Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Computer crashes and other difficulties can certainly be caused by a failing or overtaxed power supply, but there are other places to look first.
We have a 400w power supply in our 80G computer and lately it crashes and tries to continually restart when I have appliances connected, ie printer, video machine for copying dvd's, speakers etc. I can only run the screen and hard drive at present and the noises coming from the hard drive sound to me like it is really struggling. We have a lot of software loaded and our problems really started when I loaded the last software for my new samsung phone and a new digital camera. I've been to a computer shop and other than costing a small fortune, told me there was nothing wrong with my computer. I've had an electrician in and he's checked everything is okay but asked about the power for the computer. What I would like to know is what would be the best size wattage to upgrade to, ie would 500 or 550 watts be sufficient or try to go bigger. And finally, is this a job easy enough to do ourselves or do we need a computer tech to do it for us. Finding a decent computer tech is not easy! Another problem seems to be turbo lister (ebay software) - when I go into turbo lister that's when I also encounter problems, ie my computer seems to freeze - could this also be related to insufficient power?
You've got a lot going on, and unfortunately that means that the answers aren't going to be clear. Yes, it all might be power supply related, but in all honesty that's not where I'd start.
I'd start with a concept called "software rot".
In a perfect world, we could all add and remove software, add more software, make configuration changes and undo those changes and all would be well.
This is not a perfect world.
After a while, where "a while" depends on how you use your computer and what kinds of software we're talking about, computers get unstable. It just happens. It shouldn't, but years of experience show that, in practice is just does. It's come to be known as "software rot".
Typically, for average users that time is measured in years. In fact, it's often long enough that the computer has been replaced or repaired for some other reason before it really becomes a problem, so you'd never notice.
In my case, each of my more heavily used machines lasts about two years before I have to deal with it.
Given how you've described your computer and it's age as implied by the 80gig hard drive, it's the first thing that came to mind. In particular, the fact that things seemed to get worse when some software was installed really points to a software, not a hardware, related problem.
The solution? Some very simple steps that turn into a lot of work, but it's work that you can do:
Reformat and Reinstall
Back up. Back up your computer. That means making a backup copy of all your data, all the programs, everything. Back it up to an external hard drive, DVDs, CDs or even another computer on a local network, but back it up.
Reformat. This erases everything on the hard drive. Typically, it's most easily done as part of the next step.
Reinstall Windows. Using your original install CDs, reinstall Windows from scratch. The installation program should offer you the option of reformatting the hard disk prior to installing, which is my suggestion.
Update Windows. Windows Update should be the first place you visit. (I highly recommend you get behind a router prior to connecting to the internet, or at a minimum make sure that the Windows firewall is enabled.
Reinstall all your programs. Reinstall every application you use, from scratch, from its original distribution media. If they offer updates, take them. (As part of this reformat-and-reinstall process I typically install applications as I need them, rather than all at once up front. That ensures I actually only install applications that I use.)
Restore data. This depends on how you use your computer, but copy off your data files - documents, pictures, what have you - from wherever else they are stored, or copy them from the backup you took in the first step.
Yes, this is painful, but it's by far the best way to make sure that you have a clean and healthy system. As I said, I find myself doing it every couple of years. Your timing will most certainly vary.
Other Possibilities and non-Possibilities
Let's look at some of the other items from the original question.
"...crashes and tries to continually restart when I have appliances connected, ie printer, video machine..." this actually points away from the power supply. Most of these types of devices supply their own power; you'll know, because you had to plug them in separately. This actually points more towards software, as in problems caused by the drivers or software attempting to control these devices, even when not actively in use.
"...noises coming from the hard drive sound to me like it is really struggling..." It's hard to know exactly what kinds of noises you might mean, but I'll throw them into two buckets: good and bad. In this context "good" noises are simply the drive being active - that would be normal whirs and clicks as the drive does its job. If you're hearing a lot of them - as in the drive seems to be working constantly even when you're doing nothing, or out of proportion to the task at hand, once again this points to software. Chances are you've run out of memory, are swapping out to disk constantly, or there's other software or even spyware that's constantly hitting your disk. On the other hand if the noises are loud, obnoxious grindy type noises, that would be "bad". Backup NOW - as your hard disk is about to die. (And yes, that, too, can cause the problems you're discussing.)
"... what would be the best size wattage to upgrade to?" I'm not saying that this is, or is not the problem. My initial gut feeling is that the problem is elsewhere, but even so a faulty or dying power supply can also manifest with symptoms similar to what you describe. Exactly what you need depends on exactly what's installed in the computer itself (not connected to, but actually installed inside). If you haven't added any hardware to the computer itself, in all honesty 400 watts could be plenty. However, there's no harm in having more, so when replacing a power supply I typically suggest getting the next step up. 500 watts is good. If you plan to add more hardware (like internal disk drives and the like) feel free to go bigger if you like.
"... is this a job easy enough to do ourselves ..." That's a loaded question, because of course I think it's easy for most people to do so, but about that time someone comes along, takes that advice and completely messes it up. So if the thought of opening your computer, disconnecting some plugs, unscrewing the box that is the power supply, and then reversing that process exactly sounds OK to you, then it may well be. If you're comfortable replacing a power outlet or light switch in your home, then I think a power supply is within your reach. But only you can decide if you're "most people".
But absolutely, positively - backup your machine first.
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