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The Rules of Upgrading Rarely Change

About a year ago, OWC CEO Larry O’Connor had this to say in his Tips and Deals Newsletter:

“It’s fun to talk about the ‘latest and greatest’ – but certainly not practical to buy that new top of the line each time it comes out. Fortunately, since you’ve got a Mac – it happens to have far more longevity than the average Windows PC out there and with some simple upgrades, it can be made better than new. Even if you’re buying a new Mac, for what can be a very nominal investment, it’s still well worth the while to maximize the Mac or Macs you’re still going to keep running.”

It was a very good point then, and it is still valid today.

He also went into five different ways to upgrade your Mac that can extend its useful life. Like the above paragraph, these five upgrade options remain incredibly valid today. The only difference is that we’re looking at new technology and a new Operating System. So, let’s revisit these concepts and see how they’re relevant today.

#1 – Upgrade Your Memory
I think I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve talked about how upgrading your memory gives you the best performance boost for the investment. With Snow Leopard looming on the horizon, this becomes even more important. 10.6 is a 64-bit (along with its applications) which allows each application to address more than 4GB of RAM at a time. OSX’s memory management now is a lot more flexible in keeping its cached instructions, lessening the need for a hard drive hit.

The bottom line is simple: Your OS and Applications can certainly run on the minimum memory, but having more memory installed makes for a whole lot more enjoyable and productive experience, all for a low investment. With upgrades ranging from $32.79 for a 2GB module for a MacBook up to a full 32GB of memory priced at $26.25 per GB to max out your Mac Pro, a memory upgrade is dollar-for-dollar the best investment you can make for your Mac.

You can find memory (and other upgrades) for nearly every Mac out there with our easy online upgrade guide. In addition to the instructions you’ll find in just about any Apple computer manual, we’ve got easy-to-follow installation videos that further illustrate how easy it is for you to get that memory into your Mac. If you need further help it is just a click a way in our online tech center.

#2 – Upgrade Your Hard drive.
Upgrading your internal hard drive is really one of those “win-win” deals. Not only can a new hard drive provide more room for additional data, but you’re also likely to benefit from better performance with a new drive, too. Over the last couple years, there have been huge leaps in both “traditional” desktop and notebook hard drive performance. The emergence of solid state drives adds yet another level of speed to drive performance. We’ll be running a full set of benchmarks on these soon – keep an eye out on the Blog, as we’ll announce it here as soon as they go up.

This speed is important – As long as applications are running and processes are being requested, data is going to and from that main drive. The faster data can be read from and written to the drives, the faster things will get done.

The primary benefit of a new hard drive, though, is storage. The longer we use our Macs (regardless of how long we’ve had our current Mac), the more stuff we seem to ‘need’ to keep around. Those libraries of music, video, and photos grow prodigiously, and will often take up the space on your hard drive before you know it.

Fortunately, there are plenty of fast, high-capacity hard drives available up to 2.0TB from $29.99. So whatever your storage needs are in terms of size, type (SATA, IDE/ATA) performance, and budget, we’ve got you covered.

#3 – Upgrade your Video Card
This one is mostly aimed at tower Macs. For 10.5 Leopard and earlier, ensuring that you have a Core Video compatible card can improve performance in programs like Final Cut, Photoshop and Aperture.

For Snow Leopard, though, OpenCL is where the power is at. Open CL allows developers to tap the computing power graphics processor and use it for any application. Upgrading your Mac Pro to one of the video cards listed as being compatible will let you take advantage of that extra boost of computing power.

#4 – Upgrade your Optical Drive
One of the fun things about technology is that it always seems to get a little bigger and faster. Where last year, we were mostly focused on extra-zippy SuperDrives, now we’re looking at Blu-ray.
While Blu-ray movie playback is still not happening on a Mac for a while, we can still use our Macs to create Blu-ray movies using Toast.

Just as useful, you can also use BD discs for standard storage. Being able to store up to 50GB worth of data on a single optical disc is nothing to sneeze at – I’ve had entire systems that could fit on a disc that size!
All you need is a compatible Blu-ray drive. While any Intel Mac can use our OWC Mercury Pro Blu-ray SuperMultiDrive, the latest Mac Pros (which have SATA optical drives) can also install a BD-compatible drive in their second bay.

Of course, those SuperDrives we’ve always relied on are also constantly improving while dropping in price. You can get an internal Dual-Layer DVD/CD SuperDrive starting at $29.97!

#5 – Upgrade Your Processor
While the other upgrades are beneficial no matter what Mac you have, this option is currently only for owners of legacy machines.

If your computer is chugging along doing what you need it to, there’s not necessarily a reason to upgrade to a new OS. That doesn’t mean that it can’t do its job a little faster, though. By upgrading its processor to a faster one, you can add a little more “zip” to your computer and get a little more life out of it.

To sum up all these points, just because you don’t have the “latest and greatest” model Mac out there, it doesn’t mean that you’re left behind. A few inexpensive upgrades can quickly get you back in the race. Just goes to show you what OWC Larry was saying back in October 2008 is true nearly a year later.

M. Chris Stevens
the authorOWC Chris S.
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