Budget Computer Upgrades

I’ve noticed that most pre-teens have desktop computers that were old hand-me-downs from their parents or relatives. Usually someone in a person’s extended family likes to upgrade their computer every year or two, so there’s always an older computer available for someone’s kid. In my case, I usually give my older computer to my father-in-law who welcomes something that’s a bit faster than what he currently has.

Recently, my niece has been trying to install her Webkinz and Barbie software on her ancient Windows 2000 OS machine without any luck. It seems that most software these days require at least Windows XP, so her computer is getting really too old. She also has trouble browsing certain web site that require special Flash plugins, and the older hardware (slow disk drive, minimal memory, etc.) isn’t helping much. Unfortunately, her parents can’t afford to buy or upgrade her computer, so my wife and I decided to help out.

Now, we don’t have a lot of money to spend, so I took a look at some budget alternatives. First, we decided on the Windows Vista OS, since WinXP is on it’s way out and we didn’t want to pay for a WinXP OS license. We also wanted to get something that would run fairly quick and wouldn’t be obsolete in the next 12 months. A quick search revealed that a new computer system (eMachines) with 1 GB of RAM, CD/DVD ROM, 80 GB Hard drive, and video card runs about $300 US. That price is a bit high for what we wanted to spend, so I began pricing out what it would cost to build a new computer from scratch. Here’s the list of components that I found:

  • MicroATX Motherboard with Intel Celeron (1.8 MHz, 512MB Cache) Processor – $59
  • 1 GB RAM – $24
  • DVD-ROM – $15
  • 80 GB Seagate 7200 RPM hard drive – $38
  • PCI Video Card (256 MB Video RAM) – $25
  • MicroATX case – $40

Most of these components were found on www.newegg.com (my favorite computer online store), with the exception of the Motherboard/CPU which I found as an advertised special at Fry’s Electronics in the Friday newspaper ad. So for around $200 US, I could build a new computer (minus the monitor, keyboard and mouse) which could run Windows Vista sufficiently.

So far as purchasing the Windows Vista OS, that actually would be at no-cost since my wife was about to participate in a Microsoft Usability Study at the Redmond campus where Microsoft gives you one selection of an item on a software list as a gratuity for your time. She was planning to get the Vista OS so we’re covered with that piece of the puzzle.

Still trying to keep the cost down further, we decided to just buy the Motherboard/CPU and 1 GB RAM and put it in an old HP Computer case which we had sitting in the garage. The power supply in the case seemed large enough to run the board, and we were able to salvage the 120 GB Hard drive and DVD-ROM drive. Normally, I wouldn’t use a used hard-drive in a newly built system, but we thought using it would be ok for the time being and if necessary we would spend the $38 later and get a new hard drive.

The only big concern I had, was the video card requirement for running the Vista Aero interface. As a minimum, 128 MB of video RAM is necessary for having the full Vista Aero interface experience, so I has hoping that the on-board video circuitry on the Motherboard would be sufficient. After assembling the upgraded computer and loading Windows Vista (30-day demo), it turned out that the on-board video was indeed sufficient for running Vista at a reasonable speed.

So, for just under $100 US, I was able to upgrade one of my old computers into a highly usable Vista machine for my niece. The key, was getting the Motherboard/CPU combo from Fry’s Electronics at such a good price (For those interested, the Motherboard is a ECS 945GCT-M/1333 LGA 775 MicroATX with on-board video and audio).

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