NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
My Amateur Computer Upgrade Adventure
by Harry Kelsey, Pasadena IBM Users Group, April 2002
(click to email author)

Here's a cheap, easy way to speed up your PC

In this uncertain world, it's comforting to have a bulwark that never fails. PC World's "Home Office" column by my neighbor Steve Bass always has an idea or two that I can easily misunderstand and thus waste an hour when I should be working.

Once or twice, thinking I was following his suggestions, I've corrupted the hard drive and had to reinstall everything. This was not the case with Steve's recent advice to try the PC Pitstop for a computer tuneup.

Pull Into the Pit Stop
The PC World web page is simplicity in its most basic form. There is nothing to type. Just push a few buttons and sit back while PC Pitstop checks your computer.

For a few minutes, the familiar blue line will creep across the screen, followed by a message recommending steps to turn your computer into a 21st century dynamo. At this point I confess I was a little miffed with the advice: "Buy a new computer." However, the program also suggested changes I could make: (1) install more memory, and (2) install a better CPU.

Suggestion number one seemed possible and cheap. Fry's ad that morning listed 128-megabyte PC 133 SDRAM memory chips for less than $20 apiece, but the store is 20 miles away. Fortunately, the same chips were available at the same price in the local Office Depot.

On the other hand, suggestion number two sounded expensive and difficult, but it was not. PC World Product Finder suggested several places to purchase the CPU on the Internet, with price comparisons. After a few minutes spent reading the specifications (some of which I actually understood), I ordered a 400 MHz AMD-K6-2 processor with built-in fan from Computers4sure for under $70.

Here's the shocker. I placed my order at 4 pm on Thursday. Friday morning I received an email from Computers4sure saying the order was on its way. Friday afternoon at 3 pm the part was at my front door, courtesy UPS.

Hey, Memory is a Snap!

Installation was almost too easy. Four steps cover the memory chips:
1. Remove the cover from the case (a step that usually puts my computer out of commission for two days, minimum).
2. Release the clips on the memory chips.
3. Pull the chips up and out.
4. Push the new ones into the same slots.

The CPU? Easy, too

The other surprise was changing the CPU. It was also simple to do.
1. Remove the clip from the CPU fan, unplug the fan wire, and take the fan out.
2. Lift the lever on the right hand side of the CPU and rotate it upward about 90 degrees.
3. Grasp the sides of the CPU and pull it out.
4. Note that several dozen pins stick out of the bottom of this chip. They form a perfect square, except that a pin is missing from one corner. This is the Coffin Corner, and it mates with a matching receptacle.
5. Install the new CPU in the same orientation. You don't have to push hard. If the CPU resists, check to see that the Coffin Corner is aligned properly.
6. Flip the lever down, and check to be sure the CPU cannot be pulled out.
7. Replace the computer's cover.

You might want to try booting the computer before you put the cover back. That's what I did, and naturally, the machine did not boot the first time. The "Troubleshooting" section of the CPU booklet said, "Check the cable on your hard drive." I did, and it was loose. I pushed it in firmly, and this time the computer worked. Total upgrade time, 20 minutes.

Three days ago I had a computer with 64 megabytes of memory and a 200 MHz CPU. Now I have a computer with 256 megabytes of memory and a 400 MHz CPU, and the total cost (including tax and shipping) was less than $125. Thank you Steve.

Harry Kelsey lives in Altadena, California, is the author of Sir Francis Drake: The Queen's Pirate, and a former WordStar aficionado. He can be reached at hekelsey@att.net

Click here to return to top