Keeping your computer software up-to-date is important for security, and also gets you the latest great features. Computer hardware is better than ever, which also means that a computer stays useful longer than ever and is more reliable because of better chassis, connectors and electronics, and fewer moving parts.
Whether you are using macOS (previously Mac OS X), Windows, or Linux, keeping your computer up-to-date gives you the latest security updates and helps keep your computer reliable and fast. We can quibble over preferences and the track records of software vendors, but keeping your software updated is always the best choice.
On a Mac, I highly recommend enabling automatic updates. The only exception is if you have critical specialized external hardware connected, like audio recording equipment, where you want to be sure new major releases (like the new macOS Sierra) is fully supported by that hardware.
Windows also has automatic updates, and I do recommend enabling them. My caution is that there have been many complaints about the way the updates are handled. You can search and read on your favorite tech website for more information about controlling the timing of downloads and updates.
If you’re a Linux user, you probably don’t need my advice on updates. But I do recommend that you update regularly.
One more thing about updating… Some people don’t do the major updates and eventually end up very far behind on their operating system version. Many were still on Windows XP when Microsoft shut down all support for that OS version, and I recently helped a friend whose Mac was still on Mac OS X version 10.6 Snow Leopard, which was last updated in 2011!
When you get so far behind, updating can be tricky. Companies work to make transitions between versions easy, but when you are making such a major jump I worry that you might have some major trouble. So this is one more reason to stay reasonably up-to-date.
Of course, you should have good backups at all times, and I recommend a 3-2-1 Backup Strategy. But I also recommend that when you do a major update, like going from Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan to the new macOS 10.12 Sierra, you should make a full image bootable backup of your computer’s main drive, so that if something terrible happens you can quickly restore your computer or boot from that external drive. For the Mac, I recommend the app SuperDuper!, from Shirt Pocket.
The best computers are very reliable. SSD storage has replaced the delicate spinning disk drives (and are also much quicker).
Configurations – How Big, How Fast?
I have very basic advice about computer configurations:
1. At least an Intel i5 processor or equivalent.
2. At least 8GB of RAM
3. An SSD drive with at least 128GB, or double what you currently use, whichever is bigger.
As I said before, modern computers are more reliable than ever. An Apple laptop can be expected to be very usable for at least 4-5 years and are often kept in service longer — and this is so well understood that the value of used Mac holds over time very strongly.
And this needs to be considered when buying a computer. Used computers might be tempting, but the prices don’t drop as quickly as you might assume, and so there’s value in thinking about not only the better performance you’ll get from a new model, but also the lifetime and overall cost.
Also, Apple (and many other manufacturers) has a good refurbished computer program that’s worth checking out, and my Non-Profit friends should check Techsoup.org and other programs for software and hardware donations.
Lastly, for Macs you should check the Macrumors.com Buyer’s Guide for the update history for all the various Apple products. A “Don’t Buy” recommendation from them, which means the product hasn’t had an update in quite a while, might push you to wait for an update to the product or toward getting a used device if you really must buy right now.
Upgrading an Old Computer
On a computer less than four or five years old, you might get some more life out of it by upgrading the RAM and swapping out a spinning disk drive for an SSD. For Macs, I recommend MacSales.com for the right upgrade hardware, and great installation videos, tools kits, and even refurbished used computers.
Check my configuration recommendation above for minimum upgrade advice.
Pretty simple: Keep your software up-to-date, enable the automated upgrades, and consider hardware not only for performance and physical size, but also for build quality, longevity, and total cost of ownership over the product’s life.
Final note: iOS 10 and macOS 10.12 Sierra are fantastic new releases that will be generally available this month. (September, 2016) and I recommend upgrading. I’ve been running the betas and the performance and new features are great!