Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Bringing an old computer back to life

Often, people abandon failing computers when it would be entirely possible to bring them back to life by investing a little in replaceable parts. 

Old computers, especially when they benefit from strategic upgrades, can be effective for low-intensity activities such as Internet browsing, word processing, presentations, email, and more. 

Likewise, if your main computer breaks down, a backup machine can come in handy.

 Refurbished or restored computers can also be very beneficial for older or younger members of a family who need a computer for email or school work.

Evaluate your old computer

A good starting point for bringing an old computer back to life is to clean it. Accumulation of dust and dirt can hinder the proper functioning of internal components, such as fans or heat sinks. 

If you decide to clean your system, you must first turn it off and unplug it. Clean the case, external components, and peripherals with a microfiber cloth, using 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% distilled water in a spray bottle.

Start by cleaning your old keyboard by turning it over and shaking off any debris that has accumulated on it, before spraying it with alcohol. 

Avoid using a regular cleaning cloth on exposed components, or anything that might be near a component, no matter how dusty it may be. 

Indeed, static electricity can cause irreparable damage to electronic components, and if a fiber from the cloth were to catch a component, it could tear it off, which would render the system unusable. 

To clean the inside of your computer case, especially the PC or laptop fans, use compressed air.

 Make sure the compressed air can remains vertical during cleaning so as not to spray refrigerant onto the system.

 Although this liquid cannot damage the system, you will have to wait for the liquid that came out to evaporate from the system components. 

Even recently installed components can experience impaired operation if the fans are blocked and fail to cool them.

 After you have thoroughly cleaned your computer and allowed all the vaporized liquid to evaporate, you can plug it back in and try turning it on.

 You also need to boot it up and test that all existing components are still in working order: fans, memory, storage, motherboard and peripherals such as speakers, USB ports, optical drives, etc.

How to upgrade your computer?

A man with his hands in an open PC tower case, cables spilling out the side.

The moving parts of any computer are susceptible to breakdown. Fans and hard drives are often the first to fail. 

Batteries (like those in laptops) are another risk, because with age they can degrade chemically or physically.

Replacing an entire motherboard can be prohibitive in terms of complexity and price. This is equivalent to buying a completely new PC, as it would likely involve changing all the components.

 Processors are generally not obstacles to basic computing uses. Furthermore, depending on the age of your PC, replacing the processor with a newer one may not be practical, because motherboard chipsets are only compatible with certain generations of CPUs, which may no longer be available. 

On the other hand, RAM is an easy, relatively inexpensive and well-known upgrade that will improve the performance of an old PC or laptop. 

RAM technology tends to remain available longer than components such as processors.

Reformat or replace storage

Hard drives are often the first component to fail on old computers. For those looking to improve the performance of an old computer, it may be a good idea to replace the hard drive with an SSD. 

However, if you have essential files that you want to preserve, back them up and/or migrate them to a USB drive or external drive before reformatting or replacing the storage.

If you choose not to upgrade or expand your computer’s storage options, it is a good idea to free up around 20 GB of storage space, in order to facilitate the smooth running of the system.

 You should also get rid of unwanted applications that may appear on startup but are useless for general system usage.

 These startup applications can slow down your machine considerably, especially if it is old and lacks powerful hardware.

 All applications that are never or rarely used can be safely removed from the system. It is advisable to empty the Trash when you have finished deleting unwanted files.

Operating systems for restored computers

A finger presses the icon on a tablet's touchscreen to launch Microsoft Edge.  The tablet runs Windows.

For security and efficiency reasons, it is recommended to update the operating system of your old computer as part of its restoration.

 Download patches for Windows and macOS from the Microsoft and Apple websites. macOS updates are free, while updating to Windows 10 or 11 from version 8 typically costs $139. The operating system can, however, still be used without paying, it will just have fewer features available.

Systems already running Windows 10 are easy to update, provided there are no major hardware issues.

 The best way to update an old computer is to completely reinstall Windows, so that the new installation is completely up to date in terms of security and applications. On its website, Microsoft offers a guide on how to do this.

 If you choose not to reinstall your operating system, you will need to update your drivers. 

There are driver update software that can automatically scan and update your drivers, which may be less of a hassle than trying to do it manually.

Microsoft offers the PC Health Check app that can identify whether your restored computer is capable of running Windows 11.

Computers sold after 2017 should have the necessary hardware. Other computers could still be running Windows 8 or even 7, these two versions are no longer supported by Microsoft and are therefore not secure against malicious programs, unlike new versions of Windows.

Mac users can easily reinstall macOS by holding Command + R during startup to enter recovery mode.

 By doing so, the most recent version of macOS compatible with your Mac will be installed, including security patches.

If the computer is intended for a student, installing ChromeOS may be a good option. 

Chromebooks are commonly used in schools, and ChromeOS Flex has some advantages over Windows and macOS for older computers.

 It is more intuitive for students, who are primarily Chromebook users.

Use restored computers for intensive activities

Even with these upgrades, a system may struggle to perform intensive tasks such as video and image editing, gaming, and CAD design. However, upgrading your RAM can make games much more viable.

 Be wary of newer games though, as they may require the latest processors and graphics cards to run properly.

Opting for 16 GB, 32 GB or even 64 GB RAM and a 1 TB SSD can breathe new life into your machine. 

The majority of activities that one can ask of an older computer (browsing the Internet, e-mail, watching videos, productivity in the office or at school) are easily accomplished with these two upgrades and a system of up-to-date operation.

 How many computers do you and your family have at home that you could refurbish with this small investment of time and money?

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