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Technology: How to do budget-conscious computing

With the holiday season behind us, it is time to “get back to business” and prepare the computer for another year of action. If you have a need for a better computer system, save money by upgrading your existing system, searching out bargains or buying a rebuilt computer.

Upgrade: There are improvements you can make to your computer to delay purchasing a new system. Improve performance quickly and inexpensively by increasing RAM. Increase capability by adding or replacing a video card, or by adding an additional hard drive or DVD burner. An operating system reload will take your computer back to “like new” performance. Be sure to back up files beforehand.

Sales: Watch for bargains on computer systems. In some cases, computer systems are built especially for those rock-bottom prices. Know that at discount pricing, computer manufacturers may be forced to find cost-cutting alternatives to their standard components. Another cost-cutter is limiting replacement parts for the sale models. Nonetheless, there are good deals to be found.

Buy Rebuilt: A less common alternative is purchasing a rebuilt computer. Many times these are computers formerly used in a corporate environment, and should be completely clean of previous computer activity. Unless you will be adding Linux or another “alternative” operating system, the rebuilt computer should always come with a valid Windows operating system sticker with the product key. A competent seller will provide at least a 30-day warranty, and possibly an extended warranty for a small charge.

A rebuilt computer may run on XP, Vista or Windows 7. Microsoft will support Windows XP until April 2014. Vista is more recent, but earned bad press from the start. Updates provided relief for most issues, but the stigma remained. Windows 7 received a much warmer reception, and has been relatively trouble free. Newer operating systems require a heftier computer. XP performs quite well with 512 MB of RAM. Vista requires at least 1GB (1024 MB). Most computers sold with Windows 7 have 2GB of RAM or more. RAM upgrades improve performance, but may provide less “bang for the buck” as RAM reaches its maximum capacity.

The processor is the computer’s driving force and should be 1.8GHz or better on a rebuilt system. Expect a 80 GB hard drive or better, which should be sufficient for typical data files and operations. Additional hard drive space is needed for more advanced graphics operations, or for storing significant amounts of music, videos or photos.

When purchasing a used computer, be certain that any software installed, including the operating system, is a legal copy and includes the license number. Software can be pirated, and a buyer should make sure that product keys are included. Legitimate sellers will provide product keys, or may install other “shareware” software which is available free of charge.

If you chose to cut costs and purchase a rebuilt computer, a modest LCD monitor, deluxe keyboard and mouse can dress it up nicely, all for an affordable price.

Be globally responsible by trading, selling or donating your old computer. Computers can be safely recycled through local electronics recycling companies, or through your county’s hazardous waste recycling program.

Do you have questions you would like answered, or topics you would like to see addressed in this column? Please send in your suggestions to

Patty Harshbarger, owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at or (941)753-8277.