Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why should I upgrade my computer? Microsoft Windows 7

The demographics on genealogists show that they are mostly older people. Recent Microsoft research has shown that there is a direct correlation between age and computer use, with computer adoption dropping off dramatically as age increases. Although there is a trend towards increased computer use in older adults, there is also an obvious increase in difficulties and impairments with age.

What this means, is that older people are less likely to use computers than the younger population. From personal experience, they are also far less likely to see the advantages of new technology. It is also evident that older people have less disposable income and feel less financially secure. I find that in any large group of genealogists there are always a few who do not use computers at all. There also seems to be a significant group that are hanging on to their original computer purchase, no matter how old the machine is. I regularly find people who are still actively using Windows 95 or even older operating systems.

It is also apparent that this group of technologically challenged older people are not likely the ones reading a blog such as this one.

But what about the rest of us; those with enough money and time to upgrade their computers from time to time, when should we consider upgrading our equipment?

I have a pretty simple system. Whenever the computer starts to slow down to an unacceptable level, it is time to upgrade. Fortunately, I have had the resources to do so on a regular basis. But what other factors do we need to be aware of?

Here is one important one: obsolescence. This year, for example, Microsoft will upgrade their operating system from Vista to Windows 7. This will mean that my Windows XP operating system will then be two upgrades behind then current system. But what if I want to upgrade to the new operating system? Here is where things get complicated. Microsoft has published the minimum system requirements for the current operating system, Vista.

Here are the hardware (computer) requirements for the present system:

Minimum Supported Requirements
Processor -- 800 MHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
512 MB of system memory
GPU - SVGA (800x600)
HDD -- 20 GB
HDD -- 15 GB
Optical Drive CD-ROM Drive

1BitLocker Drive Encryption requires a TPM 1.2 chip or a USB 2.0 flash drive
2Processor speed is specified as the nominal operational processor frequency for the device. Some processors have power management which allows the processor to run at lower rate to save power.
3Adequate graphics memory is defined as:
– 64 MB of graphics memory to support a single monitor at 1,310,720 or less
– 128 MB of graphics memory to support a single monitor at resolutions 2,304,000 pixels or less
– 256 MB of graphics memory to support a single monitor at resolutions higher than 2,304,000 pixels
– Graphics memory bandwidth, as assessed by Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor, of at least 1,600 MB per second
4A DVD-ROM may be external (not integral, not built into the system)
5A CD-ROM may be external (not integral, not built into the system)
6If the GPU uses shared memory, then no additional graphics memory is required beyond the 1 GB system memory requirement; If the GPU uses dedicated memory then 128MB is required.

We can only assume that the requirements for Windows 7 will be larger and faster. If you don't know what all this means, you probably do not have a fast enough system. Basically, any computer purchased in the last four or five years would probably be fast enough. However, the computer system may not have enough storage memory if the hard drive is full.

Another consideration is that upgrading to the new system may make printers, scanners and other peripherals inoperable. Also, some of the existing software may not be compatible and may not work. It is not unusual that the expense of upgrading the software for a new operating system exceeds the cost of the hardware.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Upgrade when you have a need to do something with the computer that your present system will not do. For example, scanning or photo editing.

2. Upgrade when the storage devices used by your system are no longer supported. For example 5.25 and 3.5 inch floppy drives.

3. Upgrade your system when you can afford to do so. Even if you cannot afford the latest and best system, perhaps one of your friends or relatives is upgrading and has a newer system they will donate to you.

4. Upgrade your system when you run out of storage space and the time the computer takes to operate becomes excessively long.

5. Upgrade your system before your present system crashes and you lose all your data.

Good luck.

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