor

      compare this to a comparable prebuilt computer now available with the same processor and same or similar motherboard:

      $775.00 HP A1700N Pavilion Windows Vista Premium Desktop PC
      $599.99 HP Pavilion Slimline s7700n Windows Vista Home Premium PC

      a savings of $130-$300 PLUS you don't have to go through the pain of moving all of your files from your old hard drive to the new one...


        Re: Save Money &amp; The Environment On Your Next Computer Purchase

        Another great tip:

        Buy a computer WITHOUT an operating system. Purchase a system from a custom-builder off the internet with the specs you want without the Operating System. Download and burn ANY mainstream Linux "distro", I recommend Ubuntu , SabayonLinux, and PCLinuxOS , onto a cd or dvd, which ever is called for. Install it on the new computer. Most mainstream linux distros, or flavors, or styles (whatever you want to call them) are FREE, as in beer. They are all EXTREMELY well written, work with almost all hardware, are extremely easy to install (as in easier than Windows) and will likely provide you with the fancy 3d effects that Vista gives you without ANY cost. Even those of you with little or no computer know-how can easily do this and it could save you between $50-$100 off the same hardware at a retail shop (like HP, or Compaq, or Mac). Plus, OpenOffice or Koffice will read, open, and manipulate nearly any MS Office file you can throw at them. So you won't lose your old files. Cheers!

        EDIT: now with hyperlinks!


          Re: Save Money &amp; The Environment On Your Next Computer Purchase

          I don't disagree or anything, but if a user really wants save money and doesn't have demanding computing needs, another option is to purchase used, refurbished, and end-of-lease computers. According to discount PC, laptops can be had for around $350, and desktops start below $200.

          Of course, you'll be foregoing warranty and possibly power consumption, but it's a cheap way of getting an low-end box, even if someone is not technically-inclined.

          On a separate note, let me just say that I LOVE Linux (actually, I prefer BSD, but that's just a personal preference). Ubuntu, for example, is very easy to install, or better yet, Knoppix and similar live CDs doesn't even require installs (but at the cost of boot-up speed). The only downside is that, if you use it long enough, you're going to need some technical expertise sooner or later (or know someone who does). Still, it's a good way to keep the cost down.


            Actually, a great tip to save yourself money on any computer purchase is to use any and all FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) that you can get your hands on. Most Linux Operating Systems (and BSD systems too) are FOSS, free to use and manipulate as you please. Most software (like OpenOffice or KOffice, GIMP (like Adobe Photoshop) are FOSS as well. Just think, most, if not all software available for Windows has a FREE Linux counterpart, which for 90% of users will not entail any loss in features. I know that some serious graphic arts professionals feel limited by GIMP, but most most of us masses, FOSS software gives everything (and more) than we ever need or want, for FREE!

            Also, many many many FOSS programs are ALSO cross-platform. What does that mean, it means there is a Windows version too!!! So if you already have sunk money into your OS or are way too afraid of changing, you can save yourself some money on new software, by looking into FOSS software before you purchase any more software.


              I would add the following:

              1) Buy the best monitor possible (within reason). The next computer upgrade will be able to use the same monitor. If you skimp on computer #1, when you replace it, you might decide to incur an additional cost to upgrade monitor.

              Computer #1 for me was put together in 1996. I spent ~$5k on PC+monitor. Computer #2 for me was 2002, and we saved around $500 because we did not need to buy Monitor HP showed with computer.

              The monitor is still going strong and when the next upgrade occurs, I plan to use same monitor as I have now.

              2) Computer hackers love old PCs. Sell old computers to co-workers, HS students, grandparents whoever needs a PC for parts or basic functions.

              Grandma isn't going to be using high tech flight simulators or creating sophisticated spreadsheets. She'll surf the web and check e-mail for pictures. Your old PC might make a good gift or be sold for scrap parts.

              3) Pirating software is illegal, and as an employee of a software company, I cannot advocate anything illegal. That being said, there is freeware out there. I play games online for free (, I download trial versions of software (snagit) and use free e-mail (yahoo and hotmail).
              Last edited by jIM_Ohio; 03-06-2007, 10:01 AM.