In a few cases it’s perfectly obvious what part of a PC system needs upgrading. If, for example, you’ve run out of hard drive space, the solution is either to add a second hard drive or replace the original with a larger-capacity hard drive or even a solid state drive (SSD).
Similarly, if you fancy a larger screen, a better keyboard or a cordless mouse, your decision is already made. Unfortunately, things are rarely that simple.
Probably the most common reason for considering an upgrade is that your Computers performance has become rather lacklustre. It might have been blisteringly fast when you first bought it but, over the years, it has become gradually slower and slower. If you’re using exactly the same software but your computer has slowed down it probably indicates that your system just needs a good spring clean.
There are plenty of tools that can clean up the clutter, from Windows’ built-in utilities such as Disk Defragmenter to third-party offerings such as Ccleaner and others.
More drastically, you could reinstall Windows. In this case, you can probably restore your system to factory settings (however, all your files and programs will be removed) and you might not need to upgrade after all.
However, the slow-down might be because you’re trying to run more demanding programs which have a greater appetite for your PC’s resources. If this is the situation you find yourself in, you will need to decide which component is the weakest link in the chain and therfore the most likely candidate for an upgrade. In the case of a general dissatisfaction with performance, the culprit could be the main processor, the graphics processor, the amount of memory, or even the hard disk. Working out which of these components is the bottleneck isn’t always easy, but I can give you some pointers.
First, your the applications you are using might give you a clue. Video or audio editing and encoding, mathematical or scientific computing using Excel, and 3D rendering using Photoshop are all pretty demanding of your PC’s processor. If it’s only gaming where your PC really starts to show its age (and it can’t even run the latest games smoothly), a likely upgrade is the graphics card. If your PC doesn’t have a plug-in graphics card (which means it’s using the built-in graphics chip) then the obvious answer is to buy one that will fit your computer(check whether you have an AGP or PCI Express slot).
If you do a lot of multi-tasking, switching between applications, or if you run virtual machines in VMware or VirtualBox, or are serious about video or photo editing, it could be the amount of PC memory (RAM) onboard that’s letting you down.
Finally, if the pedestrian performance is more general, perhaps related to the time it takes your PC to boot and applications to load, a faster hard disk, perhaps a solid state drive (SSD), might do the trick. In fact, an SSD is usually the best-value upgrade for both PCs and laptops as it makes them much more responsive.
However, when it comes to gaming, it will be better to install the very best graphics card you can afford, which will make your PC perform just as well as new models. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true for laptops. On the whole, you can upgrade only the hard drive and memory in a laptop.
If you’re being drawn in the direction of a new processor, you need to consider one important fact – your motherboard might not be compatible with the latest models. It’s vitally important, therefore, that you check the motherboard manual that came with your PC and the specification of the new processor, to ensure that the two are compatible. See my related article ‘Speed up a PC with hardware upgrades‘.