Just a few years ago, the conventional wisdom said that upgrading your existing PC system often made sense. You could easily add a few years of life to your system by upgrading your hard disk, CPU, memory or graphics adaptor. But with today's exceedingly fast-paced changes in computer technology and free-falling prices, that no longer holds true.
"You can get a system for $1,800 this year that cost $4,000 a year ago," says Jim McGregor, senior analyst for In-Stat, a market research and consulting company in Scottsdale, Arizona. "So now I'd say, `Get as much system as you can, use it as long as you can, and then move on to a new system."
McGregor cites just two exceptions to that rule: adding memory or a faster modem. Modems were spotlighted in last month's "Business Bytes"; this month, we focus on what adding memory, or RAM, can do.
RAM temporarily stores programs, data and processed information in memory cells as it moves to and from the processor, video card and other peripherals. If you don't have enough high-speed RAM, your computer will temporarily store your data or applications in virtual memory--meaning it uses your hard drive. Because hard drives use mechanical (rather than electronic) methods to store and retrieve information, using virtual memory significantly slows down your system. Conversely, adding RAM can vastly improve application speed.
The good news for potential buyers is that memory prices have been plummeting over the past year--you can currently get a RAM upgrade for about $6 or $7 per megabyte.