Boost or boot? Two questions to ask yourself when deciding what to do with ageing computer systems

Sometimes computers can be upgraded, and sometimes it's not worth the hassle.

When computers start to slow down or employees begin to complain about losing time over old equipment, it’s not always possible—or necessary—to do a complete hardware refresh. 

Faced with tighter IT budgets, organisations are choosing to extend the life of existing systems over costly replacements. In a recent study by Crucial, more than twice as many IT managers in the UK chose to upgrade systems rather than replace them. While both methods of dealing with ageing or slowing computer systems work, neither is a one-size-fits-all solution. If the root of the problem lies within the hardware, you need to ask yourself these three questions when deciding whether to ‘boost’ or ‘boot’.  

1. Is it feasible to upgrade your systems?   

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether it is possible to upgrade your ageing computer systems at all. Your systems are upgradeable if they are still using a hard drive or have the capacity for more RAM. Also, consider how old they are. If your computer systems are less than five years old, they most likely can benefit from a boost. Those that are older need further consideration.  

Those considerations include checking to see whether the systems that have already been upgraded – those that have already benefited from a boost are usually not worth the effort for further updates. Also, check older systems for CPUs that are Intel® Core™ i3 or older, memory technology that is DDR2 or older, or can only accept 4GB of RAM – there just isn’t enough capacity for these older systems to work with an SSD or memory upgrade! 

Finally, consider whether you need your computers to work with a new operating system or application. Are there any increased hardware requirements to use these? If your computer systems’ hardware doesn’t match up, you are better off replacing.   

2. What is cost-effective for your organisation?   

Our research found that the principal reason for IT professionals to upgrade ageing systems (28 per cent) or to replace them (30 per cent) is cost-effectiveness. Cost-effectiveness is the most important variable influencing IT managers’ decisions, which reinforces why many choose to upgrade instead of replace systems.

However, what is cost-effective for one organisation may not be cost-effective for another. In other words, cost-effectiveness is dependent on your organisation’s constraints on time or money. Nearly every business is challenged with a scarcity in one or both of these areas.  For some organisations, dealing with a tight budget will prevent you from making a significant difference in your organisation’s IT when it slows down. 

Therefore, finding a cost-effective solution is critical. And here is where a system upgrade can be beneficial. This often involves installing more RAM and swapping out existing hard drives with lower-capacity SSDs. SSDs can also be used instead of reimaging and redeploying an ageing system’s hard drive, since they’re significantly faster and it takes about the same amount of time as reimaging and redeploying an old hard drive, yet lasts longer and delivers like-new system performance. 

For other organisations that are pressed for time (but not on budget), buying a new system is a much faster process. Replacing old hardware requires less research and often the equipment is ready to use straight from the box. Time is as important as money (if not more so) for these organisations and prolonging the use of slow equipment whilst waiting for an upgrade may do more damage than good.  

3. What is your organisation’s typical refresh cycle for desktops or laptops?

The majority of IT professionals surveyed typically refresh their hardware every 3-4 years, but this depends on the size of the organisation. Our research found that the smaller the business, the longer IT professionals will use each system, and many will choose to use their systems until they break down. 

To ensure their ageing systems are running at optimal levels, IT professionals must upgrade these systems every few years.

Larger organisations that have IT budgets to match—but are short on time—choose to replace their systems. IT professionals in larger organisations need to oversee more processes and manage the equipment of more people. Their time is limited, so it doesn’t make sense for them to spend time on upgrading ageing systems, so they opt to replace. Smaller organisations with tighter budgets, however, have to stretch small budgets. 

And when it comes to ageing computer systems, upgrading is the most logical solution, as you can double a system’s memory and upgrade the hard drive to an SSD for 75 per cent less than it may cost to replace it—without losing out on performance.

When to ‘boost’ and when to ‘boot’

If ageing systems are slowing down your organisation’s efficiencies, you need to quickly decide on how to solve the issue. While for many the most cost-effective solution is to upgrade, it’s a complicated decision filled with several variables. Also, if you are tasked with reimageing and redeploying a problematic old drive, you may want to consider replacing the drive altogether with a faster, more reliable one. If your organisation is working with a limited IT budget, it makes sense to seriously consider upgrading your equipment first. However, if you have limited capacity for physical upgrades and have a larger budget to work with, the most logical solution would be to upgrade.    

Only you understand the nuances that are specific to your organisation’s IT, as well as what resources your organisation lacks—time, money or both. Choose the approach that’s right for your organisation because ultimately both will end in improved performance and efficiency. 

Jonathan Weech, SSD Product Line Manager, Crucial
Image Credit: Sean MacEntee / Flickr