Rules to Upgrade By

We’ve repaired, upgraded, and built hundreds of systems over the years, and learned a lot of lessons the hard way while doing it. Here are the rules we live by— some big, some small, and some more honored in the breach. We admit that we don’t always take each of these steps when we’re doing something simple such as swapping a video card, but you won’t go far wrong following them slavishly until you have enough experience to know when it’s safe to depart from them.

Back everything up

Twice. Do a verify pass, if necessary, to make sure that what is on the backup tape matches what is on the disk drive. If you’re connected to a network, copy at least your data and configuration files to a network drive. It’s much easier to retrieve them from there than it is to recover from tape. If there’s room on the network drive, create a temporary folder and copy the entire contents of the hard disk of the machine about to undergo surgery. If you have neither a tape drive nor a network volume, but you do have a CD or DVD writer, back up at least your important data and configuration files to optical discs. About 99 times in 100 all of this will be wasted effort. The 100th time—when everything that can go wrong does go wrong—will pay you back in spades for the other 99.


If you don’t have a tape drive or a CD/DVD writer, installing one is an excellent first upgrade project. Floppy disks just aren’t good enough for backup nowadays.

Make sure you have everything you need ...

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