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How do I Know When It's Time to Buy a New Computer?

By R. Kayne
Updated: May 16, 2024

With technology changing all the time it’s easy to be left behind by hanging on to that old desktop or laptop too long. Many people aren't sure when it's time to buy a new computer, and when can they get away with upgrading an old one. While the decision can be affected by several different factors, you'll want to consider the computer's speed and whether it has slowed, how much memory you have and if you have room to increase it, whether or not it has the correct ports for the external devices you want to use, and if it has the processing power that you need.

If your computer has slowed over time, it might simply need maintenance. Hard disk defragmenting puts files back together in one place on the drive to optimize their retrieval time. Using a registry cleaner can speed up booting into your desktop and quicken program access by removing orphaned entries that point to missing resources, files and folders. You can also use a startup manager to identify and disable extraneous programs and processes that needlessly run in the background.

A computer might also slow down over time due to lack of hard disk space. As a disk (or array of disks) reaches its capacity, the system has to work harder to shuffle data, creating a bottleneck. Adding an additional disk can solve this problem and extend the life of the system. Hard disks are normally good investments, as they can usually be used in future systems, even externally.

A somewhat related factor in computer slowing could be insufficient Random Access Memory (RAM). Even within the trimmest systems, there are several programs that typically run in the background to keep a computer secure, such as an anti-virus program, firewall, and anti-spyware or anti-adware programs. The desktop, wallpaper, any open programs, and necessary system processes also use RAM. To top it off, gaming, video editing, and other multimedia software requires far more memory than word processing or spreadsheet programs. You might think it’s time to buy a new computer when all that's needed is more RAM.

Unfortunately, motherboards do not support limitless amounts of RAM. After determining that your memory is indeed low, you’ll have to consult the manual of your motherboard to see how much RAM your system supports. If you’ve hit a memory ceiling, you’ll need a new computer or motherboard if you want more.

Another inconvenience that can make someone wonder if it’s time for a new computer is seeing pixilation or skipped frames during streaming media playback. Online video requires fast graphics cards that can process massive amounts of data quickly. Quality graphics cards have their own on-board RAM and graphic processing unit (GPU) to avoid taking up system RAM and processing resources. Generally, the more on-board RAM a video card has, the easier it makes life on the rest of the system. If your computer performs fine for everything but streaming media, you might just require a graphics card upgrade.

The port on the motherboard that supports the graphic card or cards can be one of several types. The AGP type has given way to the newer PCIe slot, but within each of these categories are various versions and flavors. Before checking out the hottest graphics cards, look at the port on the motherboard to determine what kind of card the system supports. If the specification only supports legacy cards, you won’t be able to upgrade your system with the newest ones.

If your computer is missing that which has long ago become standard, such as USB ports, AGP or PCIe graphics ports, Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk support, or the ability to support at least 2 gigabytes of RAM, it’s time to buy a new computer. In doing so, you can better future proof your purchase by choosing a system that will support at least twice as much RAM as you currently require, along with offering the latest standards for all major components.

That said, if the only functionality missing is Firewire support, consider getting an internal Firewire card, assuming your motherboard has an available IDE slot. Laptops can support Firewire using the external PC Card slot. An alternative is getting a USB-to-Firewire adapter.

If the computer has plenty of hard disk space and RAM, if it has the best graphics card it will support, is defragmented and maintained, but just doesn't cut the mustard in overall performance, the central processing unit (CPU) is likely older and too slow for your needs. You still might not need to buy a new computer, however. Check your motherboard manual to see if you can upgrade the CPU. If not, the good news is there are plenty of great new systems to choose from at reasonable prices.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon945524 — On Apr 13, 2014

@anon294181: Do you use a Mac (Apple), a Windows PC or a Linux machine?

By anon294181 — On Sep 30, 2012

Please help. I have Total Physical Memory of 514480, Available 36272 and System Cache shows 100528. I've been told to monitor these levels but I don't really understand what this means other than that it must be time to purchase a new PC.

I'm a senior and obviously 'pc challenged'. Can you tell me if I'm at risk of losing all of my files if I continue using this PC?

By Burlap — On Oct 19, 2010

As someone who has been purchasing computers for a long time, I can tell you that the obsolescence factor is not a condition for my purchase of a new machine.

Because I don't have this fear of my technology not being used latest cutting edge trends, I will often purchase a computer that's been refurbished by manufacture. By using these refurbished computers I am able to avoid the depreciation that occurs rapidly over the first few months of computer ownership.

The use of my peers do not rely on the fastest of the fast technology. Because of this I can get away with using and buying manufacturers refurbish computers.

By MrPolitic99 — On Oct 19, 2010

If you are truly concerned about the computer equipment that you purchase becoming obsolete within a relatively quick enough time than you want to purchase the most advanced newest technology as the first hit the market. Unlike new models of cars that can be finicky and need to have kinks worked out, often computer manufacturers have well tested machines and you can rely on their reputations to purchase a new model comes out. Often the technology is similar inside these models as the old models with simply of greeted amounts of memory and hard drive space.

One thing to look out for of course when purchasing a new computer, is the use of cheap computer parts inside of the new machine. Often manufacturers simply put computer together and did not actually create the computer parts themselves. In this sense they actually act as a computer builder not a manufacturer even though that is how they present themselves to the market.

By Ubiquitous — On Oct 19, 2010

It is easier to evaluate when is the right time to buy a new computer by a company that you want to purchase from following their updates. For instance, if you are an Apple fan, you can follow the regularly scheduled and expected announcement dates and also evaluates the current models that they make available to determine when they might possibly introducing new products and upgrades to their devices.

If you feel like this washing down to a specific computer time you're not interested in purchasing the same brand every single time you purchase a computer, you might think about reading reviews and computer magazines and find out what the best available computer is on the market. These magazines can be deceiving as well as being paid off by advertisers for placement on their Rating lists.

By CoffeeJim — On Oct 19, 2010

It is my belief after following the computer markets for over a decade at the right time to buy computer is when you have the money for. Trying to wait for trends as well as new specials are becoming the manufacturers marketplace can be very daunting. Unless you are highly specialized and follow all the news of the industry you are likely to miss any key aspects that will affect greatly the price of the computer as well as the technology inside of it that you purchase.

There are some simple questions however, that you can ask your computer retailer that won't let you get an idea of what kind of market is available currently. If you look at the higher end machines that are being offered and for what price you can think that in a few months these machines will most likely drop in price as well as will become obsolete. By evaluating the low-end and high-end of the market you can somewhat adjust if you are planning on making the purchase A few months down the road.

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