Q: I’m looking for info on good computer protection and I am not real savvy at all with this stuff. I have a PC with Windows 8. Besides hating it and not knowing how to operate it, I can’t figure out if I have protection built in it or do I need to download a program? — Bev Martin
A: Windows 8 comes with pretty good protection. Here’s a Microsoft website that explains how it works and how to make sure it is active: www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/windows8.aspx. And there are plenty of other free programs I like for the same job. However, you’d be fine using the software that comes with Windows.
Years ago I had a computer I called Frankenstein.
It had been ungraded so many times that the only original parts left were the case and the on/off button. I’d changed the motherboard, power supply, added RAM, swapped in a new hard disk and replaced the video card.
That sort of thing wasn’t uncommon in the old days. You could often soup-up an old computer and create a machine that was as fast as or faster than what you could buy new. And, along the way you saved money and learned a lot about how computers are made.
There are no more Frankensteins in my stable. It just doesn’t make sense for me to do that anymore. And – unless you just enjoy tinkering – it doesn’t make sense for you either. Spending money to extend the life of an old computer is almost always a bad economic decision. When an old computer gets too old to do what you need it to do, replacing it is almost always a better use of your money than nickel and diming yourself to death changing out components.
For one thing, new computers are amazingly inexpensive and even the cheapest of them usually will run rings around a souped-up old computer. As an example, let’s say that I have an old computer that needs more RAM and a new hard disk to be able to run the latest version of Windows. And, just to be fair, we’ll assume I can do the job pretty cheaply – maybe $120. But then I have to buy the new version of Windows and I’m still stuck with a computer that has a processor that isn’t as fast as the ones in new cheap computers.
By the time I’m done I’ve spent nearly half the price of a new computer and still have a machine that will probably need to be replaced in a year or two. If I buy a new computer it’ll come with the latest version of Windows as part of the price and a processor that’s faster than the one in the old machine. With luck and a tailwind, it should serve me well for three to five years.
All that’s true, but there are ways of upgrading your computer without spending money foolishly. Let’s talk about that for a moment. The idea – in each case – is spending money on a device that will still be useful when you move to a new computer.
Big screen monitors: I use a nice 27-inch monitor on the desktop I use to write this column — what a difference that makes. I can open one window that contains the actual column and another for the notes I've taken. And both windows are big enough to make things easy on my eyes. I've also added a 27-inch monitor for my wife's Macintosh laptop. It's a great machine with a tiny screen. That pipsqueak screen is acceptable while traveling but it's nice to plug in the big monitor when Mary is working at her desk.
Keyboards: Many people don't think of replacing something as mundane as a keyboard. But finding one that suits you can make a huge difference. Shopping for one is a hands-on task. Don't order one online, instead go to a store with a large selection and keep trying keyboards until you find one that feels just right.
Mice: Some of the same advice applies to finding a mouse that suits you. Perhaps switching to a wireless mouse will suit you. Or you may like a mouse that is shaped to fit your hand. No rules – just shop until you meet your soul mate of a mouse.
So instead of blowing your money on temporary fixes for an old computer, use it to add long-lasting accessories that can move with you to a new computer. Accessories can make the man, they say, and they can also make the computer a lot more pleasant to use.