The grass isn't always greener
Few can withstand the siren song of the latest and greatest gear, the deep allure of a new and shiny gadget—but that doesn’t mean that tossing your old computer in the trash and picking up a fresh PC is necessarily a smart idea.
While gamers and hardcore video editors always stand to gain extra performance out of fresh firepower, more casual users might be better off saving their cash and sticking with the PC you already own. Here’s why.
Your old PC still works just fine
You honestly don’t need a ton of horsepower to perform most computing tasks. Even old and entry-level PCs can stream 1080p video, sling email, and speed through Office documents like a pro. Browsing Amazon isn’t exactly taxing.
Also consider that processor performance increases have trailed off dramatically over the years. Back in the day, CPU performance could leap by 30-plus percent year over year, but in the past decade that torrid advance has slowed considerably. New processors tend to be only 5 to 10 percent faster than their predecessors, and clock speeds have largely remained stagnant.
“You can hold onto your PC five, six, seven years with no problem. Yeah, it might be a little slow, but not enough to really show up [in everyday use]," Linley Gwennap, the principal analyst at the Linley Group, told PCWorld in 2013.
You can give your old PC a speed boost
That’s not to say PCs can’t slow down over time, but when they do, it tends to be because of software creep or a Windows installation that’s just become too darn pokey after years of use. PCWorld’s guide to 10 cheap or free ways to make your old PC run faster can help put some pep back in your aging computer’s step for practically no out-of-pocket cost (though it also recommends a handful of helpful, low-cost hardware upgrades).
Install an SSD instead
Upgrading to an SSD can make any old PC with a lethargic mechanical hard drive feel better than new again. Seriously—moving from a hard drive to a SSD imbues your PC with speed that borders on mind-boggling if you’ve never touched solid-state storage before, turbocharging everything from boot times to application launch times to merely browsing around your folders. Investing in an SSD is hands-down the smartest upgrade any PC user can make.
And even better, you can now pick up new SSDs for under $100—depending, of course, on how much storage space you need.
Windows 10 wants you
While cutting-edge hardware used to be necessary if you wanted to hop onboard the newest versions of Windows, that’s no longer the case. Microsoft’s pushing hard to fit Windows into cheap devices with incredibly modest specs—an initiative that also helps the operating system play nice with older PC hardware, though Windows 8.1 proved incompatible with a handful of old processors and abandoned motherboards.
And Microsoft really wants everybody using Windows 10 rather than lingering on older operating systems. So much so, in fact, that it’s offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade to all Windows 7 and 8 users. That’s an unprecedented step for the company, and one that removes a traditional incentive to purchase a new computer.
Linux is lighter than ever
But Windows XP systems aren’t being offered a Windows 10 upgrade, and that operating system died a year ago. You should truly ditch it, for security’s sake. That doesn’t mean you need a new PC to do so, however.
Older Windows XP machines might not meet the system requirements to upgrade to a more modern version of Microsoft’s operating system, but Linux demands far less from hardware. In fact, there are numerous Linux distributions designed specifically to be lightweight enough to play nice on aging hardware. Windows XP users should hold onto their checkbooks until they check out these 3 Linux alternatives, as well as our guides to popular Ubuntu software, Linux Office alternatives, and Linux gaming, which can help you find all the programs you need for work and play alike.
Everything's on the web
You might not even need to use desktop software, however. As more and more services move toward a mobile-first philosophy, most of them cater to PC users in the form of web apps, rather than standalone desktop software. Email, presentation creation, banking, video chatting, and more are all possible in your web browser these days. The entire philosophy behind Chromebooks is that it’s possible for most people to handle day-to-day computing via your browser alone. Even Office and Photoshop offer online versions now.
If you spend the majority of your time online, buying a new PC won’t really offer much of a performance increase, unless your computer is particularly ancient. You’d be better off spending that money on a faster Internet connection.
Steam in-home streaming
Streaming can even breathe new life into old gaming PCs—provided you also have a beefier computer somewhere in your house, that is. If you want to game on a laptop around your house, Steam in-home streaming works miracles: In our tests, it was able to play Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag flawlessly on an old 2008 MacBook.
Exact performance depends on the power of your host machine and your home network, however. Steam in-home streaming hosts games on your primary PC, then allows you to stream that signal to another laptop in your house, kind of like a Netflix for gaming. How good is it? So good that I’ve put off getting a new laptop to replace my 5-year-old model and simply stream games around my house.
Setting up a new PC kind of sucks
Setting up a new PC is fun for nerds, but pretty much just a pain in the butt for everybody else. Clearing out the preinstalled bloatware and setting a new PC up the right way is straightforward but takes a significant time investment. And with bloatware actively becoming dangerous these days, you can’t afford to skip that step and just ignore the junk, even if your new PC has plenty of storage space and hardware horsepower.
If you truly need a new PC, that’s just part of the territory. But it’s a lot of hassle if you’re not going to see much performance improvement by upgrading anyway.
New PCs cost a lot of money
Finally, new PCs—even dirt-cheap Chromebooks—cost hundreds of dollars, and we can all use more money in our pockets. Before you splurge on a new computer, consider using some of the suggestions in this article. Ask yourself if you really need that new hardware, or merely want it... especially if the majority of your PC usage occurs inside the confines of your browser.
Unless you’re rocking a specialized workflow or a truly ancient clunker, the honest answer might surprise you—and save you money.