The Ultimate PC Power boost

Is your system dragging? It may just need an upgrade to new technology. From dual-core CPUs to the latest in graphics, memory and hard drives, we'll show you, step-by-step, how to get more from any machine.

The right upgrade can have a big payoff, whether you want the best components for your power PC or another year of productive life from your wheezing workhorse. The key is to know what upgrades you can make, how to do them -- and whether they're worth it.

We'll walk you through upgrading strategies, component by component, looking at the latest upgrade options, such as Intel's exciting dual-core CPUs and the new perpendicular-recording hard drives with their huge storage capacity. We'll show you some upgrade options that let yesterday's PC perform today's tasks -- all with thorough, step-by-step instructions, plus helpful tools and system utilities. Finally, we'll help you decide when an upgrade is the right choice, and when you're better off with a new PC.

Make sure you have the tools you need

Head off upgrade anguish by having these low-cost tools on hand before you start.

Must-have tools of the tradeAn inexpensive precision tool kit can simplify your life. Thin-handled screwdrivers make reaching inconveniently situated screw holes much easier. Tweezers or long-nose pliers are good for picking up fallen screws, and a magnifying glass helps you see small parts. A regular-size Philips-head screwdriver and standard needle-nose pliers will help you get by.

Keep a cup or small container nearby to hold screws, jumpers, spacers and other small parts. A shallow tin with a cover works best.

Use sticky labels or a wax pencil to mark every drive, card, bracket and cable you remove from your PC, to enable you to keep track of which part it is, where it connects, how it should be oriented, and so on. Being methodical is especially hair-saving if there's a problem and you need to put everything back the way it was.

Keep a can of compressed air or a computer vacuum brush attachment at the ready. If you're opening your case anyway, take time to remove harmful dust. See "How to keep your PC cool" further on in this article.

Take full advantage of your collection of old antistatic bags, extra cables, power connector splitters and other pack rat gear. Having the right miscellaneous extras helps you avoid aggravation.

Use an antistatic wrist strap. It's good insurance, though it isn't essential if you remember to touch the metal PC chassis frequently and if you take care not to rub your shoes on the carpet.

Get invaluable backup by consulting reliable reference materials. My faves for upgrading include PC Hacks, Windows XP Annoyances for Geeks, and Repairing and Upgrading Your PC (all from O'Reilly Media).

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