The Need for (More) Speed- by Jon Cochran

I'm sure you're familiar with the feeling. Your computer is slower than you think it really ought to be. Of course, you need it to be faster so you can be more productive. Your desire for speed has nothing to do with the fact that the latest Wing Commander (IV at the moment) just won't run fast enough. But whatever your reasons, in most cases upgrading your computer is a relatively economical way to get vastly improved performance at a reasonable price.

Over the next few months, I'll be writing a series of articles on the best ideas and solutions I've encountered recently in upgrading my old system. I'll go over some of the problems I've encountered and hopefully my experiences will help you avoid some of the same problems. I'm also going to be talking about some issues that are specific to OS/2 users when upgrading hardware. Hopefully, by the time I'm done writing these articles, I'll have a fire breathing Pentium-class system that can toast my friend's new Aptiva, and you'll have gained some valuable advice.

Is Upgrading Right For You?

First things first: is your system even worth upgrading? If it's an all ISA, 486/25, you're probably better off getting a new system. If you're still puttering along with a 386, you definitely need to get a new system.

If however, you've got a 486-class machine with some sort of local-bus system, then by all means you should upgrade! The local-bus requirement is, in my opinion, your guideline to answering the upgrade question. Without a local-bus system, you're just not going to get the performance you need to play Duke Nukem at 800x600 resolution. If your system is an older 486 based system that only has local bus video, and no local bus hard drive, you should still consider upgrading your system. Despite the fact that you won't get the same performance from your hard drive as a local bus system, you'll still see decent performance.

One last factor to consider is memory. If your system takes 30 pin Simms, upgrading past 8MB of memory will be a major pain. If you can get a converter to convert 72pin simms to 30 pin, by all means you should, and do it soon, because 30 pin simms seem to be fading out of sight.

What to Upgrade?

As I just finished mentioning, memory is a big consideration. In fact, it can make the biggest impact on your system of any upgrade you can undertake. If you have 8MB, you should definitely consider 16MB (especially since it appears that Merlin has gotten a little RAM greedy). If you've got 16, what's stopping you from going to 24? Prices are certainly cheap enough, in fact, I'd dare say that RAM is one of the cheapest upgrades you can get these days.

Another sore spot for a lot of OS/2 (and Windows 95) users is Hard Drive space. In the past, solutions like Stacker were popular, but these days, Hard Drives are so cheap, it's almost a crime to use disk compression. In my next article, I'll talk about upgrading your hard drive, how to make sure your BIOS is going to work with your new Hard Drive, and what to do if it doesn't. And, I'll even tell you how to clone your original hard drive to your new hard drive, swap them, and have OS/2 boot off your new hard drive, just like it did off your old one. And it's free! What more could you possibly want?

So maybe you're thinking, gee, more hard drive space... I can store more games now! But, alas, the multimedia portions of your system are just slowing those games down. That's OK, because I'll also be talking about how and why to upgrade your CD-ROM drive, and how to correctly install a new sound card under OS/2. Yes, there is a wrong way, and if you try to change it, chances are you'll do it the wrong way, just like I did. And, by the way, if anyone pesters me, I'll also include some nifty Pro Audio Spectrum tips, because (until I got rid of it for my new AWE32) I think I was one of the 6 people who actually got it to work right under OS/2 and WinOS2.

After that's out of the way, we can talk about processors, and what's available for systems these days. You may be surprised at just how inexpensive a really nice Pentium class overdrive can be had for these days. And, yes, I said Pentium-class, because sometimes you'll find that a non-Intel chip can smoke the "Real Deal".

And then, finally, I'll mention some little upgrades that are relatively inexpensive, but will help you to wring that last bit of performance out of your system.

If anyone out there in Web-land has any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to e-mail them to me, and I'll try to include them in my next article.


Jon Cochran is a full time student at Rider University majoring in History/Secondary Education. He hopes (or at least his parents do) to graduate soon.

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