Don't throw out that PC! 10 tips to spruce up old machines

Many PC users upgrade when they don't really need to - use our tips to squeeze a few more years out of an old PC.

Don't ditch that old PC

British PC users throw away computer scrap equivalent to the weight of 790 double decker buses every year. say that more than 5,000 tonnes of desktop and laptop parts are binned annually - often cast aside by people upgrading their PCs.

But people can be too hasty to buy a new machine - when a little housekeeping could keep the PCs going.

Here are 10 tips for upgrading your computer rather than just throwing it onto the techno scrap heap.

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Update your software
If you use a smartphone or tablet computer, you'll be constantly updating the apps on it. But how often do you sit there and update the software on your PC or Mac? Many of us never turn on automatic updates leaving us stuck with old versions of software that can make a computer run slow.

New versions not only fix security holes, but they may also be optimised to work faster and more usefully - especially where internet browsers are concerned. Turning on Windows automatic updates (search for this in control panel) is a good start but spend an hour searching through each program and looking thru its menus where there will usually be a "check for updates" option to select.

Give it a good clean up

Often your PC or Mac could be running sluggishly because you've filled it up with stuff - programmes, or even files such as photos. That's not a reason for replacing it, because it will just happen again on a new machine. So the simplest way to make it feel like new is to remove programs you don't run, delete duplicate files and for a PC, defragment the hard drive using the options within Windows.

You could also consider backing everything up and doing a totally clean install of your operating system. That will wipe the whole hard drive so you can reinstall only things you need. There's plenty of software available to automatically scan the hard drive for such issues too but beware downloading from sources you do not know for fear of spyware and malware.

Scan for spyware and malware
This is another reason for a slow machine. Rogue elements hiding on your hard drive can disrupt it working and steal your personal and financial details. If you have a good virus package or security software installed, from the likes of Norton, it may well be protecting you from threats already such as spyware. But not all do so it's worth upgrading to one that can constantly monitor it and block it. Ad Aware is a good program for cleaning up a hard drive from infected elements that may be clogging up your system.

Select a new screen
Buying a new monitor used to cost hundreds of pounds, which meant it was better value just to change the whole computer. But now you can pick up a stylish 20 inch LED flat screen for as little as £100, meaning your clunky large CRT screen can be sent to the local electronics recycling centre and consigned to tech history.

Add more RAM
According to Crucial, four in 10 people the company surveyed threw out a computer because they wanted one that was faster. But with a screwdriver, you can replace the RAM memory cheaply and with ease. It's not scary as the old units usually unclip and slide out and there will be plenty of guides online for your model of computer showing how to do it yourself. However, check first how much RAM your motherboard can handle and consult the user guide for what type of RAM you need.

Store your stuff online
If you're using an older computer with a small hard drive, it's not a reason to buy a whole new machine. These days, all you need to store on an internal hard drive is the operating system and programs for word processing, photo-editing, music-playing and the like.

Every file, picture, tune, movie and more can be contained in "the cloud" online using a storage system like Flickr for 1TB of free room for pics. Dropbox, Mozy or Amazon Cloud Drive are others and have free starter packages available and a monthly fee for more space. But users of other technology such as Apple devices or certain email or TV services may get storage space included by default in their package. Some antivirus software also includes a level of online back-up too. The best thing about online storage is you can then access all your files from whatever computer you're using.

Buy a wireless hard drive
Another way to quickly increase your storage is through an external hard drive. A wireless one connects to your broadband router and means you can often use it to stream content around your home to Smart TVs or other computers connected to your home network. You can also use many of these now to directly backup your tablet or smartphone wirelessly too.

Replace a traditional hard drive with an SSD
Another increasingly popular option is to replace your internal hard drive with an SSD version. These Solid State Drives run faster in terms of accessing the files you need and are quicker for booting up a system initially when you switch it on. Like with your RAM, replacing a hard drive is not complicated. A 120GB drive can cost around £100 depending on your system and sites like Crucial have tips for installing it as well as an auto checker to find the right one for your machine.

Add a new operating system
Whether you're using a PC or Mac, there's a chance your machine will work better with an OS upgrade. Apple's newest system Mountain Lion adds lots of new features and speeds up your machine too for just £14. You can check if your Mac is compatible on their website and there's a new Apple OS coming later this year called Mavericks. For Microsoft fans, Windows 8 costs around £100 for an upgrade and totally reinvents the way your experience will both look and act.

Ditch the dust
It sounds a simple solution but dust can cause painful problems for your computer. It can clog up the fan causing it to overheat and that will impact on your use. A can of compressed air can loosen it and while you're at it, give that keyboard a clean too and get rid of all the bits of food hidden between the gaps in the letters from eating while you surf.