Learn about upgrading a computer for teaching English online so you don’t have to buy a new one
Whether you are brand new to online ESL teaching or have been at it a while, at some point you will need to buy a computer. As companies continue to upgrade their software your computer will eventually become obsolete.
We discussed in a past article what the best computers for online teachers are. But, today we’re going to talk about upgrading your current computer for teaching English online. This isn’t going to be possible for everyone. So, we’ll examine who can and can’t upgrade their computer. Then, we’ll take a look at what exactly you should do to upgrade your computer for online teaching readiness.
How do I know if I can upgrade my computer?
Intel Core i5 or above
8GB or more
60GB or more of free speech
In order to effectively teach classes, you will need a computer that meets all of these requirements as a minimum. The good news is that most of these can easily be upgraded, even on a laptop. But, there are a few things which you can’t upgrade.
If you currently have a laptop computer that is not at least an Intel Core i5 or above, you will need to purchase a new computer. If this is the case for you, we highly recommend you buy a new laptop that has an Intel Core i7. This is going to last you for many years to come no matter what software upgrades come out or which company you work for.
The other thing that is quite difficult to replace in laptops is the hard drive. Thankfully, this isn’t as big of a deal. Some companies specify that you have at least 60GB of free space on your hard drive. But, in our experience, none of the software any of the online companies use comes anywhere close to using this much space. So, if you don’t quite have 60GB, it isn’t the end of the world. There are things you can do like loading some of your files on an external hard drive or to the cloud to free up space on your computer.
Barring these two circumstances, you should be able to upgrade your computer. For laptops, this will mean upgrading your RAM and potentially your webcam. For a desktop computer, you can upgrade just about everything.
What should I upgrade and how do I do it?
Before you freak out, everything we are going to talk about doing today can be done by even the most technically non-savvy person. These are minor upgrades that at most you will need to have a few different sized screwdrivers to do. So, you will not need to spend lots of money taking your computer to the store. Instead, you can do all of these upgrades at your home. Most of them in well under an hour.
Let’s take a look at each upgrade that you will need to do. We will also break each one down between laptop and desktop so you know how to perform the upgrade on both.
Upgrading the Random-Access Memory
We’re going to start out with upgrading your RAM as this is generally one of the easiest parts to upgrade. In case you don’t already know, RAM looks like this:
RAM stands for random-access memory. We won’t go into all of the technical details as that is a bit outside the scope of this article. If you are interested in a more technical definition, you can read about RAM here.
What you should know, is that this allows your computer to process tasks more easily by storing information for programs currently being run. The more RAM you have, the more tasks that your computer can process without slowing down or crashing.
This becomes important for teaching online because of video and audio streaming. When this is done in conjunction with the different tasks such as using ManyCam or other chroma key software, it can put a lot of strain on your computer. So, the more RAM you have, the better. At a minimum, you will want to have 8GB as we noted above. But, the more RAM you have the better and 16GB is optimal.
Upgrading the RAM on Your LaptopUpgrading the RAM on Your PCUpgrading the RAM on Your MacBook
Unfortunately, you will be unable to upgrade the RAM on your MacBook. Apple solders the RAM into the motherboard and if you do not know what you are doing you risk damaging your computer. Fortunately, most 2015 or newer MacBooks meet the minimum RAM requirements for teaching online. Nonetheless, if you are in the market for a MacBook, make sure you plan to future-proof your investment with a MacBook that has at least 8GB RAM.
Upgrading the Central Processing Unit
Next up on the list of upgrades is the processor. This is one of the most important pieces of hardware on your computer. Without a good processor, your computer is going to run slow and won’t be able to handle teaching online. The processor looks like this:
The processor, more formally known as the central processing unit (CPU), is essentially the brain of your computer. This is where all of the instructions provided by each program in your computer are processed and executed. As with RAM, the technical details are a bit too much for this article. But, if you want to read more, you can read about the central processing unit.
What is important for you to know is what type of processor your computer currently has and if it can be upgraded. As stated in the table above, the minimum most companies will want you to have is an i5. It is possible for you to teach using an Intel i3. But, we don’t recommend it. The i3 isn’t able to process tasks as efficiently as the i5 and could cause your computer to slow down or freeze up during classes. Instead, the i5 is the perfect processor to efficiently handle the demands online ESL teaching places on your computer.
If you can get an i7 even better. With an i7 you can be confident in the fact that no software or task is going to slow your computer down. Also, if you plan on doing anything else with your computers such as audio or video editing, this will be the better option.
Upgrading the Processor on Your Laptop
As we stated above, if you need to upgrade the processor on a laptop, it is better to just buy a new one. Most likely, if you need to upgrade the processor, you will also need to upgrade other pieces of hardware such as the RAM, graphics card, and sound card.
Most laptops with low-level processors will also have low-level versions of other hardware. This is why they are usually much cheaper. You don’t want to replace everything on a laptop. The time and money this will take are too much. Instead, buy a new laptop.
Upgrading the Processor on Your Desktop
The major benefit of having a desktop computer is that you can upgrade almost everything. The processor is usually something that can easily be changed. We say usually because there are two different ways of mounting a CPU to the motherboard which is socketed and soldered.
Socketed means that the CPU is attached using a bracket that holds it down. If this is how your CPU is attached then it will be easy for you to upgrade it by yourself. Usually, you unscrew the bracket and pull the CPU then replace it with the new one. But, if your CPU is soldered into the motherboard, you don’t want to mess with it. Instead, we recommend you take it to a professional who has the experience. They will be able to replace the CPU without breaking anything.
You also need to make sure you are getting a CPU that will fit your motherboard. All of this information, including how to replace the CPU, is outlined in the video below:
Upgrading the Processor on Your MacBook
Like the RAM, it is not possible for you to replace the processor on a MacBook. This is because of Apple welds all of the parts to the motherboard. You would need to replace the entire motherboard to upgrade the processor. At this point, you are essentially replacing the whole computer.
Thankfully, Macs come with at least an i5. You should have no trouble with the processor that is currently in your Mac. It will be plenty fast when handling the software for teaching English online.
Upgrading the Hard Disk Drive
As we said before, this is going to be one of the least important upgrades. There are a few options you have before you need to upgrade your hard drive. First, we recommend you buy an external solid-state drive (SSD) and load anything you don’t actively need, such as pictures, videos, or documents, onto the external drive.
The next option you have is to begin uploading these unneeded files onto the cloud. There are dozens of cloud computing companies that you can choose from. Some of the most popular are:
This allows you to upload everything to a server so you can free up space on your computer. Before you even consider upgrading the hard drive in your computer, this should be the first option. You will find you can probably clear up enough space to download any software you need for teaching.
If after trying one of the above two solutions, you find you still don’t have enough storage, it’s time to upgrade your hard drive. You can also use this as an opportunity to upgrade from a disk drive to a solid-state drive.
What’s the difference? A hard disk drive (HDD) uses a disk to write information onto for storage. A solid-state drive (SSD) uses integrated circuits to store information.
Hard Disk Drive:Solid-State Drive:
The reason the solid-state drive is better is that it takes less time to pull information from storage. This is because the computer doesn’t have to search through the disk. It is also more resilient to potential damage. They are also quieter and don’t produce as much heat.
If you’ve ever used an older laptop or desktop you will remember the loud noises the hard disk drive produced when reading and writing information. Not the best when you are trying to teach students. It isn’t the end of the world. But, it would be nice to eliminate the noise and if you are going to replace your drive you may as well upgrade the technology and not just the storage size.
Optimally, if you are going to replace your hard drive, you want to put in a solid-state drive that has at least 1TB of storage. Unless you are downloading and storing hundreds and thousands of music and movie files or playing a lot of games, you won’t fill the drive up.
So, let’s learn how to replace the hard drive.
Upgrading the Hard Drive on Your Laptop
Laptops are all made differently and replacing the hard drive may be easier on some than others. The best thing you can do before attempting to upgrade the hard drive is to reference the user manual or find a guide for your specific computer and model. In some instances, it may be more worthwhile to just buy a new computer rather than risking damage if you are not fully comfortable with what you are doing.
This video will give you a general overview of the process of replacing a hard drive on a laptop:
Upgrading the Hard Drive on Your Desktop
Upgrading the hard drive on your desktop, like everything else, is much easier than on a laptop. This is mostly due to the size difference. Because desktops are generally larger you have more room to work with and the margin for error is smaller.
This video will show you how to upgrade the hard drive on your computer:
Upgrading the Hard Drive on Your MacBook
Unlike the RAM and the processor, you can actually upgrade the hard drive on some MacBook models. Especially, older models made prior to 2015. Newer models oftentimes you won’t be able to upgrade. For a complete list of models that you can upgrade you can look through this article.
If you do have a model of MacBook which can be upgraded, this video will help you to understand the process:
Upgrading the Webcam
This one is easy. If the webcam on your computer is not up to par, you need to upgrade it to an HD external webcam. This is going to be the same for a laptop, desktop, or MacBook. Make sure you go with a reputable brand such as Logitech, Creative Labs, or Microsoft. As long as you choose an HP webcam, they will all have similar features.
Not too difficult right? Like we said in the introduction, none of these upgrades will be too difficult. Even if you are not very good with technology, you shouldn’t find it too difficult upgrading your computer. Just make sure you know when to draw the line between needing a few upgrades and needing a new computer.
If you do make the decision to buy a new computer for teaching online ESL, then make sure to read our guide. We will tell you everything you need to know so that you buy a computer that will last you for many years and thousands of classes.
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