I have enough money saved to consider upgrading my computer again. Unfortunately, I'm always very uncertain in these sort of decisions. Plus, my computer is really old. I bought it in late 2004 and in computer years, that's ancient. But last year I raised its RAM from 512MB to 2GB and noticed significant improvement.
Anyways, now that I want to use my computer as a reliable design platform, I need to get ANY video card and a decent monitor. These improvements should make the design programs not run as slow with large documents and have fairly believable color accuracy. I've heard of the stories where people ruined their computers because they didn't research. Well I've researched a lot now and I recommend people who are looking to upgrade to do the same.
I had to figure out all the specs on my computer first. You can check DxDiag by going to Start > Run, or Windows + R. Under the Display tab should be the graphics card. My computer is from 2004 and I have VIA/S3G Unichrome IGP with 64MB of integrated graphics. That's garbage now and it's no wonder I can't watch full screen video, much less anything HD.
I looked up the specs of my computer model and I found a full page of specs on the manufacturer's site. Googling HP Pavillion a800n brought it up. This particular model has 3 expansion slots: PCI, AGP, and DIMM. PCI graphics cards are almost non-existent now. AGP is the way to go.
I also need to know the maximum power supply the computer can take. I opened the computer, dusted it, and looked on the sticker on the box.
For a computer this old, finding a graphics card it can use is impossible to find in retail stores. Newegg.com seems to be a reliable source for parts. The user feedback is great and parts seem to be in good condition. I'm considering a graphics card for about $40 and the feedback is motivating. Almost all of the buyers say it "breathes life back into old machines". And that it's perfect if you have no video card. Then it must be perfect for me, right?
Then after that, I should be able to buy a new high-def monitor with better color support. I've been using this Hyundai Imagequest crap since 2004. Using the lagom LCD Screen test, I was never able to get good results on contrast. It must be bad for my eyes if the color white looks red or a slightly blue. My current screen resolution is 1280x1024, which is okay, but isn't enough room to work with. The widescreens at school are wonderful and I have plenty of room to work with. 5:4 just isn't a screen ratio that's used all that much anymore. You can check TREZ's eXtreme Tracker stats for visitors and their screen resolutions. There's a growing trend.
Oh, and did I mention how laughably outdated my current monitor's gamma settings screen looks like?
So basically, I've had a taste of the best, and now I can't go back. School starts Monday for me and it looks like I'll be having a full Mac day as well. All the computers there are very nice. I hope now they upgrade the Windows computers to Windows 7, because it's sad to see such a large screen wasted on the Classic theme.
I estimate the monitor and graphics card to cost a total of $200. Even though the computer is old, at least the monitor will be good for a new computer. Good thing I backed up all 20GB of my stuff the other day. Any losses would be negligible.
That reminds me, I think I need a new keyboard too...