Topic overview

System upgrades

System upgradesA 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 won’t necessarily make a slow computer fast or turn a black-and-white printer into a colour one. Upgrading software can be counter-productive if your computer isn't up to the job of running the latest version.

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 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 then leave it to the experts.

Do not perform a system upgrade unless you can see a clear benefit. In an age where a laptop can be bought for £300 and computers generally last for around three years, it isn't worth spending money on upgrades for 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. Devices such as smartphones and tablets are usually sealed, containing components that are not designed to be upgraded.

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 last a bit longer - but new computers are so cheap that often it's not worth the bother.
  • Laptops can be more problematic. Modern laptops - particularly super-thin models - use components designed to save space rather than to be easy to upgrade, although it's usually 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 updating your software. If your business uses an old version of a software package, you may be unable to open files created in newer versions and at risk of security vulnerabilities.

It can also be hard to find support as your software ages, because providers tend to phase out support for older versions. Also, the latest versions of software usually have extra features and sometimes run faster.

Software upgrades are generally easy to perform. With most apps now delivered via the cloud as opposed to disk, you’ll simply need to download and install the latest version or use a built-in update feature. Some apps will even do this periodically for you and ask if you’d like to update to the latest version.

Cloud app updates are often free of charge, but more significant updates may incur a fee to upgrade.

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.