HomeTechnologyNewsThe five best PC upgrades to improve performance

The five best PC upgrades to improve performance

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Upgrade to PC? Your options range from installing more RAM to custom building a case designed for a DIY liquid cooling system. Which updates are the best depends on your PC. What specs do you have now? Are you gaming, editing 4K videos, or just browsing the web?

Here are five common PC upgrades, and which systems will see the most improvement from them. We are also marking how difficult we think these various updates are. Most are easy to do, although some may require a bit more thought and planning than others.

Add a solid state drive

A Samsung Solid State Drive
samsung
  • Upgrade Difficulty: Easy
  • Type of device: Desktop or laptop computers

This is the classic rudimentary upgrade that makes a world of difference, especially for older systems. If your laptop or desktop runs on a hard drive, getting a 2.5-inch SSD will make a world of difference. Your PC will feel more responsive and boot times can be dramatically shortened. Given the current state of flash storage, you’re probably better off with a tri-tier cell (TLC) than a quad-tier cell (QLC).

If you already have a 2.5-inch SATA-based SSD, your next step would be to upgrade to an NVMe M.2 drive. This will also improve overall responsiveness and boot times, but not as much as with a hard drive.

M.2 drives come with a caveat: Your PC needs a special PCIe M.2 slot. Most modern desktop motherboards should have it, but laptop capabilities will vary greatly. Check your motherboard or device manual to see if your system supports these drives.

RELATED: Multilayer SSD: What are SLC, MLC, TLC, QLC and PLC?

More RAM

Skills
  • Upgrade Difficulty: Easy
  • Type of device: Desktop or laptop computers

Should you add more RAM to your setup, or will this be an exercise in futility? That depends a lot on what you’re doing. If you use a PC to stream videos, write Microsoft Word documents, and edit the occasional photo, then 8 gigabytes (GB) may be all you need. Gamers will often be happier with at least 16GB, especially when playing modern AAA video games.

Then there are the rich media tasks. If you’re into video editing as a hobby, 32GB of RAM might be ideal.

RELATED: How do speed and RAM time affect my PC’s performance?

The bottom line is that there is an optimal amount of RAM that your system needs to do its job. If you add more RAM beyond that, you won’t see much, if any, improvement.

Using these general guidelines, you should be able to estimate how much RAM you need. If it’s not enough, try doubling it up and see how it goes.

Also consider the limits of your motherboard and CPU. They can only handle a certain amount of RAM, although it’s usually quite a lot. Remember that when you buy new RAM, they must all be of the same speed (measured in MHz). Learn more in our guide to replacing your PC’s RAM.

Once you’re set up, changing the RAM in a desktop computer is as simple as popping in the new RAM modules and turning on the machine. Laptops are a bit more complex, usually requiring opening an access panel at the bottom, or sometimes removing the keyboard. Please note that some laptops cannot accept RAM upgrades because the RAM is soldered to the motherboard PCB.

RELATED: How to upgrade or replace your PC’s RAM

change your graphics card

AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT
AMD
  • Upgrade Difficulty: Easy
  • Type of device: desktop PC

If you have the proper amount of RAM in your system and your games are running on an SSD, the next step to improve performance is to upgrade your graphics card. Before you change your GPU, ask yourself what resolution your monitor has. If you get a graphics card that is awesome for 4K gaming but only plays at 1080p, then you could have done with a much cheaper graphics card.

If your CPU is particularly old, you may need a newer one before upgrading your graphics card. However, you can go surprisingly far with an older CPU paired with a newer graphics card. Also, if it’s time for a CPU upgrade, it’s probably time for a total system overhaul.

Once you have a new card, open the latch on the slot, remove the power cable from the old card and pull it out, slide the new one in and reconnect power, if your card requires it. Then you just have to install the new card drivers and you’re good to go. For a more detailed look at the upgrade process, check out our tutorial on how to upgrade and install a new graphics card on your PC.

RELATED: How to upgrade and install a new graphics card on your PC

upgrade your cpu

A stylized CPU on a motherboard
Rost/Shutterstock
  • Upgrade Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Type of device: desktop PC

Upgrading your CPU isn’t hard, but it’s harder than putting in some new RAM modules or swapping out your graphics card. Before settling on a new CPU, check which models are compatible with your motherboard. The CPU socket on your motherboard must be compatible with the processor you want – the socket is the space where the CPU fits on a motherboard.

However, keep in mind that CPU manufacturers (particularly Intel) may have different versions of the same socket type. A SkyLake-compatible LGA 1151 socket, for example, is not compatible with the LGA 1151 sockets used by Coffee Lake processors.

RELATED: What is a CPU and what does it do?

In general, it is better to upgrade the motherboard and CPU at the same time. However, sometimes it will make sense to simply upgrade the processor. For example, you could get a very good sale on CPUs.

If you don’t upgrade your motherboard when you change CPUs, there are often some trade-offs, especially if newer processors have more advanced features. Anyone with an AMD X470 motherboard, for example, could use a Ryzen 3000 CPU. However, they would lose PCIe 4.0, which both the CPU and motherboard must support.

Changing the CPU is a bit different depending on whether you have an AMD or an Intel motherboard. Essentially though, all you have to do is remove the old CPU, gently put the new one in, and secure it. Then it’s just a matter of connecting your CPU cooling fan or liquid cooling solution.

RELATED: How to upgrade and install a new CPU or motherboard (or both)

Add an all-in-one liquid cooler

A Corsair liquid cooler
corsairs
  • Upgrade Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Type of device: desks

Heat: It’s what keeps custom PC builders up at night, or at least awake enough to contemplate how to keep PC temperatures down. Keeping your PC cool helps your components last longer and makes overclocking your system easier.

Standard air-cooling fans are great, but there’s nothing like a liquid cooler when you want to get serious about overclocking, or your PC is generally too hot all the time. An all-in-one (AIO) cooler is a good first step. These are pre-built devices that circulate fluid from a radiator to a block above your CPU. Installing an AIO cooler on an existing PC requires you to remove the current cooling fan and then dispose of any existing thermal compound on the CPU. Next, install the radiator in your case and place the cooling block on top of the CPU; the thermal compound is usually pre-applied to the block. Attach a few cables to your motherboard or power supply and you’re ready to go.

RELATED: Do you need liquid cooling for your PC?

Make sure your case can hold your AIO cooler. The four typical AIO sizes are 120mm, 140mm, 240mm, and 280mm. These are all based on the sizes of the radiator fans. A 120mm all-in-one has a 120mm fan; a 140mm has a 140mm fan; a 240mm has two 120mm fans; and a 280mm has two 140mm fans.

Whether or not a liquid cooler is right for your PC depends on how hot your machine tends to get. If you can sell an AIO, there’s something to be said for how good a liquid cooling system looks, especially if it’s got some dazzling RGB in it.

You can carry out many other PC upgrades, but those are some of the most common ones that don’t require a lot of expertise to get right.

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