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10 pieces of hardware you should replace rather than repair


Any time a computer component stops working, or just becomes unstable -- as we all know will happen from time to time -- we have to decide whether to replace it, have it repaired, or just get by as is with perhaps a temporary fix. Repair or just getting by will nearly always be the cheapest solution, at least in the short run. Replacement, however, will usually provide a good opportunity to upgrade. In fact, given the rate at which the various technologies behind computer hardware are advancing, unless you replace something a week after you buy it, you may almost be forced to upgrade.Following are a few items which, if replaced (and generally upgraded), can provide excellent benefits, from an enhanced user experience to additional compatibility, greater longevity, and stability for the whole system.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Power supply

One of the most overlooked pieces of computer hardware is the power supply unit (PSU). Computer enthusiasts often brag about their blazing fast processors, top-of-the- line video cards, and gigs upon gigs of RAM, but rarely about their great PSUs.

The truth is, the power supply is the last thing we should skimp on when choosing components for our system. If a computer's brain is its processor, its heart is the power supply. And having one that is worn out, underpowered, unstable, or just generally cheap can be a major cause of hardware failure.

Every computer's power requirements are different, but a good minimum for a modern PC is 450 watts. Some systems, especially those with multiple high-end video cards or lots of add-on cards and peripherals may require a PSU rated at 800 watts or more. Replacing a failing or inadequate power supply can make a previously unstable system stable.

Aside from supplying enough power, that power must be supplied stably. A common cause of "unexplained" lockups and system crashes is a drop in voltage supplied to the system when under load, caused by a poorly manufactured PSU. The easiest way to find a quality PSU is to stick to the consistently top brands such as Antec, EnerMax, and PC Power & Cooling.

#2: Fans

As computers have gotten more powerful over the last decades, they have also gotten hotter. Gone are the days of a passively cooled Pentium 100; now we have fans on our massive CPU heatsinks, on our monster video cards, and on intake and outtake vents to our computer cases. All of these fans are playing important roles by keeping our computers safely cooled, and we should try to ensure that they continue doing so.

Fans are one of the few parts that when replaced will not usually be replaced with something better. But they deserve mention because:

  • As one of the few moving parts in our system, they are one of the most likely to actually break.
  • When they break, it's likely to pass unnoticed or not cause much concern.

Also, fans are cheap and easy to replace. It generally takes about 10 dollars, 15 minutes, and a screwdriver to install a new one, so there's really no good excuse for not doing so.

#3: Surge protector / UPS

This is another item that keeps our computers safe and should not be neglected. A surge protector can be a stand-alone power strip, but one is also built into virtually every uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The surge protector guards our devices against spikes in energy that occur in our circuits at the home or office, usually due to lightning or the powering up of high-powered devices, such as hair dryers or refrigerators. Repairing a surge protector would be difficult and expensive at best; replacement is almost always the best option.

It can be tricky to know when it's time to replace a surge protector, because the component inside that diverts excess power from surges to the ground simply wears out with repeated use. However, there is often no interruption of power or other indication that it's done. You may still have juice but not be protected. The cheapest protectors may wear out after fewer than 10 small surges, while the better ones can last through hundreds. The safest thing to do is to get higher quality protectors but still replace them occasionally.

#4: Video card

The video card is one of the most important elements in the performance of your system and overall user experience. Even though it is also one of the priciest components, there are two good reasons to replace it should your old one bite the dust.

First, video cards are one of the components that are being improved upon seemingly every day. Just like with CPUs, a video card that's two years old simply isn't as fast as a current one and won't have the newest features (such as support for DirectX 10).

Also, the video card is the number one hardware stopgap as we migrate to Vista. Manufacturers just aren't providing new Vista-compatible drivers for lots of their old video cards. This means that many of us will have to replace our video cards whether they are broken or not, if we plan to switch to Vista.

#5: Flash media reader

All kinds of devices use flash cards these days: cameras, MP3 players, even cell phones. These small devices let us take our data anywhere easily. Since it seems as if every device uses a different format of flash media, most of us have all-in-one type card readers. If the reader breaks or gets lost (which seems to happen a lot), there are two excellent reasons for upgrading to a newer model instead of trying to repair the old one.

First, many old card readers are USB 1.1. The newer ones use USB 2.0 instead, which is 40 times faster. This is more than enough reason to replace an old reader, even if it's not broken.

In addition, new formats are constantly coming out for flash cards, and when they do, you need a new reader to use them. For example, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) and xD from Fujifilm are not supported by older readers.

#6: CD/DVD drives

Considering that it has moving, spinning parts, the average CD/DVD drive is actually fairly robust. Because of that, however, many people are still using old read-only (or CD RW) drives instead of amazingly cheap (and handy) DVD writers. If you're still using an old drive and it finally gives up the ghost, you'll probably be glad it did when you replace it with a DVD/CD RW combo drive for less than 50 dollars.

#7: Hard drives

The computer component we all least want to fail is the hard drive. It's easier to cope with the loss of the much more expensive processor or video card as long as we still have our precious data, so your first instinct is to try to repair it. But if you've been practicing good backup habits, you can actually come out of the situation better off when you replace the old drive with something bigger and faster.

The "giant" 100-GB hard drive of a few years ago is no longer so large. Today, you can get 750 GB for less than 200 bucks. In addition to being much, much larger, newer hard drives will generally be Serial ATA II (SATA II), which has a maximum data transfer rate of about 300 MB/s as opposed to SATA I's 150 MB/s and the older Parallel ATA (PATA) rate of 133 MB/s. SATA II is fairly new, so many motherboards don't support it. But even if yours doesn't, the SATA II drives generally have a jumper that can put them in SATA I mode.

TIP: Right now, most SATA II hard drives ship with this limiting jumper in place by default, so if your board does support SATA II, be sure to change the jumper before you install the drive.

#8: Monitor

With the exception of servers, a computer isn't much good without a monitor. Monitors rarely make it all the way to the stage of completely not working, because we replace them when they start to fade. If you replace a monitor that's more than a few years old, the new will likely not much resemble the old.

Any reluctance you may have had to switch from the giant 50-pound cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor to a slim and featherweight liquid crystal display (LCD) should be gone by now. The gap in performance in terms of color rendering and refresh rates between CRTs and LCDs is very small. Unless you're a graphics designer who needs a multi-thousand dollar large screen CRT, the benefits of size, weight, power consumption, and less eye fatigue that LCDs enjoy will far outweigh any small performance advantages of a CRT. With the exception of the extremely high and extremely low end markets, it's quite hard to find a new CRT monitor anyway.

If you were already using an LCD that's a few years old, when you replace it you'll enjoy those leaps in performance that the LCDs have made in the last few years.

#9: Keyboard

Since so many of us spend hours every day banging away at them, it's important to have a keyboard that's comfortable and efficient. And since we use them so much and often so brutally, it is no wonder that they break often. Keys come off, get stuck, or just get really dirty. When these things happen, you should usually go ahead and replace the keyboard rather than live with the hassle.

Today's keyboards have new, handy features. Some have built in user-defined macro keys for often-repeated commands; some can fold up for easy transportability; some have built-in ports so they can double as USB hubs. There is a keyboard with some unique feature to suit nearly anyone's needs.

#10: Motherboard and processor

Replacing the motherboard is always the most involved upgrade. Since it usually means "starting over" with a clean installation of the operating system, lots of people are reluctant to change to a newer board even when the old one gives up the ghost, preferring instead to replace it with the exact same model, thus avoiding having to wipe the OS. However, since a motherboard upgrade is the most involved, it also can give the widest range of benefits.

First and foremost, replacing the motherboard usually gives us the chance to upgrade to the latest processor technology. Today, you can get the benefits of a dual or even quad CPU setup with only one processor, thanks to multi-core technology, in which more than one processing core is placed on a single wafer. In a multitasking or multithreaded environment, this effectively increases your computer's performance by a factor of two or four.

Additionally, upgrading the motherboard gives you access to new technologies for other components. PATA and SATA I hard drives (and optical drives) can be upgraded to SATA II. AGP video cards can be upgraded to PCI-E. USB 1.1 ports become USB 2.0. The list goes on for virtually every component. Sometimes, even though it can be a pain, starting over can be the best thing.


Kris Littlejohn is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, distinguished by its large population of nerds and lack of a football team (almost unheard of in Texas). He builds computer systems, does network consulting for small businesses, and teaches chess. He grew up in a home that had four times as many computers as people and has been trying to tame the beasts for most of his life.

About

Kris Littlejohn grew up in a household of tech writers and has been playing with, building/disassembling, and writing about computers and other gadgets from an early age, including a number of articles for TechRepublic.

48 comments
tedsmith5752
tedsmith5752

Thank you for the list of computer parts that need to be replaced instead of repaired. I can see why you wouldn't want to repair it. It will just be less efficient if you repair the old part. By getting a new part, you are able to get the best quality out of it.
http://www.microworx.com/service.php?ser=home

JaxWillis23
JaxWillis23

I remember when I was young and our computer would always have problems. I never really knew how to fix it or make it better. I don't remember very well because of how long ago it was, but I think it was almost always one of these things that ended up going bad before the computer just died for good.

http://www.microagesolutions.net/ 

angelakillpack
angelakillpack

I really liked your suggestion to replace rather than repair your power supply. Once the power supply goes, it's really hard to get that repaired and working again like new. There were a lot of other things mentioned in this post that I can see would be more beneficial to replace than try to repair, but there are some things that can be fixed. If your computer is just going slower than normal, you might just need malware removed and a professional can help you do that if you can't do it yourself. http://Jerryscomputerrepair.com 

ManoaHI
ManoaHI

People, what's going on here? This article is not meant for us. This is meant for people who aren't sure what's better. It isn't even meant for newbies since this is a bit beyond them. Our comments confuse the intended audience. The only thing I find odd is that computer enthusiasts do in fact brag about their PSUs. I won't go into what I have since that will invalidate the above.

rmjones8
rmjones8

I think it should have been mentioned that SATA I to SATA II isn't really an upgrade at this point, since no hard drives spins fast enough to even perform at 1.5 GHz per second. In fact hard drives that I bought nearly 2 years ago are still top sellers today and cost nearly the same as well. This is one area where improving technology has stagnated a bit.

marzolian
marzolian

My perfect keyboard would have an ergonomic shape. I have been using a Microsoft Natural for years and it can't be beat. On any other keyboard, my wrists feel cramped. But it needs to have a cursor control device that can be used without swinging my arm 12 inches to the right. There's space in the middle for either a J-stick (like the ones found in Thinkpad, Dell, and a few other notebooks) or a touchpad. It could go above the spacebar, or below it on the wrist pad. Please, let me know if you see anything like this. Steven Marzuola

The Kat
The Kat

As I sit here reading this I realize I have no excuse to put off replacing my CD-RW drive any longer. I've spent 22 hours the past couple of days fussing with it and trying to find fixes, all the while knowing in my heart it had died. Thank you for breaking through my "fix-it mindset". Kat

sx43h
sx43h

In a throw away society, nothing is really worth repairing. However, as a service technician, personally I have repaired many pieces of computer hardware which were irreplaceable to the owner. Excellent article, there should be more of it.

bob
bob

It is hard for me to believe anyone is actually repairing items like these.

masm007sa
masm007sa

Excuse me, but you are telling me to replace almost everything. You should have said "when anything goes wrong with your computer , get a new one"

knudson
knudson

DuH whats left. Basically if anything in your computer fails, replace it. the article is mostly a waste of time.

marvin.waschke
marvin.waschke

I take exception to replacing keyboards. I have have used the same keyboard for close to 20 years, moving it from machine to machine, cleaning when required, and adding whatever adapters needed to make it work. It is now plugged into a usb port on my laptop (with two adapters) and I would not replace it for the world.

dougywaggy
dougywaggy

HI finally someone agrees that all your old computer parts can be put to good use.You dont have to spend much do your first upgrade if your computer is 2 and half years and 3 years max.After that it is best to change the items as their shelves do not last so long..The cost savings will blow your mind away.I always believe if it aint spoilt why change it for a newer better model if it is still able to suit your needs.Its like buying the top-end motherboard or graphic cards used for gaming.These parts are better than the regular joe's cause gaming need fast speed processing,graphic that dont lag and ect.I always keep things like my floopy/hdd/dvd/cd-rom/ram/motherboard battery if i am changing my mother board,just to keep it as spare.ide cables,nuts and screws it they are not rusty,fans(clean them up and they look just like new)power supply,ups surge ofcouse.Alot of people do not know that to upgrade you can save some cash without a sweat.GRaphic cards and sound cards ,on my personel opnion has reached a point where they have reached the ceiling.It is like putting a 1.6 engine in a porche,it looks great on the outside.The processors are outclassed in technogy wise. Well to other readers,i have been planning this for awhile.To get old computers that are not working or old to be given as a donation and refurbish them for schools in 3rd world countries.I am sure many people have old junk computers/parts/ect just lying around.I think it might just be a world epidemic of old computers being given a new life. Yours Sincerly DOUGLAS S CHAPMAN dougywaggy@hotmail.com

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Pardon me, but it looks more like you listed every major component of the system. Be a lot easier to just say, "If a part fails, don't bother to fix it, just replace it." Of course that would make for a very short article.

pobstar1
pobstar1

The Thermaltake Company is also a very trusty and top brand when it comes to PC hardware. The Thermaltake???s PSU are range from expert in the top brands.

Jaytmoon
Jaytmoon

10: Motherboard and processor You overlooked the (likely) need to replace the ram as well (when rplaceing the cpu and MB). All newer MoBo's can accept ddr2 or ddr3 which will provide a tremendous performance boost.

djdawson
djdawson

The one thing I can remember repairing rather than replacing was the motherboard on an old Dell SC400. It had the bulging capacitors and wasn't under warranty any longer and Dell wanted an obscene amount for a new one. Since it wasn't a critical server, and replacement caps were available online for something like $0.10 each (I needed only 3 or 4), it seemed worth the effort to attempt the repair (which was successful, by the way). Typically, however, I agree that there generally aren't any repairable components in todays systems.

alxnsc
alxnsc

There is one last thing left to throw out and not try to repair - the memory... Well, is there any PC part worth repairing? No, of course. Open your Windows, don't hesitate, throw everything out, right on.

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

Today, you can get the benefits of a dual or even quad CPU setup with only one processor, thanks to multi-core technology, in which more than one processing core is placed on a single wafer. In a multitasking or multithreaded environment, this effectively increases your computer???s performance by a factor of two or four. Erhm, not quite double or quadruple. There's a little overhead for inter-processor communication and coordination. The more realistic speed gain is about 1.7-1.8x

ginkep
ginkep

This one is an example of useless article or even misleading. Its up to me to decide, if I am an IT specialist (if your are not - go get one). And I will do this by investigating a situation, but not by reference of some 10 injunctions. Imagine situation, there you have system working a couple of years and you are to throw a motherboard 'cos it malfuncion cause - one leaked capacitor. Change capacitor and the system will serve you particular needs another decade ;). OK - let's see one"...replacing the motherboard usually gives us the chance to upgrade to the latest processor technology" - in most cases this leads to change some more components. If I realy need new features, new technologies for my capacities i'll buy an entirely new system (don't even argue - there are plenty reasons way). All this smells to me like consumer oriented article: don't repair, don't think - by new one. Everything has a particular price for particular needs to get an efective solution.

Genera-nation
Genera-nation

By this - if any go you get a new one, which would be the case anyway. What about System Memory????? Just a point but when was the last time anybody 'fixed' any on the list when it was broken?

jrensink78
jrensink78

I'm trying to think of something on a laptop or desktop computer that is worth repairing as opposed to fixing, and I really can't think of anything other than simple mechanical/physical problems. For instance, if a key pops off a keyboard or if your CD tray is stuck with a CD in it. But most failures are due to problems in the electronics. Not really repairable by the average tech. Even if they are repairable, if it will take any significant amount of time it is probably still not worth it.

dntoorkey
dntoorkey

I would like to add a bit on the PSU-Surge Protector. Whilst investing in a good quality surge protector is a must, it is often diificult to know whether the protector is up to par. To check this, one can open it up and locate the main surge protector on the circuit board. This will look like a dime with wires soldered on eihter side. This absorbs the surge and converts it to heat. If the surge is beyond its capability, the "dime" bursts open and can be identified and replaced.

bhammer
bhammer

I'm not an expert on power, but I do know that the surge suppressors that are commonly used on most computers (and probably all home computers) are not capable of protecting electronic equipment from direct lightning hits. Too many of us put too much faith in our store-bought suppressors. According to the website howstuffworks.com?: "The most familiar source (of a surge) is probably lightning, though it's actually one of the least common causes. When lightning strikes near a power line, whether it's underground, in a building or running along poles, the electrical energy can boost electrical pressure by millions of volts. This causes an extremely large power surge that will overpower almost any surge protector. In a lightning storm, you should never rely on your surge protector to save your computer. The best protection is to unplug your computer.?" For more information on this subject click here http://computer.howstuffworks.com/surge-protector3.htm. Also, and I know I'm getting picky here, but the problem with "Top Ten Lists"? is that we often limit ourselves to, well, ten items, when in fact there may be eleven items or more. For example, just recently I purchased a wireless mouse. I did it because I was getting tired of the cord of my old mouse getting tangled up with the many cords on the back of my computer, many of which are USB cords. My new mouse solved that problem, but it also solved the problem of constantly opening up the old mouse to clean it from the dirt the ball would pick up.

ajay_3jat
ajay_3jat

YAH I AGREE . I AM SATISFIED WITH THE VIEWS OF THE WRITER . KRIS . THANKS FOR THE SUGGESTIONS . GIVE ME SOME MORE SUGGESTIONS ABOUT THE HARDWARE PROFILES . I USE THESE OFTENLY . THANKS FOR JOINING U ?

gnr
gnr

Most of these 10 things are actually the components meant not to be repaired. I have seen that it is mostly not reasonable to consider repairing devices which cost less then $200. In general: computers and expensive peripherials can be repaired.

tj.itsme
tj.itsme

I don't think it's actually possible to repair many of those things mentioned. PSU repair is possible but I've yet to see anyone repair a motherboard...

unhappyuser
unhappyuser

Overall, a good article. I'm not a gamer so I consider a 450 W ps plenty. On surge suppressors/protectors - the more expensive type is the way to go. Be sure to get one with phone/net protection. We still have a lot of people using dialup in our neck of the woods and I've seen many a computer die because the phone line wasn't protected. EMD

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