Buying a new computer is expensive but unless you’re an avid gamer or power user your old computer could continue to serve you well for years. Low cost upgrades and cleaning up data can make an old machine perform like new.

The problem: slowing down

Over time all computers will progressively slow down unless their storage drive is carefully managed. My six-year-old Macbook Pro laptop was no exception. I’d not done too well managing my data and it was full of photos and software dating back years. The laptop itself was slowing to a crawl and becoming unusable, just at a time when I was needing to use it more.

The options: replace or renew

The immediate thought when faced with a slow, old computer is to replace it. However this can be costly. It my case buying a similarly specced new laptop would cost me in the order of £1,600. I needed a functioning laptop but I was struggling justifying that expense for what I’d be using it for.

Asking around, it was suggested to me that I should replace the hard drive with a Solid State Drive (SSD). These are a newer type of storage and offer much faster performance as they don’t have the moving parts of a traditional hard disk. Think of the flash memory cards your camera uses but on a bigger scale.

SSDs have been a good deal more expensive than hard drives but prices have tumbled recently and I could pick up a 512GB SSD drive for my laptop for around £150, which was double the capacity of the existing hard drive.

The solution

SSD driveThe complexity of installing a SSD drive will vary depending on your system. Macs laptops aren’t renown for being easy to upgrade but there are excellent online guides out there that take you through the process in detail. I bought a Apple-specific screwdriver kit for a few pounds when purchasing the new drive to ensure I had what I needed.

Having not taken the laptop apart before to this extent it was rather intimidating at first. There are no shortage of screws to remove but to paraphrase a famous news report, I counted them all out and I counted them all back. There were a couple of tricky moments as a cable was quite firmly glued to the drive but with some careful coaxing the job was done.

To maximise the speed increase my plan was to leave behind my cluttered data and make a fresh installation of the operating system. I tend to keep all work-related files in cloud storage now, while all my old data was backed up to an external hard disk. I reinstalled essential software and restored essential data but left the rest behind.

The results

I must admit that I was sceptical about the upgrade making a significant difference to performance but I’ve been blown away by the results. My laptop wasn’t taking minutes to open programs and files due to its age but rather due to a cluttered hard drive. My laptop now boots in seconds and opening anything just takes a few moments.

In hindsight I should never have suffered with the slow speed of the old drive for so long, when such a cost-effective solution was available. It simply has transformed the way I work. I had ended up avoiding using the laptop unless essential, making do with the tablet or phone for other tasks, however the immediacy of the system now means that the laptop is back at the centre of my work and I’m a good deal more productive because of it.

The long view

My laptop will eventually come to the end of its usefulness. It’s already edging towards the earliest system being supported by new versions of Apple’s OS X operating system, and several features of the latest system, Yosemite, are unavailable. Nevertheless, for what I need it to do now, the laptop will do the job. In a year or two’s time, I’ll likely be stepping up my work and require a more demanding system, at which point I’ll be able to justify the expense of a new laptop and get the latest model at that point.

Your choice: upgrade or replace

Deciding what course of action to take will be different for everyone depending on your requirements and the computer you have. My Apple laptop is a quality piece of kit that is continuing to earn its keep years after purchase. More budget systems may be lagging so far behind in terms of performance that it may worth considering a replacement, however a look at the requirements of the software you use can help you make this decision.

There are dozens of guides online around to help you decide. Forums often discuss upgrading specific models of computer if you’re unsure.

I went to Crucial for my SSD and screwdriver set. Crucial have a handy bit of software that identifies your system and shows you relevant products for upgrading your drive or system memory.

For replacing the hard drive, look no further than I Fix It, which includes thousands of guides for Mac and PC DIY upgrades.

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