By Anthony Doesburg
MSN NZ Money writer
Once your computer has given you three years of service, you may start thinking you're missing out on features that are standard with new models.
That's certainly what PC companies would like you to believe, but unless your machine is no longer up to the task or is becoming unreliable you should be able to get another couple of years out of it.
If you're unsure whether it's time to upgrade, here are some telltale signs that a new PC is in order.
If your PC mysteriously begins playing Beethoven's 'Fur Elise' or the Disney tune 'It's a Small World', it doesn't mean you're computer's been infected by a virus it's a feature, not a bug. On machines from 1997 onwards running one of several old Windows versions (most recently Windows 98 second edition), this tells you the central processing unit (CPU) fan or power supply is playing up.
Don't beat about the bush. If you're still running Windows 98, a machine of that vintage is unlikely to be worth repairing. It's time to visit your friendly computer shop.
Ugly computer noises
If your computer hard disk is making a graunching noise, back it up fast. It's likely to be several years old if it's reached this state, and not reparable. That's probably indicative of the overall age of your PC, suggesting a replacement is due.
If you've managed to fill your hard disk it might be time for an upgrade. Either it's bursting with multimedia files, which have no business being on a work computer (remove them), or the disk capacity is well under 100GB, suggesting the PC is getting long in the tooth. A 250GB hard drive is pretty standard with new desktop machines. Visit your nearest computer outlet.
Operating system incompatible with new hardware
As implied earlier, if the version of Windows you're running starts with a 9 or God forbid a 3, you're missing out on numerous usability and security features of later releases. Chances are, though, that your CPU is too slow and lacking the memory and hard disk space to upgrade. Windows 7, Microsoft's latest release (which will be out next month), needs a minimum 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM (random-access memory) and 16GB of hard disk. Right-click on the "My Computer" icon on your desktop and select "Properties" to see what your machine is made of.
Sick of the sight of it
Perhaps, you're sitting in front of a CRT monitor that takes up half your desk and flickers and fades. Or maybe you just don't like the look of it compared with the sleek LCDs that are standard today. The good news is you can justify upgrading on energy usage alone; the LCD chews through as little as a third as much power as a CRT.
If you have no other excuse to upgrade, perhaps your accountant can offer you one. After three or four years, your existing PC has next to no value for tax purposes. That's justification for a trip to the computer shop.