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The upgrade that's most likely to affect your experience might not be what you think.

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This is Leo Notenboom for askleo.net.

A common topic and question for discussion, of course, is how to maximize the life of your computer, and what kinds of upgrades might make the most sense. For example I've long held that the most effective hardware upgrade is, of course, RAM. Windows in particular loves more RAM.

But there's something that could be more important than even that.

This week I was discussing with a friend what computer she should get for her parents with a goal of speeding things up a little for them. They had a couple of computers already, and they connected to the internet via dial-up.

And that's where I took the discussion a slightly different direction.

Getting a high powered or even portable computer can be very nice for many different things, but if your usage is mainly internet-related like email and web surfing, then getting a newer, faster computer but connecting via dial-up - well, that's a little like buying a Ferrarri but limiting it to only going 25 miles per hour. It'll do many things quickly and powerfully, but you're still not going to get anywhere very fast.

My point here, of course, is that upgrading your internet connection is often the most effective way to enhance your overall computing experience. Even the slowest computer these days is still more than fast enough to keep up with most of the fastest available internet speeds. Many people are quite amazed at what their old computer can do once the internet connection has been upgraded.

Now, this presents a problem for the gift givers among us, like my friend. A computer is one thing; you buy it, you give it and you're done. Connectivity is something else. A gift of connectivity is a commitment, either on your part to continue to pay for it, or even worse, it's a gift of a commitment to someone else. You're signing them up to recurring bill once your gift portion has run out.

I get that. And, perhaps, you could work out some creative ways around it, but I do get it.

But if you're about to shell out $500, $1000 or more for a gift computer, you might still consider that connectivity commitment instead. For the cost of a low-end computer you could upgrade someone from dial-up to DSL or cable for a year, two years or even more. And that fancier laptop or more powerful desktop you're considering could be the cost of several years worth of even faster internet speeds.

It's something I encourage you to consider. Perhaps even as a gift to yourself.

Oh, and if your business is on or about the internet, it's almost a no-brainer. I doubled my internet connection speed last year, and haven't regretted one moment of it.

I'd love to hear what you think. Visit askleo.net and enter 12230 in the go to article number box to access the show notes, the transcript and to leave me a comment. While you're there, browse the hundreds of technical questions and answers on the site.

Till next time, I'm Leo Notenboom, for askleo.net.

Article C3293 - February 16, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
Mary
February 16, 2008 4:05 PM

Before upgrading from dial-up to DSL, or upgrading your existing DSL to a faster DSL, make sure the ISP does a line check to verify compatibility. I live in an older apartment complex. My ISP offers three DSL options (good, better, or best.)

When I made the switch from dial-up I ordered "best". It turned out to be slower than the original dial-up because my apartment complex telephone lines were so old they didn't support the fastest DSL service offered by the phone company. And the apartment management refused to upgrade the lines.

To this day, the phone lines will only support the "good" DSL service. And if it rains, my DSL still acts like dial-up. C'est la vie. So shop around, compare phone company to cable, and insist they check the lines and give a written guarantee of compatibility. Before signing any contracts.

Lars
February 19, 2008 5:43 PM

I have another contender for the most effective "upgrade":
In my experience, most computer problems can be traced to the area between the chair and the keyboard. Consider giving the the gift of education. When my mother was about 70 years old, she attended a 'college' course, tailored specifically to seniors. That was one of the best investments ever made: She feels far more confident with the machine and the people around her only have to spend a fraction of the time bailing her out.

Bill Nelson
February 23, 2008 1:08 AM

I agree with your comments about upgrading to a faster internet connection, but there are a lot of folks, like us, who don't have any viable choices. Our dial-up speed maxes out at 28.8 Kbps; most of the time (like at this moment) it's 26.4 Kbps. That's due to the poor phone lines in our area. There is no cable service within 3-miles, and I've never heard of a good satellite service for internet. The only one I know of is too expensive for our budget and slower than almost any DSL service. It uses dialup for sending messages anyway. Wild Blue says they don't serve our area. Our cell phone company recently told us they have a high-speed service, but it is limited to 720-minutes/month in the only plan we could possibly afford. That wouldn't be enough to satisfy my usage, although I realize I'd spend less time on-line with a faster connection -- or, maybe more!

Malcolm Otter
February 23, 2008 8:49 AM

Further to Lars post of 19th Feb I heard a saying which might be universal and forgive me if it is commonplace but the problem between chair and keyboard is a PICNIC - Problem In Chair Not In Computer.

Damin
February 23, 2008 10:49 AM

Also to add to Malcolm's post, another saying is that the problem could be a ID ten T. (ID10T)

Ralph
February 23, 2008 6:28 PM

The comments by Bill apply to many folks. Hi-Speed is not universally available, much as many city folk think. Anyone who lives any distance from the city knows that dial-up is just about the only access to the net. I am fortunate to have a satellite ISP, however the costs are significant, like $1000 to buy and set up the dish/modem and $60/mo for basic service that is faster than dial-up, and slower than basic DSL. There are many new types of wireless ISP's coming and maybe even microwave for home users, but they may be some time away. Just a thought, if anyone gets a faster connection, they are probably going to want a faster computer anyway.

Margherita
February 24, 2008 11:34 PM

I invested a lot of money in a new laptop with HSDPA. It's got a built in sim card slot underneath the battery, but what I did not know at the time was that I could easily have used my existing phone as a modem without incurring all these extra expenses.

Look, it's really nice and I enjoy having it, but if your pc is bluetooth enabled and you only use internet for home use, I would suggest looking into possibly using your phone as a modem. It's cool and really simple to do.

Dave Markley
February 26, 2008 7:49 PM

I have to agree that your DSL speed makes a huge difference. I have the "middle" speed DSL service and don't have any complaints whatsoever. But I'd like to add a little twist that hopefully will help some people (especially with older PC's). I've been using Firefox 3beta2 for a couple of months and have been very impressed, but I didn't know Firefox is automatically configured for Dial-Up! I ran across an article on how to reconfigure Firefox for Broadband/DSL (January 2008 PC World, page127). In less than 5 minutes, following very simple directions, my connection speed doubled and download speed literally trippled. Good Luck!

Joop
May 20, 2008 2:54 PM

Am a Senior, older computer, had dial-up and then tried switching to dsl. Had trouble understanding directions; called them and asked for help for installing it. CHARGE is $75. DSL still sits there unhooked and continue paying for it. Anyway to cancel without another fat fee involved? Tks for help/suggestions.

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