How Do I Keep My Old Desktop PC Running?

When your desktop gets old, but you don’t have the heart (or budget) to replace it, there is still a lot you can do to prolong its long and fulfilling life. In this week’s tech support column on Lifehacker, we answer a question from a reader who wants to know what to add to the maintenance checklist for their legacy desktop.

Lifehacker reader “BH” writes:

I have a desktop computer that is almost 10 years old. I want to take the initiative in caring for him, not have to deal with him, dying because of me.

Here’s a partial description:

  • WIN 10; I7 CPU 860 @ 2.80 GHz;
  • 12 GB of RAM;
  • the hard drive is replaced with an SSD;
  • the NVIDIA GeForce GT 630 graphics card updated several years ago with 1 GB;

It used to be pretty quiet, but now it seems like the fan is audible most of the time. Is this a warning sign? Should I consider replacing the computer due to its age, or should I replace any components? I appreciate your thoughts on this.

Here’s the good news, BH. You’ve already completed every major update I can think of. Namely, you installed an SSD in your system (the first thing I would do) and strengthened your graphics card. (The Nvidia GeForce GT 630 is not a powerful engine, but at some point your processor will bottleneck your performance, so I wouldn’t spend money on something more impressive or expensive.)

As long as your system treats you well and lets you do whatever you want with it – even if you can never play 4K – then you’re in the mood for updates for now. Or to put it another way, the next big upgrade you need (or want) to do will replace everything old and build a new computer. You have exhausted your current configuration (or at least very close to it).

When it comes to ongoing maintenance, there is a lot you can do to keep your old computer in top shape. I’ve written a guide on how to remove all dust and debris from your system (including its fans), which you should definitely do at least once a year. More economically, you can also remove your CPU cooler, wipe off the old thermal grease, and apply a fresh batch . (Don’t use too much.)

I love that you are already paying attention to what your system is doing and what sounds it makes. Since you probably use your computer every day, this is one of the best ways to find out if something might go wrong – if your system as a whole sounds different from a few days ago, or if you notice that a particular component is works, you might want to investigate.

In that case, if you can hear a fan even though you haven’t heard it before, your first option is to clean it – I’m guessing we’re talking about one of your 80mm case fans (or whatever size you have. using). If that doesn’t fix the problem, it might be worth replacing. Pulling out a dying fan and replacing it with a new one is super easy, and it costs almost nothing. Heck, you can even get a fan that lights up, or a fan that is quieter (or blows out more air) than the one you had before.

The same is true for a CPU cooler fan or any fan on your graphics card. If they sound odd, clean them properly. If they still sound a bit strange, but work fine and do not work slowly, perhaps you have everything in order, but it is for what you want to watch. You can always replace a failed CPU cooler – either with a standard or aftermarket one. The cooler on the video card, if at fault, is more difficult to replace (if you can even do it). It’s probably best to just buy a new card (or a small upgrade) on eBay.

But this is my advice. Generally speaking, I think that your aging computer can absolutely use a full upgrade. In other words, I would ditch most of its components (excluding the SSD) and build something new. However, if you’re okay with what you have, ignore my advice. Keep your system clean, pay attention to any moving parts that may age, and replace what you can. Knowing how to troubleshoot your computer and keep it in top shape will pay dividends for the rest of your life.


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