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System upgrades

System upgrades

A system upgrade involves either adding new components to an existing piece of IT equipment (a hardware upgrade) or installing more recent software (a software upgrade).

System upgrades can be an effective way to extend the life of some computer equipment.

Should I consider a system upgrade?

It's important to understand what can be achieved with an upgrade. Hardware upgrades can't easily make a slow computer fast or turn a black-and-white printer into a colour one. Upgrading to the latest software can be counter-productive if your computer isn’t up to the job of running it.

System upgrades are about making small, meaningful improvements. You can breathe new life into computers by adding more memory, speed up the time it takes to run programs by swapping the hard drive for a solid state drive, or make laptops more useful by adding a high-capacity battery.

If money is tight in the initial stages of your business, purchasing extra memory for your laptop may boost your business productivity until you are ready to invest in a new system. This is usually the single most effective upgrade for business computers.

Hardware upgrades

Most hardware upgrades involve opening a piece of equipment and adding extra components. It’s usually a simple task, but if you do not feel comfortable delving inside a computer ask an expert.

Do not perform a system upgrade unless the benefit is clear-cut. It isn't worth spending money on upgrades that will only produce marginal improvements. Your business is better off managing as best it can, then investing in brand new equipment as soon as is practical.

Can I upgrade my business computers?

The most commonly upgraded items are computers and servers. These are usually made with standard components and are easy to open up, making system upgrades relatively simple and cheap.

With a few exceptions, upgrading other pieces of kit is not generally feasible. Most equipment comes sealed, with components that are not easily replaceable.

Be realistic when considering system upgrades:

  • Servers are often good candidates for system upgrades. These expensive pieces of equipment have a longer-than-average lifespan, which you can extend by adding more memory and storage.
  • It's quite easy to add extra memory or disk space to desktop computers too. This can make ageing machines more suitable for basic use – but new computers are so cheap that often it's not worth the bother.
  • Laptops can be more problematic. Modern laptops – particularly super-thin ultrabooks – often use components that are designed to save space rather than to be easy to upgrade, although it's usually fairly straightforward to add extra memory or a swap the hard drive.

As a rule of thumb, the more expensive a computer was to buy initially, the more worthwhile a system upgrade is likely to be.

For instance, spending £50 to extend the life of a £300 computer by a year might be pointless. But spending £100 so a powerful computer – originally costing £1,000 - can be used for a further two years may be worthwhile.

Software upgrades

There are several advantages to regularly upgrading your software. If your business uses a relatively old version of a software package, you may be unable to open files created in newer versions. You may find it increasingly difficult to get support as software providers tend to stop providing support for older versions when they launch new ones. Also, the latest versions of software often run faster and have additional useful features.

Software upgrades are generally easy to perform. Just purchase the latest version of the software and install it on top of the old version. Sometimes you can buy special upgrade packages, which are cheaper than buying a new copy of the software outright.

However, always check your computer hardware supports the software before upgrading. Some packages offer performance improvements, but many are designed for the newest hardware. If your computer only just meets the new software’s system requirements, it may be best to hold off.

For more information on system upgrades, see the Resources box on the right.