Radified Upgrade Guide
a PC upgrade strategy for computer hardware

Posted: 14.may.2001

Some upgrades are more satisfying than others. Nobody enjoys spending their 
hard-earned money on upgrades that provide meager improvements, only to
discover later they could've realized better results from a different course
of action. This guide presents an upgrade strategy designed to maximize

Specifics vary from person to person, making it difficult to craft a guide that 
covers every situation. Therefore this guide represents a general strategy. 

The best course of action will vary from user to user. It depends upon your
current PC configuration & what you do with your PC. Since you found your
way to Radified, I'll assume you're not very different from me. 


Upgrades fall into one of two categories:

1. Features -  for example, if you upgrade your CD burner to a DVD burner,
                      you'd be upgrading your system's features.

2. Performance - if you replace your Pentium III 1GHz, with a Pentium 4 3Ghz 
                           you'd be upgrading your system's performance.

Typically, Features upgrades are easier to justify than Performance upgrades, 
but Performance upgrades tend to be more prevalent .. hence the need for a 


The biggest bottleneck (cause for waiting) with today's PC is the internet 
, especially for those with a dial-up connection (called a 'skinny pipe'). 
Therefore a broadband connection is usually the single best upgrade most users 
can make. Unfortunately, Cable or DSL service is not available in many areas. 

I know people who make broadband availability a key factor in their home-buying 
criteria. If you've never used a broadband connection, you cannot imagine the 
difference it makes. You'll think you died and went to bandwidth heaven.

I prefer Cable over DSL, but, admittedly, I've never used DSL. Either one will be 
light years ahead of dial-up. Cable depends a lot on your particular area. Some 
areas have great service, while others suck. Try to ask people in your area who 
have the service to see what they think of it. 

Some Cable providers get greedy and put too many users on each node. I have 
Cox @Home in Southern California, and love it. Great service, great support. Easy 
to recommend. 

I can download at 500KBps (B = Bytes, not bits), or fast as they can send it to 
me. I can up at ~35KBps. I used to be able to up at 60KBps, but I think they've
since capped my up.

After your first week with a broadband connection, you'll look back and ask yourself, 
"What the heck was I thinking?" =D

I don't know anyone who regrets getting Cable or DSL. I even know a few decadent
folks who have *both* Cable & DSL in their homes .. just in case one goes down. 
Must be nice. 

It took me a few months to learn how to get maximum use from my broadband 
connection. After only a month, most broadband users cannot imagine life without 
a 'fat-pipe' connection.

* Monitor - the primary analog gateway to the digital world. As such, it's a crucial 
component. It's the thing you stare at whenever you use your PC. The monitor is 
the last place you want to skimp, which is why some people offer the following 
strategy for selecting a monitor: 

Find the best monitor you can afford. Buy the next-better model. 

A few things to consider when selecting a monitor: 

          Size - A larger monitor offers more desktop real estate, allowing you to be 
                 more productive. Currently, 19-inch monitors hold the size/price sweet 
                 spot. If you have a 17-incher, consider an upgrade. If you have a 15-
                 incher (or less), strongly consider an upgrade. Some may even want 
                 to consider a dual-monitor configuration.

          Image quality - a better quality monitor typically delivers better image quality. 
                                Image quality is subjective, so try to view for yourself a
                                 monitor before upgrading. Note that graphics card will also
                                 affect image quality. Monitors come in three styles:

             Shadow mask - most monitors are shadow mask. These typically excel 
                                      in producing sharp text.
Aperture grill - these monitors excel at reproducing color, and are 
                                     typically more expensive than shadow mask tubes.
             Flat panel - these types are typically much more expensive than the
                                 the other two, but require much less desktop space, and 
                                 they look cool.

* CD/DVD Burner - If you don't have one, a CD/DVD burner will add another
dimension to your PC, especially now that the prices of blank discs are so cheap.
There's no reason not to have one. Most new PCs come with a DVD burner pre-
installed. Note that the burning software you use is at least as important as
the burner you select, and probably more so.

Nero, CDRWin, Fireburner, Feurio, and CloneCD all make good burning software, 
each with it's own strengths and weaknesses.
Plextor makes the best burners.
Teac, Yamaha & Ricoh also make good burners. See
here and here
. As you can 
see, not everybody agrees on everything.

* More RAM is usually a good upgrade decision, especially if you have less than
512-MB, and definitely if you have only 256-MB. It depends what you do with
your PC, but generally, you want at least 512-MB. 1-GB is not unreasonable in
some situations (Photoshop, video-editing, audio-editing). RAM is pretty cheap
right now.

* Hard drive upgrades fall into two categories: disk space and performance.

           Disk space - If you're running out of room to store files, you can buy a
                            larger drive (more capacity).

           Performance - Whilst the performance of RAM & CPUs are measured in nano-
                               seconds, the performance of hard drives is measured in milli-
                                                    seconds. In other words, today's hard drives are a million
                               times slower than than your RAM/CPU .. which means,
                               whenever your system has to read to or write from the hard
                               drive, it doesn't matter how fast your CPU is .. the system is
                               dependant on the speed of the hard drive (the bottleneck).

This is why most people typically notice a greater performance improvement from a
faster hard drive, than a faster CPU. Look for a drive with a low seek time and fast
spindle rpm
when upgrading your hard drive - both increase hard drive performance
(and therefore system performance). See the
SCSI guide to maximize disk drive perf.

* Graphic card - A graphics card can make a big difference in the image quality your 
monitor presents. As with everything else on this page, it depends on what card you
currently have. But you shouldn't skimp on your gfx card. Note that some cards are 
good at 2D (where you are now), and suck at 3D (gaming). Other cards excel at 3D 
while offering poor 2D performance. So tailor your selection to your particular uses.

* CPU - CPU performance is typically one of the more overrated upgrades. I recently
upgraded my P3-700 (@938MHz) to P4 1.6a (2.1-GHz) .. representing a CPU clock-rate
increase of over 100% .. and was disappointed with observed real-world performance gains.
If your CPU is less than 500MHz, consider an upgrade, especially since prices are dropping
so low, as clock-rates have blown past the 3-GigaHz barrier.

PC manufacturers like Dell & Gateway tend to categorize PC performance by the CPU
included in their offerings. They tout, "You're getting a 3-GHz machine." A few years 
ago, this practice made more sense. But ever since CPUs reached the 2-Ghz mark, 
this has become is a deceptive misnomer.

A 2-GHz machine is not twice as good as a 1-Ghz machine. Most mass-manufactured 
machines are ridiculously over-powered in the CPU dept, with under-powered
Balance is the key.

As indicated above, there are many other factors more important than CPU speed. 
This is not saying that CPU speed is unimportant, but it's certainly no longer a prime 
consideration. CPU power is more important for 3D games, and CPU-intensive apps 
such as rendering, encoding, compiling.

Update: 22oct2001 - If you're interested in purchasing a new CPU, you may want to 
review my findings on the
Intel Prescott Pentium 4 CPU.

* Speakers - most PC speakers sound terrible. You can get great-sounding speakers
for cheap these days. If you spend a lot of time listening to music on your PC, this item
should be moved up a few notches. If you have a broadband connection, it's more likely
that speakers will be more important, cuz you'll be more likely to listen to
Internet music.

Of course, upgrading your
skills will always pay the richest digital dividends.

Don't forget a comfortable chair, and other ergonomic factors.

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