Supercharge Your Computer Productivity for Less

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Don't spend hundreds of dollars on a new computer until you try upgrading the one you've got. Here are six tips that will help.

My computer runs incredibly fast and has an incredible display, and people who look at it are insanely jealous. Did I spend thousands of dollars on the latest technology? No, I just applied a few strategic upgrades and a configuration trick or two to a 5-year-old computer that I paid $100 for.

Here’s how you can do the same to your computer…

1. Install a solid-state drive  (SSD). This unsung little box is the greatest performance enhancement to hit computers since the hard drive itself. Rather than using a series of spinning disks, it runs on the same type of memory used in USB flash drives and your camera’s memory chip. Upgrading to one of these drives will dramatically reduce the time it takes to start your computer and open programs. The downside is that a small, 64-gigabyte drive will set you back $100, so you’ll probably need additional storage if you’re saving large media files. As an added bonus, solid-state drives consume less power than traditional ones, so laptop users can expect to get more life out of their battery. Even better, prices are dropping and storage is increasing as the technology matures.

2. Increase your storage. You can never have too much extra hard drive space, but fortunately, new drives are incredibly cheap. A 1-terabyte drive (1,000 gigabytes) costs around $100, and 2 TB drives sell for under $200 – the same price I paid for a 20-megabyte drive 20 years ago.

3. Double your monitors. People who work on just one screen gasp when they see how I pull up a website on one monitor while composing a document on the other. Utilizing multiple monitors was once a technical (and costly) achievement, but now it’s a fairly simple process. If your video card doesn’t already have two outputs, you can order a new one that does for under $20, or just add a second card for even less! Next, just go to your display properties in Windows XP or Windows 7 to designate one monitor as the primary and to extend your display to the other. It’s that simple.

4. Try portrait mode. You wouldn’t view a movie on a narrow, vertical screen, so why look at documents on a widescreen? One of the advantages that a flat-screen display has over an older CRT is that it can be easily rotated from horizontal mode (called landscape) to a vertical configuration (called portrait mode).  This allows you to view an entire document, Web page, or spreadsheet, rather than just the top half.

5. Arm yourself. Once you have multiple flat-screen monitors, you can run out of desk space very quickly. To fix that problem, buy monitor arms so that your displays float above your desk. These can be expensive, but I have had great luck with these arms from 3M that cost about $75.

6. Configure your computer for maximum speed. You don’t need to spend lots of money or become a super-nerd to get the maximum performance from your computer. If you’re running Windows 7, you can just tell it to run faster. In Windows Explorer, right-click on My Computer and choose Properties. Next, choose Advanced System Settings and select the Advanced tab. Finally, click on Performance Settings and choose “Adjust for best performance.” You have just disabled all of the visual effects built into Windows that rob you of much of your performance. Besides, I find these animations unnecessary and distracting. Also, try these 3 Tips to Make Your Old Computer Young Again.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


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