Upgrading Your Computer for Teaching ESL Online

Upgrading Computer For Teaching Esl Online
Should you buy a new computer for teaching ESL online, or upgrade? In this post, we'll help you decide whether to buy new or to upgrade, which components to upgrade, and how to do it.

Online ESL Teachers:
Save Money by Upgrading your Computer for Online English Teaching

As an online ESL teacher, your biggest expense in terms of equipment  you need to teach English online is your computer. You need one capable enough to teach English online, and one that will last you at least a few years, By then, it’s probably time to invest in something more current.

The problem is many online ESL teachers don’t fully understand how to calculate the cost of this purchase against their earnings, so they either pay too much and get a high-end computer, or too little and get a low-end computer. Either way, they simply don’t think ahead at how to purchase a computer that is upgradeable, which is a shame, because upgrading your computer for online English teaching can save you a considerable amount of money down the road, and your initial computer purchase doesn’t need to be an expensive one. For those of you getting started, see our post on the best computers for online ESL teachers. You will notice that our recommendation for most online ESL teachers is to invest in a desktop computer, because desktops are both cheaper as well as more easily upgradeable than the typical laptop computer.

Before we get into how to upgrade your computer, let’s look at your computer purchase more carefully, as any freelance worker should.

Assuming you were to fork out $1,500 on a notebook computer today with the goal of using it for the next three years, your cost per year would be $500: 

Years Using ComputerCost
First Laptop Computer$1,500
1$500
2$500
3$500
Second Laptop Computer$1,500
4$500
5$500
6$500
Third Laptop Computer$1,500
7$500
8$500
9$500

In other words, assuming you could earn $1,500 per month as a typical online ESL teacher, your computer would cost you about one month’s earnings. $1,500 is not an unreasonable amount of money to spend on a decent notebook computer, especially since you probably will do more with it than teach English online. But as your notebook computer will not be easily upgradeable, you will need to invest in a new computer in 3 years. That means, in 9 years, you could be spending $4,500 on laptop computers alone.

On the other hand, if you were to invest in a desktop computer, you could upgrade or replace nearly any component as needed. And as you would be upgrading as you go, the cost per year would be relatively low.Assuming you were to spend $1,500 on a new desktop you can easily upgrade, you could potentially extend the computer’s life to 10 years, with incremental upgrades:

Years Using ComputerCost
First Desktop Computer$1,500
1$150
2$150
3$150
4 ($300 Upgrade)$250
5$250
6$250
7 ($300 Upgrade)$250
8$250
9$250

In this case, you would be spending $1,500 x 3 = $4,500 for 3 notebook computers over 9 years, whereas with a desktop, you would be spending $1,500 + $600 = $2,100 in upgrades over 9 years. That’s a difference of $2,400. Even if you were to spend an additional $1,000 in upgrades, that would be a cost of $2,500 and a savings of $1,000. Let that sink in for a moment, in terms of the amount of money you would have to earn teaching English online to pay for the difference in cost.

While you can also upgrade some notebook components, the cost of upgrading notebook components is almost always higher than for a desktop. As well, it often represents little, if any cost savings, compared with buying a new notebook. Thus, we only recommend investing in a notebook computer if your work or lifestyle is mobile in nature, and you need a portable device.

We also don’t recommend online ESL teachers choose an Apple MacBook either, because they are on the whole more expensive than other comparable options, and are essentially non-upgradeable devices

Which components need to be upgraded over time?

The components you will need to upgrade as time passes and your computer ages will depend on current tech specs as well as the wear and tear of your device. Evolving technology eventually renders the following essential components either obsolete or inadequate:

  • Central Processing Unit (CPU)
  • Graphics Co-Processor Unit (GPU)
  • Random Access Memory (RAM)
  • Hard Drive (HD)

Within a few years, newer CPUs will appear boasting more impressive processing power. Ditto for GPUs. You may find within that timeframe that your computer needs more RAM. Over time, you may also feel you need a bigger or faster HD. If you have invested in a computer that is upgradeable, you’ll be in the best position every few years to decide whether an upgrade to one or more of these components is necessary.

Other components you may want or need to upgrade at some point are:

  • Display
  • Webcam
  • External Hard Drive

In either of these two cases, these would be replacements or add-ons to the one you have with a newer, bigger, or more high definition model. All you need to do is buy them and attach them to your computer. You might need to install some drivers or software, that’s it. Nothing too hard about that.

So let’s come back to the essentials, because these do actually require you to pop open your computer’s casing to upgrade or replace. Despite what you might think, these upgrades are not very difficult to do, and can be done from your home with the most basic of tools. Again, we strongly recommending investing in a desktop computer for ultimate upgradeability, but we will include instructions for upgrading or replacing components in notebook computers for those who need to use one.

Upgrading RAM

Many people tend to focus on having the latest CPU, and don’t pay enough attention to Random Access Memory (RAM). Simply put, RAM allows your apps and other open processes in your computer to remain active while your computer is powered on. When you power off your computer, all of those apps and processes will shut down. You can think of RAM as the short-term memory needed for the computer to remember what apps and processes are running. This includes any unsaved files you may be working on, or sites you may have open in your browser. 

If you have a lot of apps, browser tabs or processes running at the same time, you might notice your computer slowing down. This usually has to do with RAM. More RAM essentially means more apps and processes can run simultaneously, and thus, fewer instances when your computer would run slowly.

RAM is also happens to be one of the easiest components to upgrade in your computer. If you don’t already know, RAM looks something like this:

As an online ESL teacher, you will need at least 8GB of RAM to satisfy the requirements of most online ESL employers.

Upgrading RAM on a Desktop Computer

This video from YouTuber Torqcx demonstrates step-by-step how to install RAM into a desktop computer. This is one of the best guides on how to install RAM into your desktop, and it’s simple to follow. 

Upgrading RAM in a Laptop Computer

This video from YouTuber Nick’s Computer Fix provides step-by-step guidance on how to upgrade RAM in a laptop computer. This video is really suitable for beginners, and will walk you through identifying how much memory you have currently, how many RAM slots you have available for installing RAM, and how to complete the upgrade.

Upgrading the CPU

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the component that enables your computer to run apps and processes. You can think of the CPU as the brains underneath the computer, as it performs calculations it needs to run programs that are stored on your system’s memory. Generally speaking, a faster, more powerful CPU translates into a faster computer.

However, you don’t actually need the latest and most powerful CPU as an online ESL teacher. In fact, most people really don’t need ultra-powerful CPUs in their computers. In most cases, you’ll be fine with a previous generation CPU, combined with a good amount of RAM.

You do need to be careful when buying a CPU, or a computer for that matter. Most online ESL companies state a particular model of CPU such as the Intel i5 or equivalent. The problem with just going with this technical requirement is there are several generations of Intel CPUs, the current Intel i5 being on its 10th generation.

So, while you don’t need a 10th Gen i5 CPU to teach English online, you also don’t want to buy an i5 computer on clearance, only to discover you have just bought a computer with a 5th Gen i5 CPU.

One other factor which is almost never mentioned by online ESL employers is the number of cores the CPU consists of. To keep things simple, the more cores a CPU has, the more simultaneous tasks it can process. We suggest upgrading to the previous generation Intel i7 with 6 or more cores, which should keep your computer capable for teaching ESL online for a while to come.

An alternative to Intel is AMD, which also makes stellar CPUs. AMD Ryzen 7 chips are comparable to the Intel i7. Most online ESL companies only mention specs using Intel processors, because Intel currently dominates the laptop computer market, which is also likely what most online ESL teachers use for teaching. To keep matters simple, especially if you’re primarily using the computer for online teaching, stick to an Intel CPU based computer.

If you don’t know, a CPU looks something like this:

Upgrading CPU on a Desktop Computer

Wee have already stated the major cost and upgradeability advantages of owning a desktop computer, and this is one prime example of where you would save a good sum of money over the long term. When the time has come to upgrade your desktop computer’s CPU, it is relatively easy to do, as long as the CPU is installed via a socket onto the mother board. If so, you will be able to replace the CPU by unscrewing the bracket that holds it in place, removing it from the socket, and replacing it with the new one.

If your CPU is soldered on to the mother board, then you will need more technical skills to replace the CPU. In this case, we recommend taking your computer to a professional who can replacement the CPU for you safely.

You also need to make sure you are replacing the CPU with one that fits your mother board. This detailed but easy to follow video by YouTuber PC Games N explains the entire process of upgrading your CPU.

Upgrading the CPU on a Laptop Computer

As we stated at the beginning of this post, one major downside of owning a laptop computer is the lack of upgradeability. You won’t be able to upgrade the CPU in most modern laptops, and in the rare case that you can, you may discover replacing the CPU is not worth the cost and effort, and you are probably better off buying a new (hopefully a desktop) computer.

Upgrading the Hard Drive

As most people today use and store information in the cloud, the days when we needed large capacity hard drives are slowly fading into the distance. Still, your hard drive may need an upgrade for one or more reasons. If your current hard drive has a very low capacity, then it will probably get low on space quickly. Secondly, if your computer is equipped with an older hard disk drive (HDD), you may want to replace it with a faster, more efficient solid-state drive (SSD). SSDs are extremely fast, they can search and find data must faster, have a longer lifespan, and perform better when the computer performs a memory swap. They are also quiet, unlike the grinding sound will you hear when a HDD is spinning.

SSDs are more expensive than HDDs, but since you probably store a lot of your data in the cloud, and use cloud based apps, you likely don’t need that big a drive for local storage. If you do, or you prefer storing files locally for privacy or other reasons, you can use a combination of HDD and SSD. The easiest solution would be to install a decent sized SSD into the computer, and run with a secondary external HDD you can connect via USB.

Upgrading a Hard Drive on a Desktop Computer

YouTuber PC Games N has a fantastic video tutorial on how to install an SSD without losing any data.

Upgrading a Hard Drive on a Laptop Computer

Many newer laptop computers already come equipped with SSDs, and are usually not upgradeable. But if you have an older laptop equipped with an HDD, you can, in some cases, upgrade the hard drive. There are no standard setups for any computer, and that is more pronounced in laptops.

If you opt for a laptop computer, the easiest option for you to upgrade or add hard drive space is to purchase an external hard drive. Depending on your specific needs, you can go with either an SSD or the less expensive HDD. For most people, an external HDD will be sufficient since you are most likely using it for storing data rather than as a main drive used for running applications or memory swapping.

However, if your laptop is upgradeable, and you want to get a significant speed boost, replacing the HDD with an SSD can accomplish that. Just be sure your warranty will not be voided in doing so.

Here is another excellent video tutorial from PC Games N about installing an NVMe SSD in your laptop.

Closing Out

There’s nothing extremely complicated about upgrading your computer, especially if you go with our recommendation and invest in a desktop computer. You will get more mileage, stability and upgradeability while saving a good chunk of money over the long term.

If you must own a laptop for portability, we completely understand. Just know that your upgrading options will be few, and the cost will be higher, as in most cases, you will find yourself having to replace the laptop rather than upgrade its components.

If you really are technophobic, and don’t think you can pull these upgrades off on your own, fear not. Someone nearby can, and it’s more than likely someone in your neighborhood is that someone.

Adil Vellani

Adil Vellani

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Adil Vellani is the co-founder of ESL Job Exchange. With more than 20 years of international experience in both the education and corporate sectors, Adil is devoted to sharing his knowledge and experience to help individuals and organizations connect and make a massive impact in the lives of ESL learners across the globe. Adil also lectures at the Sino-European Institute of Aviation Engineering, where he teaches aviation engineering students in an international degree program.
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