Upgrading Your Computer for Digital Video

on Sunday, February 10, 2008

Picture this: Our hero carefully unscrews an access panel on the blinking device, revealing a rat’s nest of wires and circuits. A drop of sweat runs down his face as the precious seconds tick away, and he knows that fate hangs by a slender thread. The hero’s brow creases as he tries to remember the procedure:

“Do I cut the blue wire or the red wire?”

If the thought of opening up your computer and performing upgrades fills you with a similar level of anxiety, you’re not alone. The insides of modern computers can seem pretty mysterious, and you might be understandably nervous about tearing apart your expensive PC or Mac to perform hardware upgrades. Indeed, all the chips, circuit boards, and other electronic flotsam inside the computer case are sensitive and easily damaged.

You can even hurt yourself if you’re not careful, so if you don’t have any experience with hardware upgrades, you are probably better off consulting a professional before making any changes or repairs to your PC. But if you have done hardware upgrades before, digital video may well inspire you to make more upgrades now or in the near future. If you do decide to upgrade your computer, some basic rules include:
  • Review your warranty. Hardware upgrades might invalidate your computer’s warranty if it still has one.
  • RTM. This is geek-speak for, “Read The Manual.” The owner’s manual that came with your computer almost certainly contains important information about what can be upgraded and what can’t. The manual may even have detailed, illustrated instructions for performing common upgrades.
  • Back up your data. Back up your important files on recordable CDs, Zip disks, or another storage device available to you. You don’t want to lose work, pictures, or other data that will be difficult or impossible to replace.
  • Gather license numbers and ISP (Internet Service Provider) information.
  • If you have any important things like software licenses stored in saved e-mails, print them out so that you have hard copies. Also, make sure that you have all the access information for your ISP (account name, password, dial-up numbers, server addresses, and so on) handy in case you need to re-install your Internet service.
  • Gather all your software CDs. Locate all your original installation discs for your various programs, including your operating system (Mac OS or Windows), so that you’ll be able to reinstall them later if necessary.
  • Turn off the power. The computer’s power should be turned off to avoid damage to components and electrocution to yourself.
  • Avoid static electricity build-up. Even if you didn’t just walk across a shag carpet and pet your cat, your body still probably has some static electricity built up inside. A tiny shock can instantly destroy the tiny circuits in expensive computer components. Before touching any components, touch your finger to a bare metal spot on your computer’s case to ground yourself. I also recommend wearing a grounding strap, which can be purchased at most electronics stores for $2-3. Now that’s what I call cheap insurance!
  • Handle with care. Avoid touching chips and circuitry on the various computer components. Try to handle parts by touching only the edges or other less-delicate parts.
  • Protect those old parts. If you are taking out an old component (such as a 64MB memory module) and replacing it with something better (like a 256MB memory module), the old part may still be worth something to somebody. If nothing else, if your newly purchased part is defective, at least you can put the old part back in to get your computer running again. And if the new part works fine, you may be able to salvage a few bucks by auctioning the old part on the Internet!
Again, when in doubt, you should consult with a computer hardware professional. In fact, you may find that the retailer that sold you the upgraded parts also offers low cost or even free installation service.