How complicated can it be?

In considering the difficulty of selecting and installing upgrades to your computer system, we can divide them simply into two types - those that necessitate opening the computer case (the box that houses the processor), and those that don't.

If you can upgrade your system simply by plugging the new component into one of the connections available on the outside of the computer case, there will likely be few issues of compatibility and installation. You may be happy to do this yourself. If not, Winhill can help you for no/little extra charge.

On the other hand, if you need to open the computer case in order to install an upgrade, there will be a number of issues to be considered:

The protection of the electronics from damage.

The physical and electrical compatibility of the upgrade.

The compatibility of its performance.

Exactly what's involved?

In the notes that follow, we briefly describe the compatibility and installation issues of each different upgrade, to help you understand what's involved. However, for all upgrades that are installed inside the computer case, you should be aware of the risk of damage to your system from erroneous connection and from static electricity. In the absence of a proper, static-free environment, you must:

Connect the chassis of the computer system to a good electrical ground.

Avoid any conditions under which you pick up static electricity.

Connect yourself to the ground at all times while the case is open.

Don't allow anybody else near the system while the case is open.

Don't touch any of the components to be installed into the system unless you are first grounded.

Warning - static electricity can destroy sensitive electronic components.

To avoid risk to yourself, your PC, and the upgrade that you're installing, you may prefer to ask Winhill to perform the upgrade for you. Our charges for this are very reasonable - we want your upgrade to be successful.

Just what can we upgrade?

Below, we provide some detailed comments on choosing particular upgrades, and the ease or difficulty of installing them. You may click on any of the following headings to go directly to that section.

"CPU" - The Processor Chip

"Motherboard" - the Main Board of the Computer

RAM Memory

Hard Disk Drive

Disk Controller



Other Upgrades



Upgrading the "CPU" - The Processor Chip

The processor chip is invariably plugged into a special socket on the main board, the "motherboard" inside the computer case. Different chips fit into different types of socket and require differing electrical voltages and "clock" speeds.

Most motherboards support particular processor chips with a range of speeds. Unless you already have the fastest processor supported by your motherboard, the simplest upgrade may be to change the processor chip. This will involve choosing exactly the right processor, and setting a number of "jumper" switches on the motherboard.

Any speed gain is good, but to run modern software you'll need to have a processor that runs at a clock speed of at least 133 MHz. Our new systems run at 350 MHz upwards, and you may want nothing less.

When this type of upgrade is possible and worthwhile, an experienced technician needs only access to the technical documentation for your system and good protection against static electricity. Once the correct processor has been selected, and all the settings have been figured, the actual installation should take only minutes. Typically, Winhill's charge will be around $20 for the work involved, and the cost of the processor will depend on its speed.

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Upgrading the "Motherboard" - the Main Board of the Computer System

As discussed above, the motherboard must be matched and configured to the CPU.

Also on this circuit board are connections (directly or indirectly) to the RAM memory and all the other parts of the computer system - those outside the case, as well as all those inside. There are multiple standards for the connection of each of those parts, as described below for each. If the motherboard does not match all of the other parts, then those parts will need to be changed also.

There are a number of different sizes, or "form factors" of motherboards, and the motherboard you choose must match the available mountings in your computer case.

OK, so let's suppose that you've been able to select a motherboard that matches your computer case, CPU, and all the other parts of the system... what's involved in the installation? A lot of work! Most of the components within the computer case must be removed, then the system can be rebuilt around the new board. This will require time, patience, and expertise (or a lot of luck)!

It may be easier to start with a new tested and working "bare" system - the case, motherboard, and CPU - and transfer some or all of the components of your old system. You'll get the same result with little additional expense in a shorter time.

Alternatively, Winhill can perform this upgrade for you. Assuming that your existing PC is fully compatible with the new components that you select, our charge for this work will be around $55. The cost of the mainboard (and the CPU if you want to upgrade that also) will depend on CPU speed and the specification of your existing system. See our components catalog for examples.

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Upgrading the RAM Memory

In case you have any misconceptions, the RAM memory is not used to store your documents and information - that's the hard disk. The RAM is a temporary store that's wiped out when the computer is switched off. The processor uses the RAM to store the software it's executing and the data it's processing at that moment.

So why would we want to upgrade your RAM? Well, when you're running MS Windows, the amount of RAM you have is very significant. If you have enough RAM, it will avoid a lot of "swapping" to disk, and speed up operation. What's enough? The minimum RAM for Windows 95/98 is 16 MB, but most people agree that you need at least 32 MB. You'll probably find that 64 MB will speed things up a little more. More than 64 MB - generally 96 MB or 128 MB - is necessary only for the most demanding applications today, but could become more necessary in the future.

Fortunately, upgrading RAM is not just an effective improvement, it's usually quick and easy.

There are different types of RAM memory, such as DIMM and SIMM, and different speeds. The types are physically different and you must purchase a type that fits your motherboard. Often you must install them in matched pairs, and there'll be a limit to the number that will fit in the board. Luckily, they come in different capacities (MB of memory).

So, for example, you may find that you need two 72 pin SIMM's each of 32 MB, with a speed of at least 60 ns (the lower the better). Depending on your board, you may be able to add these, or you may have to replace lower capacity ones currently installed.

When you have your new RAM memory, installation is easy. Observing all the usual precautions against static electricity, you open your case, find the available slots, and pop the memory modules in. Later, when you've closed the case and you switch on power, the computer will recognize the upgrade automatically, check that the modules work properly, and use the available memory.

To avoid the risk of damaging sensitive and expensive components, Winhill will perform this upgrade for you. We charge only around $10 for this. The cost of the RAM memory will depend on the type, speed, and size, and market prices can fluctuate from week to week. Generally, the latest types will be less expensive. Finding memory to match older equipment may be more difficult, and it is usually more expensive. Typically, prices can range from $70 to $140 for 64 MB of memory.

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Upgrading the Hard Disk Drive

As computers have progressed, we've seen the capacity and speed of disk storage devices increase, while their physical size and cost has decreased. At first, disks of 5MB and 10 MB were the norm, then we used 40 MB to 120 MB drives, but now disks are measured in GB - thousands of MB. Today, 3.2 GB is probably the smallest drive that's widely sold, and sizes of up to 20 GB are commonly used. Most people will probably think of a disk drive in the 6 GB to 10 GB range.

There are two standards that are widely used today for the connection of disk drives - IDE and SCSI. Each of these has variants, such as Ultra Wide SCSI, Ultra Extended IDE, etc. Generally SCSI drives are always connected to the computer via an expensive adapter, and the adapter must be matched to the design of both motherboard and disk drive. IDE drives are upward compatible, and are connected either directly to the motherboard (if that permits it) or via an adapter. The SCSI drives are appropriate only for the most demanding applications.

Motherboards (or adapters) will allow the connection of either two or four IDE drives, so often you can add a drive, rather than replacing your existing drive. This makes life easier, because if your replace your current drive, you have the problem of moving everything, including your Windows operating system to the new disk.

To install the new drive (assuming it's an addition), you have to open the computer case (again, we warn about static electricity), find a free "bay" to locate the disk drive where it won't overheat, and mount the drive there. Then you have to find a free power connector cord, and plug that into the drive. Finally, you'll need to find an IDE socket, and use your cable to connect the disk drive to that. If your new drive is added to an existing cable (one cable can sometimes support two drives), "jumper" switches on the drives must be set to identify one drive as the "master," the other as the "slave."

After the drive is installed, you must configure your system, so that it recognizes the drive. This is done by changing the basic "BIOS" settings. In most systems, you just set the option for the new drive to "Auto" and the system will determine the dimensions of the new drive. Sometimes, you need to set the number of cylinders, heads, and sectors manually.

When the system recognizes the new drive, it must be formatted (soft formatted only, not hard formatted!), and partitioned. Then, if it's going to be used as your primary disk, you'll need to reinstall all the software and move your data files.

All the above may sound complicated, but it's usually not difficult. It is fairly time consuming, and there are a lot of steps that you have to remember. If you wish Winhill will perform the upgrade for you. We charge around $20 for this work. The cost of the drive will depend on its type, size, and speed. See our components catalog for examples.

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Upgrading the Disk Controller

The cables to your hard disk drives and usually to your floppy disk drive will be plugged into sockets either on the motherboard or on a controller board that is plugged into the motherboard. In either case, the controller can be upgraded. If a separate board is already used, it can be replaced. If the cables plug directly into the motherboard, "jumper" switches or options in the BIOS can be set to disable the built in controller, allowing you to install a new, separate controller.

The new board must match the type of hard disk drives that you plan to use, and the type of slot available on your motherboard (see notes under "Upgrading Adapters" below.

Installation is easy. After opening the case (observing the usual precautions against static electricity), you set the "jumpers" to disable the built in controller or remove the old controller board. Then you insert the new controller into an appropriate slot in the motherboard. You will need to move the hard disk cable(s) to the new board, together with the disk indicator light cable and usually the floppy drive cable.

The procedure described applies to the installation of a controller for IDE disk drives. If installing a controller for SCSI devices, the procedure is similar.

If you wish, Winhill can perform this upgrade for you, at a charge of around $10. The cost of the controller card will depend on type and required performance. With the current widespread use of disk controllers that are integrated into the computer mainboard, there is not much demand for IDE controllers. Hence they are a special order item. Typically they cost from $25 to $60. SCSI controllers are more widely used, when it is necessary to obtain the very high speeds that can be supported by this technology. Prices range from $40 to $270 and more.

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Upgrading Adapters

When upgrading an adapter board, for the control of disks, IO sockets, a modem, the monitor, a network interface, etc., the board must fit an open slot in the motherboard.

Since the mid-eighties most PC's that have been manufactured have included several "ISA" slots. These conform to a standard that was quickly established for connecting the boards. If one of these slots is available, it can be used. However, if another type of slot (see below) is free and you can obtain an adapter for that type, it'll probably provide better performance.

There have been a number of attempts to define and establish alternative, improved standards for connecting adapters to motherboards. The three that you're most likely to find on motherboards today are "PCI", "AGP" (for video adapters only) and "VL Vesa Local Bus." PCI and AGP adapters are widely used, and VL adapters can still be obtained when required. The documentation for your system or motherboard will explain what slots are provided, and a quick inspection inside the computer case will establish which of those are available.

When installing an adapter of any sort, the steps are similar. The board is carefully inserted into the available motherboard slot, then fixed in place with a screw that attaches its bracket to the computer case. Often there are jumper settings that can be made to configure the adapter. Also, there are usually configurations that can be made under software control, and software "drivers" and programs are supplied with the adapter.

Connections are made either with cables from the board to other components within the case or with cables from units outside the case to connectors mounted on the bracket that is then visible at the back of the case. Typically, Winhill's charge for installing this type of ugrade will be around $10.

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Upgrading the Monitor

Since the advent of the MS Windows operating system, VGA or Super VGA monitors have been universally used. Prior to that CGA, monochrome, and EGA monitors were satisfactory. These were lower resolution, and attached to the computer motherboard or the video adapter via a connector that is incompatible (although similarly shaped) to VGA connectors.

Any VGA or SVGA (Super VGA) Monitor can be connected to any VGA/SVGA controller, whether the controller is included in the motherboard or is a separate adapter. However, when the software is configured care should be taken to limit the selected frequency to one within the limits of that screen. Also, the resolution selected may limit the number of colors that can be displayed if the video controller does not have enough memory (RAM) installed.

It is sometimes a good idea to upgrade the video controller, also. This can enable full advantage to be taken of the screen's capabilities, and can substantially enhance speed of graphical display. When you purchase your new monitor from Winhill, we make no charge for on site installation of screen and/or video adapter. You will find examples of monitor and video adapter prices in our components catalog.

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Other Upgrades

Other popular upgrades inside the computer case include the installation of a faster CD-ROM drive, perhaps with writing capabilities or DVD (digital), a removable tape or disk backup device, a fast (56 KB) modem, a sound card, or a fast (100 mbps) network interface card.

Popular plug-in external upgrades include a color printer, scanner, new keyboard and mouse, fast network hub, stereo speakers, or video conferencing camera.

The complexity of installing these upgrades can be compared to similar cases described above. For a full discussion of the considerations involved, please feel free to call us. In all cases we will provide free advice, or perform the upgrade for you. Our fees for this range from $10 to $55.

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Winhill Upgrades Page - last updated 5th July, 1999