I said I was done writing about system optimization. I changed my mind. I have one more thing, and it seems appropriate, now that Vista upgrades are available.
Be very wary about upgrading your version of Windows.There are a few Vista-only titles out there, and there will be some more, but the majority of titles aren’t. Walk into a software aisle and you’ll still find a lot of software that will run on Windows 95 (or possibly 98), assuming the computer meets the hardware requirements.
I’m typing this on an 800 MHz HP Pavilion 6835. Sure, it’s outmoded–for around $125, I could swap in an Athlon 64 motherboard that would give me 4-5x the CPU power and that would be considered a low-end PC by today’s standards–but this one’s peppy. I run Windows ME on it. Windows 2000 would be more stable but I’m lazy. I wouldn’t try XP on it. When XP came out, this system was already old.
Technically, XP will install on a 133 MHz Pentium if it has enough RAM. I’ve seen it done, and I’ve seen it try to run on one. It’s not pretty. I really wouldn’t try running XP on anything less than a 1 GHz PC with 256 megs of RAM, because that was the standard PC at the time of XP’s release. But believe it or not, if you install Windows 95 and Office 95 on that Pentium-133, it’s a reasonably nice machine–because that was a high-end box in 1995 when Windows 95 and Office 95 came out.
So when you’re refurbishing an old machine, try to install whatever the current version of Windows was when it was new. The PC will run a lot better. Here’s a guide.
Windows 95: Released August 1995
Typical PC of the time: 486, 66 MHz
Hot PC of the time: Pentium, 133 MHz
Windows NT 4.0: Released July 1996
Typical PC of the time: Pentium, 75 MHz
Hot PC of the time: Pentium Pro, 200 MHz
Windows 98: Released June 1998
Typical PC of the time: Pentium, 233 MHz
Hot PC of the time: Pentium II, 333 MHz
Windows 2000: Released February 2000
Typical PC of the time: Pentium III or Athlon, 600 MHz
Hot PC of the time: Pentium III or Athlon, 1 GHz
Windows XP: Released October 2001
Typical PC of the time: Pentium 4, 1.5 GHz
Hot PC of the time: Pentium 4 or Athlon, 2+ GHz
Windows Vista: Released January 2007
From what I understand, even a hot PC of 2007 has difficulty running it. I haven’t seen Vista yet; my employer is still running XP for everything.
Of course, if you install as much memory as the system will take, you can push your limits, since Windows is often more memory-bound than CPU-bound. I also try to replace the hard drive with the fastest model I can budget for. Don’t worry if the drive has a faster DMA rate than the controller on the board; you’ll still benefit from the faster seek times and better throughput of a newer drive. If the new drive saturates the bus, it could be worse–I guarantee the old one didn’t.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.