Computer Dying? Try This Before You Junk It!

If your computer is running poorly and you think it may be about to crap out, don?t junk it?the problem may not be the computer itself. It may be the operating system. It may not be that your computer dying at all.

Our kid?s computer, a desk top, got hit with a virus about a month ago, one that the AVG system wasn?t able to stop. The computer was at a near standstill. We checked with the Geek Squad to see what they would charge to remove it–$200 plus tax.

Not gonna happen. The computer is five years old, and we?d sooner replace it than pay that much to have it fixed.

We added another anti-virus system that we?ve had excellent results with on our other computers (Trend Micro). It seemed to do the job, but the computer wasn?t moving any faster. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with the techs at Trend, who identified that the problem may be deep in the system registry. They did get the virus thoroughly removed according to their system and Microsoft?s. But still no luck on improving the performance of the computer.

Time for a new computer?

Was it time to toss the computer and buy a new one?

In truth, the computer had been running slow for a few months. Since it?s used mainly for Facebook, emails and games?a lot of games?we assumed it was just worn out from too much use and too many applications.

Right now, we have two desktops and two laptops, and though the desktops will eventually be replaced by laptops, we want to keep them around as long as possible.

Our son talked with a friend of his about the computer, and the friend suggested that we try adding a different operating system to the computer, rather than getting rid of the unit. He knew how to do it, and offered to install it.

Now our son?s friend is 18, and though we might have been skeptical of his technical skills, there really wasn?t much to lose since the computer was heading for trash pick up the way it was.

An old computer that?s good as new

Our junior computer expert came in and installed the Linux system over the existing Windows system. Once he did, the computer functioned as if it were brand new. The improvement in speed was incredible. We couldn?t have bought a new computer that would run faster.

The real problem was never the computer. I?m speculating here because I?m not a computer tech, but I?m guessing it could have been the plethora of games and applications added to the computer over the years. Or it could have been the hundreds of Windows updates added automatically. What ever the issue, the constant piling up of applications and updates made the computer seem old and tired.

By replacing Windows with Linux, all of that went away and the system now functions flawlessly.

That might invite the question, why not just reformat the computer? I?ve done that myself, and it took many hours to re-add Windows to the reformatted hard drive. The Linux addition took out Windows in the process of the download and the entire exercise took less than an hour.

Some caveats before going this route

One thing to understand about this process is that when you put Linux, or any other operating system on your old computer, everything associated with the original system will disappear. Windows has its own applications?email, Word, accessories and the like?all of that will be gone when you add the new system.

With that in mind, back up documents unique to Windows, either on cd?s or on another Windows based computer. This includes important Word documents, photos and even emails.

Another alternative?that we didn?t choose?is to ?partition? the computer. In this way, you can have dual operating systems, with both Windows and the new system working at the same time. This will enable you to retain unique Windows records, but to surf freely (and quickly!) in Linux. Windows won?t improve with the partition, but it will enable you to bridge the move from one system to the other at your own pace.

A near perfect ending

For my own purposes, I like Windows and would have preferred keeping it, but it isn?t my computer. My kids are happy with the speed and performance, and we?ve managed to keep an old computer for longer than we thought possible.

The moral of the story is that we usually have options if we dig a little deeper. Often we?re trained to ditch anything that?s more than a few years and replace it with something new. But if funds are tight and alternatives exist, it may be better to see what can be worked out.

There?s always a question of fix or repair; for now, it looks like we?ve saved ourselves a few hundred dollars on a new computer by taking a chance on the repair option.

Have you ever done anything like this with an ?old? computer? Do you have any other ideas on how to extend their lives?

( Photo by waffler )

16 Responses to Computer Dying? Try This Before You Junk It!

  1. 99% of the time, the problem with a computer is not hardware related. Ok, that percentage may be a bit strict, but really, most of the problems with a computer can be solved by reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling Windows, though I’m with you and know Linux is a better operating system; it’s faster, more secure and doesn’t have any licensing bs to deal with. I’ve had my linux systems running for going on 4 years without a reformat, and reboot them only once or twice a month!

  2. My desktop got the blue screen o’ death, and I know that is tied to windows. However, I am clueless about installing Linux. I can get the computer to work for about 10 minutes before it dies, so I have backed up what I need. Now I need to figure out my next step.

  3. We had a Compaq laptop that was 4 year old, a work PC the company didn’t want back. I found the original install discs and it runs pretty well.
    First rule of PCs – keep everything that came with the computer. You should be able to put it back to its original state with little effort. Jesse is right, software corrupts easily, with or without viruses. 99 may be right on track, ok, maybe 98?
    Second rule – keep all purchased software handy for the big reinstall, and all downloaded software burned to CD/DVDs with a log of activation codes.
    Third are the rules about backing up important files.

  4. Joe – Excellent advice (Keep what came with computer, keep all purchased software, and back up important files). When computers are functioning properly, it doesn’t occur to us that anything can go wrong. But when it does, it’s a stop the presses kind of problem, but at that point you’re struggling to make order out of an impaired system. Computers are one of those arena’s where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings especially true.

    ET – If you want to install Linux but don’t know how, it might be worth paying the Geek Squad or some other knowledgable party to do it for you. What I’ve found with major installations is that while I can do them, the time it takes and the potential for problems are so high that it’s worth paying a couple of hundred to someone else to do it for you, especially if you need your computer yesterday (or sooner!).

    Jesse – I’m with you, the software is usually the problem. One of the problems is that we’ve gotten so used to Windows that we can’t imagine going with another system. We’d rather pay hundreds more for a brand new Windows based system than to strike out into something new and different, even if it may be better. BTW, I’ve heard the same is true of Apple–no need to reformat or to shut down so frequently. Also, fewer viruses! Apparently Windows is so entrenched that even the viruses prefer it!

  5. My coworker has been telling me about the wonders of Linux and Ubuntu for a long time now! Are you able to run the same basic programs, or are you relegated to using open source programs only?

  6. Apple and Linux are built on the same original kernel, called Unix. But it has been decades since then and they have both changed quite a bit since then. Because they are both built on Unix, it’s true that they both offer the same stability but with Apple, you pay the huge price tag. Linux can be installed, free of charge, on almost anything including Apple hardware, PC hardware, computers from 1980, handheld devices, etc 🙂

  7. Khaleef, that all depends 🙂 you can actually install a fair amount of Windows software on Linux, but it takes some fiddling, as they are not built on the same code base. On the other hand though, almost every application you use on Windows has 5 alternative on Linux. The one and only thing I have found that I missed when I moved to Linux was gaming. Most games are only built for Windows. But I don’t game anymore, so it’s no longer an issue.

  8. Jesse, thanks for taking Khaleef’s question! I’m not savvy enough on Linux to be able to address those questions. It does seem like it’s a bit of an effort to make the transition completely, but we’re too early on to give “expert” advice on Linux itself. The main point I wanted to make is that you can get a lot more life out of your computer just by changing operating systems. That’s worth at least a few hundred dollars to a lot of people.

  9. For what it’s worth, Ubuntu is a Linux distribution that’s almost a “Linux for Dummies” You need to know very little to get the basic programs going. For most family computers, a browser (Firefox is my fav) OpenOffice (spreadsheet, writing apps) and a few others will do.
    Finding software is done via a pull down menu, you don’t need to find and have a crazy install process for each. I’ll keep you in mind, Kevin, if I ever get bored enough to write a full post on moving to Linux. You’re site is much more varied in content than mine, if you’re interested.
    Final note – I am not as big a geek as most around me, Ubuntu appealed to me when I had a PC sitting there with Vista, and replaced it with a late model Mac. Tried Ubuntu just to tinker.

  10. Joe – If you want to write a post on this I’d welcome it & link it to this one. So far the move to Linux has been effortless, but we haven’t pushed hard either. I’ve heard about OpenOffice, so we’ll try that soon. If it all works on the kids computer, we’ll move it to our main unit too.

  11. nice read…
    coz I think one of my computer has come to its end of service 🙁
    guess linux is good for old computer.

  12. Something you can do is use those old computer parts if you have a problem with other machines. So don?t throw or waste anything!

  13. PCR – Excellent point. We’ve got some spare parts around here–you never know when you’ll need them.

  14. The most important thing you can do with any computer is a daily back-up. For some years now, I have been doing back-ups on an external hard drive. For one thing, if something really bad happens, I can grab the external and run.

    When I have had to re-install windows, I have been able to restore all applications and data files with no problem. I also keep a separate file of all serial numbers, passwords, and CD numbers for software, hardware, and any site requiring a password. I even maintain a print out of it just in case.

    Overkill? Maybe but it has saved me a lot of grief on more than one occasion. I have never regretted it a bit. With the price of external drives so low now, I can think of no reason not to do this.

  15. Hi James–You’re so right about backing up the your files. In switching over to Linux, all of the saved documents and files from Windows will be lost forever. If you back up regularly, the loss won’t be so bad if you lose only the most recent files.

  16. Kevin, I enjoyed this post. I had a similar experience which I detailed in a post on my blog. I found Linux Mint to be very user friendly.

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