Making the best of software upgrades

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In an ideal situation major software upgrades would coincide with your workstation replacement cycle and you would always reap the benefits of new software hand in hand with new hardware.

The reality often means this isn’t the case. A few precautions can help avoid the frustration that arises where a software upgrade onto existing hardware seems to cause problems rather than solve them.

If you are purchasing a software upgrade licence check that your existing version of the software is eligible. Versions which came bundled with the original hardware purchase may not be upgradeable and a new full licence may be required.

All software websites will have a description of the minimum system requirements. These will usually specify the compatible operating systems, processor, ram, free hard disk space requirements and graphics requirements.

Most Windows software achieves a reasonable backwards compatibility, but be aware of different compatibilities between 32 bit and 64 bit versions of the same operating system.

Conversely new Apple software may be restricted to the most recent versions of OSX. With older systems make sure all the update patches have been applied. With the very latest systems it can occasionally pay to be more cautious: update to the latest upgrade specifically mentioned on the software author’s website. If there are more recent upgrades search on the vendor’s online technical support pages to see if users have experienced issues before making your own assessment.

If you do find that you will need to upgrade your operating system, use a 64 bit version to aid future compatibility with software and increased ram capacities.

Computer processors are in continuous aggressive development. While the premiums charged for the fastest top-notch specifications may not be essential, if your processor is below the recommended minimum for your software you will need to address this. Some computers have upgradeable processors but you should consider replacement of the whole. Non-compliant processors may still allow Windows software to function but unacceptably slowly. With Apple, non-compliance with the older PowerPC processors is not just a performance issue, the software is written differently for the Intel chips.

It is worth considering upgrading your ram to exceed the minimum advised requirements. An abundance of available ram can go some way to masking the sluggishness of an older computer.

The hard disk requirements in minimum software requirements are rarely an issue, but if your hard disk is under 120GB, or over 75% full, then consider deleting data or upgrading the disk.

If the application is graphics intensive look for specific graphics card compatibility information. Try and identify a card which is approved as compatible with your workstation by both the card and workstation manufacturer. Key factors will include the type of graphics card interface, the form factor and, on Windows, compatibility with the motherboard.

If you are upgrading software on a number of machines consider trying it on one before a full rollout. Most vendors offer a 30-day trial so you can check before you buy. Also consider software upgrade subscription services to avoid another big financial hit when the software is upgraded again.

Hugh Davies is a co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies. www.lomasdavies.net


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