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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Requirements Analysis | Determining Your PC Requirements ]

Cheap or Free Alternatives to Buying Hardware

Let's say that you have decided that you do need a PC, or that your current PC is under-powered and you need a new one. There are still some options you may want to explore before you plunk down what will likely be four figures for a new system.

If you don't have a PC at all and need to use one, consider possible alternatives to buying a system. If you only need to use a PC for a couple of hours a week, maybe you have a friend or relative that would be willing to let you use their machine. This solution is probably ideal in this circumstance.

Another possibility is to use a PC at work. Most companies have strict policies against using their PCs for personal purposes without permission; that doesn't always mean "no", but rather that you should ask for permission! If the request is reasonable, and especially if it is made with an offer of recompense (say, offering to help do maintenance on the machine, or contributing a software item of use to the office), only a fool of a boss would refuse to at least consider it. Some companies will be glad to let you use their PCs in the hopes that your computing skills will improve, and thus, your on-the-job productivity. Of course it depends entirely on your particular situation.

If you already have a PC that is not meeting your needs, there are a few things you should definitely cover before you run out and get a new one:

  • Maintenance: When's the last time you performed any preventive maintenance on your machine, particularly the operating system and file system? If your hard disk is full, your file system hasn't been defragmented in a year, your registry is full of half-baked "tweaks" and your PC is loading tons of cycle-stealing utilities when it boots, your performance could be degraded by as much as half. Cleaning up your PC's act may make you feel like you bought a new machine! Sometimes even reinstalling Windows will help.
  • Optimization: There are various tips and tricks you can use to improve the functioning of your PC for free (or nearly free). I discuss some of them here; there are also literally hundreds of other web sites discussing similar options.
  • Software Updates: Very often, newer versions of software are more demanding on your hardware and will be the reason you look to upgrade your hardware in the first place. However, there are cases where newer software is made more efficient, and if you use one or two specific applications a great deal, you may find that upgrading your software will let you get your work done more effectively. Certainly, if you are using old 16-bit (Windows 3.1) software on a Windows 95/98/2000/NT machine, you should try a newer 32-bit version of the program and see if it works better for you.

Next: PC Requirements Factors and Tradeoffs

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