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Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 14:30 UK

A hi-tech guide to saving money

By LJ Rich and Chris Long

Splashing cash on fancy gadgets can often be seen as a luxury especially during an economic downturn - but can we save money by upgrading our existing tech rather than investing in brand new gear?

Inside a laptop
Upgrading your laptop can be a scary experience

The answer is that it depends on the gadget in question.

For instance, there is only a limited amount you can do with a laptop. You can replace the hard drive and maybe upgrade the Ram. The former will give you more space to store stuff and the later may make the machine a bit speedier.

The rest is tricky - you cannot really upgrade the graphics card because it is welded in and getting to the processor is very difficult indeed.

An easier way to upgrade your laptop without fuss is to add an external hard drive, or even an external numeric keypad.

Scary experience

Paul Trotter, editor of PC Advisor says: "Upgrading your laptop can be a fairly scary experience the first time you do it.

"You may first of all void the warranty, but it's likely that if it is a slower, older system your warranty is already expired.

"If you are replacing something like Ram you need to make sure it's the correct Ram otherwise your laptop won't recognise it.

"Fortunately there are some websites that can do the trick for you - Crucial.com has a memory advisor, as does Kingston.

"If you don't want to open up the laptop you can speed things up a little bit by looking at the software installed, removing programs you don't use and using PC clean up tools.

Paul Trotter
PC clean-up tools allow you to speed up an old computer

"There is software that you can download such as C Cleaner which will remove all the unwanted software and bits and pieces on your hard drive and speed things up."

Free software

There is lots of free software online offering many alternatives to paid programs.

It is possible to find free anti-virus (avg.com), collaboration tools (mindmeister.com), project management (nozbe), file-transfer (Filezilla), blogging (wordpress) and media players (videolan).

And on the subject of software that can save you money, you could use your internet connection to speak to people on the other side of the planet rather than via the old-fashioned phone.

The technology in question is called Voice Over IP (VoIP) - the "IP" stands for Internet Protocol. Many of the services that use it are free if users call another person on that service. That can save quite a bit of money if you regularly have long conversations with friends or family abroad.

Going green

If you are watching the pennies, you will be pleased to know that your car GPS might soon help you keep an eye on your bank balance as well as the road.

One new system has an alternative eco mode which claims to save money and the environment by telling you when you are driving inefficiently.

The big advantage of this is the moment you start using it, you will be greener.

The maker Vexia says it will take six months to pay for itself.

Some cars, like the Honda Insight hybrid already have an eco-mode built in.

The display helps you by glowing green if you drive ecologically. For short journeys in the city, this car could save you a bundle.


You could save money by resisting the temptation to upgrade at all. A large number of people I know have high spec laptops and desktop PCs to basically surf the web and write emails. The latest processor and graphics card isn't going to make you type any quicker.
Dave, Newcastle upon Tyne

Instead of buying a whole new computer with screen, keyboard and monitor, see if you can just buy a new base unit instead. Mice and keyboards aren't serious money, but some monitors are. There are also multi-plugs that detect when you shut your computer off and they will also cut power to your monitors, speakers, printers, etc, and turn them back on when you turn your PC back on again. Open Source is a great source of free software. The likes of Open Office, The Gimp (photo editing), Firefox (web browsing) and Thunderbird (e-mail) can save you a small fortune and are fully featured; they also work on Windows. An older operating system can run faster on newer equipment; just ask the people who are still running Windows XP. A free operating system might mean a fresh learning curve, but it saves you the cost of the operating system meaning you can either save money or get more hardware for your budget.
Michelle Knight, Haywards Heath, West Sussex

Upgrading a laptop may be difficult, but upgrading a regular PC is very simple. A better graphics card will turn your computer from a useless old box into a sleek gaming pc. If this seems daunting just use google and there are plenty of sites providing step by step instructions on every aspect of pc upgrading/maintaining.
Matthew, Johnstone

By far the best upgrade for a laptop is a SSD "a solid state hard drive" still expensive at the moment compared to a standard laptop hard drive but the prices are coming down. It's the future especially for mobile devices.
Ash Midcalf, Stratford upon Avon UK

Never replace anything that still works. Never buy the cheapest or the most expensive - somewhere in between is a quality product that will last. Never buy anything newly released, the street price will fall after 6 months.
Brian, UK

A few months ago my youngest daughter's desk top expired. I got a new system with no operating system from eBuyer for £205. I installed Linux, which is a free operating system, maintained by enthusiasts and every bit as good as Windows. There are literally thousands of programs available free with it, covering just about everything that is available for Windows. You can download Windows versions of many of the same programs available for Linux for free. For example Open Office is the equivalent of Microsoft Office and Gimp the equivalent of Photoshop.
John N Hunter, Scalloway, UK

When it comes round to upgrading your OS such as Windows Vista to Windows 7, rather than pay for the upgrade why not check out the free alternatives such as Ubuntu or OpenSuse Linux. These offer all the functionality and more of Windows, without the cost and lock in.
Ryan, Pontefract

I have found free software extremely helpful for my computing needs. I use Open Office suit for free, this software gives me all the functionality of paid for office suits, but for free. I have also found CCleaner and more impressively Advanced SystemCare free, for speeding and making my PC more stable. I am a student and found Celtx scriptwriting software for free very helpful in laying out scripts as well.
Christopher Files, Bedford UK

Neither the collaboration tools (mindmeister.com) nor the project management (nozbe) software are free, they are simply web based systems that offer very limited free trials. To do anything meaningful with them one must purchase additional functionality. However the, anti-virus (avg.com), file-transfer (Filezilla)and media player (videolan) are all excellent and genuinely free. Overall quite a good article spoiled somewhat with inaccurate information
Tom Dalton, Leigh, Lancs.

An older laptop might be too slow for Windows but it will run Ubuntu absolutely fine and it's easy to install. Add to that the savings on annual renewal of anti-virus software (doesn't need it) and the free software that does everything the windows equivalent does (usually 90% built in, the remainder with a bit of work) and you save a bundle. Don't discount open source software. It's really come into its own now and I prefer Open Office to Microsoft Office.
Mike Birch, USA (ex-UK)

Save upgrading or replacing your computer by using a free open source operating system like Ubuntu, which will work really quickly on older hardware, and has all the features you would expect from Windows 7. Now really easy to install and use, I've recently installed this for Gran and Grandad and they are thrilled. You also save needing to pay for software like Word and Excel as you can use the Open Office which is included.
Russell Wing, Broad Hinton, Wiltshire

I have just watched your latest Click and have to say you provided the opportunity for a couple of real amateur moments. When Captain Screwdriver took the RAM out of the "old" laptop he did not even take a moment to say "please switch it off fully, remove the power and battery and ground yourself as laptops are especially sensitive to static". Also you fail to mention the possibility of upgrading the MiniPCI WiLAN cards which are also in shot. 11n is offering a real benefit for distance/speed and many of the homehubs from BT etc offer it now. It is the difference between getting a signal from the study to your bedroom which I would consider a worthwhile upgrade. You also don't point out during the disc part that PATA and SATA discs exist. Given nearly all of the online stores offer "deals" on the front page and most are for the newer larger SATA discs this will lead a users who is not aware to make an error. They will get the newest, largest disc they can and find it is a 320Gb SATA which will not fit in their "old" lappie as it is PATA. If you are aiming this at non-technical users you might like to protect them and yourselves from complaints. The last thing we need is a load of dead hardware resulting in more eco-stress and waste.
Alistair Mutch, Whitchurch, Hampshire

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