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Out with the old, and in with the new.

Technological obsolescence has become an increasing concern as computer makers turn out faster machines at ever-decreasing intervals. Just a few years ago you could expect a new computer to remain cutting edge for at least two years, with its functional life span extending to nearly five years. Today that just isn't the case.

MMX, an Intel standard developed to boost the microprocessor's handling of multimedia graphics and sound, wasn't on the screen for most people outside of the computer field in 1995. Now you almost can't buy a computer without this enhanced instruction set. Even with prices well below the $1,000 mark, buying a new PC every couple of years is out of the question for most budgets. So what's a tech-savvy consumer to do? It's simple--upgrade.

Installing a new CPU (also called a microprocessor) is a fast, economical way to boost the performance of an aging PC. Most machines, including 486-based PCs, can be upgraded to a Pentium CPU (or comparable chip from Cyrix or AMD) for under $300. Trinity Works Power-Stacker 5x86 for 486 retails for $99 and 180Mhz MMX Upgrade CPUs are available from Zerus Hardware and Evergreen technologies for under $200. Another issue to consider is whether to add more RAM (random access memory) in addition to a new processor. If you have only 8 megs of RAM, increasing your memory to 16 megs will boost performance more than adding a CPU alone--and 32 megs is even better. You can get 16 megs of RAM for under $75.

With older PCs (Pentium 75 or lower), it may be wise to install a new motherboard as well. The motherboard is the main printed circuit board in a PC that contains the bus, CPU and controller chips for other devices such as the video display and CD-ROM drive. A new motherboard will allow you to take advantage of the latest Pentium or MMX chip. Installing a new motherboard can also free up expansion slots that will let you expand your PC to your heart's content. For about $100-$200 more than a simple processor upgrade, you can get a new board that will make the most of your new CPU. A basic motherboard sells for $100-$200 without the processor.

The best thing about all these upgrades is that you can do them yourself. Installing RAM and a processor is a snap--literally. Putting a new motherboard in your PC is more difficult because of the wires, add-in cards and memory that must be disconnected and replaced. However, all are fairly simple procedures that most people can do if they consult their computer manual and get the advice of the original manufacturer (via technical support) or a reputable computer dealer regarding compatibility issues.

To prove how easy it is, I commandeered an old Dell P-75 that was in need of an overhaul to serve as the test unit. Although I've installed plenty of software and added peripherals such as scanners, printers and other external devices, my experience under the hood of a PC is limited. By merely following instructions, I've installed RAM, numerous add-in cards and a second hard drive, all of which required no more skill than it takes to erect a Lego set. A motherboard, however, figured to be much more daunting.

Since the unit already had 32 megs of RAM, I decided a motherboard/CPU combination would extend this computer's life sufficiently.

The computer originally had a Pentium processor, so I decided stick with Intel for both the processor (Pentium 166 MHz MMX, $119) and motherboard (TC430HX, $127) to ensure a smooth upgrade and ease compatibility problems. Some motherboard upgrades include a disk that updates the BIOS (basic input output) system. BIOS contains derailed instructions that activate peripheral devices.

Before you even think about opening up your computer, make sure you have read the manuals for all the devices you intend to add. In addition, it is imperative that you consult your PC manual and, if necessary, the helpline to find out which upgrades are right for your computer. While these upgrades are fairly simple, even the smallest omission can mean a broken system instead of a better one. Take the time to find out the specifics of your system before you attempt any upgrade, and if it's your first time upgrading your PC, please consult with a computer professional before you take matters into your own hands. This is a general upgrade guide:

STEP 1: Determine if your PC will accept a standard motherboard upgrade. Refer to your PC manual or call the original manufacturer to find out possible upgrade paths. Some proprietary motherboards can only be upgraded with similar boards purchased directly from the manufacturer. An alternative would be to purchase a motherboard and case combination to replace the old one. However, this means that you'll have to transfer everything from your old case to the new one, including hard drive, CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, etc. It isn't hard since it's mostly screws and snap-together modules, but it can be tedious.

STEP 2: Back up your hard drive. While it's unlikely that anything will happen to your data during this procedure--better safe than sorry. You'll also want to take a look at your computer BIOS and record the settings just in case you need to input them after the new motherboard is installed. Check your manual if you don't know how to access BIOS.

STEP 3: Turn off your PC and open the case. Make sure you are grounded before touching or handling the CPU, the motherboard or any components inside the computer. Static electricity can render a perfectly good CPU worthless. Ground yourself by touching the PC's metal frame while the unit is still plugged in. Repeat this process frequency during the installation process since static electricity can build up at any time and will destroy any circuitry you handle.

STEP 4: Unplug the PC. Disconnect all wires and cables that connect to the motherboard. Use masking rape to mark cables as you remove them so that you'll know where they go later. Remove all wires from the motherboard, taking careful note of how they're arranged. This is especially true of the two main motherboard power connectors. If you reconnect them in the wrong order, you could damage your motherboard. You'll recognize these connectors because they originate from the same casing that the unit's power cord comes from. Remove any add-in boards, also noting exactly what they're for.

STEP 5: Unscrew the motherboard and remove it from the PC case. Install the CPU and RAM from the old motherboard onto the new motherboard. Both the CPU and RAM snap into place. You will likely see a zero insertion force (ZIF) lever near the CPU. Lift the lever to release or install the processor and lower it to secure the processor in place. This lets you install the CPU with minimal pressure. Make sure you align the diagonal edge of the CPU with the diagonal edge of the socket into which it fits. Misaligning the pins could damage the CPU and render it useless.

STEP 6: Place the new motherboard in the case and maneuver it gently until it is secure. Screws it down firmly, but not too tight. Replace the main power connectors, RAM, video card. keyboard, power connectors, hard drive and reset lights. After you've done this, turn the PC on. If everything is connected properly, the machine I will boot up. After you've passed this test, turn the PC off again, unplug it and connect all remaining cables such as the floppy drive, CD-ROM drive and hard drive, and install any other add-in cards. Make sure all your cables and wires are secure and everything has been properly replaced.

STEP 7: With the cover still off the case, turn the PC and monitor on. A BIOS message will likely appear on the screen. Restart the PC and everything should be in working order. If not, retrace the last few steps to make sure everything is properly installed. If you still experience problems, call the technical support line for the PC and any components you've just added. Once you're satisfied that the computer is working optimally, restore the case and get ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Tech Tips; upgrading a PC may require installing a new CPU and motherboard only
Author:Muhammad, Tariq K.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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