Should You Buy A New Computer Or Not? That Is The Question.


Q. I’ve been using Windows 98 for several years, and while I’m happy with it, I’d like to update my operating system to XP so I can take advantage of more powerful applications. I’ve been regularly upgrading my computer memory and it runs just fine. I’d like to keep my current computer and just upgrade the operating system. It seems silly to buy a new computer when my current one works so well. However, several colleagues tell me it’s a mistake to try to install XP on the old machine. They say I should buy a new computer with the latest operating system already installed. What are your thoughts?

A. I agree with your colleagues. In the long run, you’ll save money and time and spare yourself lots of frustration. Let me explain.

Even though you’ve upgraded your hardware, I’d bet you haven’t installed a new, bigger hard disk, which means your current one probably is crammed to overflowing. It’s even less likely that you’ve replaced your central processing unit (CPU)—that’s the electronic chip which is the computer’s brain, so your computer probably is running far slower than new machines. At a minimum you’ll have to upgrade the CPU for XP to run most effectively.

But there is a more commanding reason to get a new computer: Upgrading operating systems—especially from a version as old as Windows 98—is chancy at best. If you try to install the new system on top of the old one, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with software conflicts that even a tech expert would be hard pressed to solve. After all, one of the reasons you’re upgrading to XP is because it’s far more crash-proof than earlier versions of Windows.

You’ll probably have somewhat better luck if you reformatted (completely erased everything on the old hard disk) and then loaded XP; but even that is risky. To do that you will have to download all your data files, store them and then copy them back onto the old machine. If you bought a new machine, you would be able to offload files from the old machine directly onto the new one.

The bottom line: Operating systems (and even applications) loaded by the computer manufacturer almost always run flawlessly because the software has been adjusted ever so slightly to work best on that new hardware. When someone upgrades an old machine, all the tinkering in the world, even by an expert, is not likely to match those adjustments.

STANLEY ZAROWIN, a former JofA senior editor, is now a contributing editor to the magazine. His e-mail address is .

Do you have technology questions for this column? Or, after reading an answer, do you have a better solution? Send them to contributing editor Stanley Zarowin via e-mail at or regular mail at Journal of Accountancy , 201 Plaza Three, Harborside Financial Center, Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881.

Because of the volume of mail, we regret we cannot individually answer submitted questions. However, if a reader’s question has broad interest, we will answer it in a forthcoming Technology Q&A column.

On occasion you may find you cannot implement a function I describe in this column. More often than not it’s because not all functions work in every operating system or application. I try to test everything in the 2000 and XP editions of Windows and Office. It’s virtually impossible to test them in all editions, and it’s equally difficult to find out which editions are incompatible with a function. I apologize for the inconvenience.



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