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Upgrading a personal computer.


Many of the latest software products will not run on original personal computers--IBM PCs, XTs and their clones--millions of which are still in use. Ways to upgrade and increase the performance of these older computers are discussed here by James R. Holmes, PhD, CPA, associate professor of accounting at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. Today's microcomputer software market offers the accountant many products for improving productivity. Some of these, for example, Lotus 3.0 and Excel 2.1, require advanced microcomputer technology, such as that found in the IBM AT and its clones. However, the millions of less powerful personal computers sold since 1982 are not obsolete. With the proper upgrade components, such as the following, these older machines will run the latest software products:

* Adding a hard disk.

* Installing additional conventional memory.

* Acquiring expanded and extended memory.

* Installing a faster central processing unit (CPU).

* Installing a math coprocessor chip.

* Adding a multitasking operating system.

These components are listed in exhibit 1 on page 104.


On a performance-per-dollar basis, no other improvement rivals the installation of a hard disk. A hard disk speeds loading programs into memory and storing data to disk. Speed is an obvious convenience, but a hard disk also reduces work-flow disruptions by eliminating frequent changing of floppy disks.

The accountant upgrading a PC should replace one of the full-height floppy disk drives with a half-height hard disk and a new half-height floppy disk drive. Both will fit into the space previously occupied by the original full-height floppy disk drive. Because many accountants prefer to copy files from one floppy disk to another, a machine with two floppy disk drives is convenient. In offices that use both 5 1/4- and 3 1/2-inch disks, the accountant can install a 3 1/2-inch disk drive as the second floppy drive.


Although MS-DOS computers can address up to 640 kilobytes (640K) of memory, many accountants use machines with less memory. Even if current programs fit within a machine's existing memory, there are good reasons to purchase and install additional memory chips. Spreadsheet and database software accommodate large data files by using all the conventional memory in a microcomputer. As people become more proficient at using electronic spreadsheets and add new records to databases, they will need larger data files.

Properly used, additional memory also can speed work. A portion of memory can be set aside as a virtual disk drive (V-disk). DOS treats the V-disk as another disk drive, storing and retrieving files from it rapidly. Often-used programs can be copied to the V-disk and then quickly accessed.

Additional conventional memory also can be used as a print buffer to make the user more efficient. Printers can be slow and can stop other work while they are operating. With a print buffer, however, when a spreadsheet or word processing program attempts to print a file, the output is diverted to the print buffer and stored in memory. The computer is then available for other uses while the print buffer program manages the printing.


As application programs get larger, they bump up against the 640K memory limitation of DOS. Expanded and extended memory alleviate this problem.

Expanded memory specification (EMS). The primary purpose of EMS is to permit programs to store data. Many programs such as Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro and Excel can use all the available EMS to manipulate huge spreadsheets. Utilities, such as print buffers and V-disks, also can be loaded into this type of memory. Storing data and utility programs in expanded memory frees the conventional memory in which DOS application programs run. Expanded memory also handles multitasking systems, which run several programs simultaneously. EMS is used by 8088-, 80286- and 80386-based machines.

Extended memory. Up to 15 megabytes (megs) of extended memory can be added to the older microcomputers. Introduced with AT-model computers, its main purpose is to permit multitasking under the OS/2 described on page 107. Print buffers and V-disks also can use extended memory.

Both expanded and extended memory can be part of a machine. There are expanded memory cards, extended memory cards and other more versatile cards that can be configured as different combinations of expanded, extended or conventional memory. These cards are circuit boards, which are installed easily in the computer.


Standard PCs and XTs use an Intel 8086 or 8088 microprocessor and run relatively slowly. A machine's processing speed can be increased by installing a circuit board with either an 80286 or 80386 microprocessor. These circuit boards fit into the machine the way memory expansion and graphics cards do.

An accountant who wants to use next generation spreadsheets or run desktop publishing programs efficiently must upgrade his or her CPU to either an 80286 or 80386 microprocessor. A faster CPU also reduces the time it takes for the computer to switch from one program to another.

A board that upgrades a PC or XT to an 80286 machine (such as an AT) works with the system's existing components and requires no other purchase. It uses the computer's conventional memory and any available expanded or extended memory.

Two types of boards upgrade a PC, XT or AT to an 80386 machine. The first, sometimes called an upgraded systems board, replaces the computer's entire motherboard. (The motherboard contains the basic circuitry of the computer.) The second, known as an add-in board, comes with one or two megs of memory and is cheaper and easier to install. It attaches to the machine's motherboard the way a memory expansion board does. Neither kind of 80386 upgrade board uses any memory previously installed on the computer and neither requires separate expanded or extended memory boards.


A coprocessor is a specialized chip that performs arithmetic faster than the CPU does, and fits into an empty space on the motherboard. It can significantly speed execution of a spreadsheet program. As a rule, if a machine takes one minute or more to recalculate a spreadsheet after changing a cell value, that machine is a good candidate for a coprocessor. Different math coprocessors are required for 8088, 80286 and 80386 CPUs.


A multitasking operating system is a program that allows multiple programs to be displayed on the screen at once or one at a time. Switching between programs is virtually instantaneous and usually involves only two key strokes. A multitasking operating system also supports transferring data from one program to another.

There are three benefits of such a system. First, the user's train of thought is not interrupted as he or she switches from one program to another. Second, data can be transferred between two programs very rapidly. Finally, the user can write a report while the machine performs other tasks.

Various practical and economical multitasking systems are available for MS-DOS computers. The three major DOS multitasking systems are described briefly below.

Probably the most popular multitasking program is Windows. Its graphics interface has a screen display and program selection procedures very similar to those of the Macintosh. Although it requires a sizable 250K of conventional memory, it permits as many programs as the machine's memory can handle to run. It also permits transferring data and switching between programs. Windows should be used with an 80286 or faster CPU.

Another system is DESQview. It allocates as little as 40K of conventional memory and can use expanded memory for running programs and storing data. DESQview can run as many as nine DOS programs at once. It permits data transfer and instantaneous switching between programs.

Software Carousel is a third alternative. It allows the accountant to load 12 DOS programs into memory at the same time and switch between them instantaneously. Software Carousel uses only 11K of conventional memory. However, it does not allow running programs simultaneously or transferring data between them.

O/S 2 is the multitasking system expected to replace DOS. It is available only for the newer generations of computers and requires at least three megs of memory to run efficiently. It will not work with PCs and is of limited value for ATs. It also requires special versions of spreadsheets and other application programs if they are to run simultaneously on an AT computer. But its main disadvantage is its relatively high cost.


PCs have a great deal of power, which can be economically tapped. The performance of older computers can be upgraded significantly. The result of upgrading can be a computer that increases productivity and can run the newest versions of popular spreadsheets and other programs.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Institute of CPA's
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Holmes, James R.
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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