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When you want to make quick upgrades to PC performance, the first choices should always be increasing RAM or switching hard disk drives to solid state drives. But when you’ve exhausted your upgrade options Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most? Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most? If you need a faster computer but aren't sure which component would be most beneficial to upgrade, then here are the guidelines you should follow. Read More , it’s probably time to roll up your sleeves and start looking at more intense upgrades.

One important upgrade is the motherboard. A newer motherboard opens up a range of options for your PC that we’ll cover in a moment, but it also leads to additional compatibility upgrades that can be quite expensive.

When you’re sure you want to make the leap, though, the motherboard gives you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of refreshing that tired old PC 7 Warning Signs It's Time to Replace your Old PC 7 Warning Signs It's Time to Replace your Old PC When should you buy a new computer? Read More that’s still tired and sluggish after cheaper upgrades.

1. For Faster CPUs

If your CPU is rather new, the performance gains that come from upgrading to a newer one are going to be fairly minimal. If you have a first generation Core i5 or Core i7, however, you’re going to notice massive gains jumping to a newer Skylake processor.

But to do that, you’ll have to have a motherboard that supports the upgrade.

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On another note, if you’re upgrading for the sake of gaming, save your money and upgrade your graphics card instead. Most modern games lean more heavily on your GPU What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is the Difference Between An APU, A CPU And A GPU? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the last five or more years, there have been a number of different terms swirling around to describe computer hardware. Some of those terms include but aren’t limited to APU, CPU, and GPU. But... Read More than your CPU What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? [Technology Explained] What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? [Technology Explained] Read More .

2. For Faster RAM

Making the upgrade to newer iterations of RAM requires a motherboard that will support those new RAM modules. If you’re currently using DDR3, for example, you can’t make the jump to DDR4 or, eventually, DDR5 without swapping out the motherboard and the CPU first.

The performance increase between DDR3 and DDR4, however, isn’t all that mind-blowing. If speed is the sole reason for the upgrade, rethink where you’re spending your money.

3. For Better Graphics Cards

All of the above reasons are good, but in my opinion, this is the single greatest reason to upgrade your motherboard.

If you’re a gamer or video editor, a new CPU/motherboard combination and a higher-performance GPU will make your PC feel like an entirely different machine. Games will run faster and with less lag, all while letting you increase the in-game settings to run at more graphically-intense levels than your previous card. (Depending on when you last upgraded, that is.)

If you’re not a gamer, and you’re more of a casual Internet user, the best bang for your buck is going to be a RAM or SSD upgrade, and you can skip GPU upgrades altogether.

4. For Faster Data Transfers

Making the upgrade to SATA III or USB 3.0 USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know USB 3.0 beats USB 2.0 in so many ways. Here's everything you need to know about why you should always pick USB 3.x when possible. Read More increases the transfer speed of data from one piece of hardware to another. For example, SATA III has a maximum rated speed of 6 Gbps and USB 3.0 tops out at 5 Gbps. Both are plenty fast enough for simple file and data transfers, but the highest-end SSDs top out around 2 Gbps in terms of transfer speed. Most don’t even hit that mark.

There are other considerations at play, such as SATA III being faster than USB 3.0 due to drive options like native queueing, and USB 3.0’s disadvantage of being a shared bus, but the reality of the matter is that both are fast enough for what you’ll need them to do, neither will hit their max speeds, and you’ll probably have to upgrade your motherboard on an older system in order to use them.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in upgrade land, however. For those of you that don’t have a lot of experience in building your own PCs Is It Still Cheaper to Build Your Own PC? Is It Still Cheaper to Build Your Own PC? How much does it cost to build your own PC these days? Compared to pre-built models, are the savings worth the effort? We investigate. Read More and don’t typically catch on to written tutorials all that quickly, you may be spending additional cash to fix novice mistakes.

5. You Have Damaged Parts

Damaged motherboards are an infrequent but huge problem. Snapped pins, disconnected plugs, static electricity discharge, and other issues will all lead you back to the repair shop to buy new plugs, or, hopefully, to get a professional installation.

Same thing goes for fire damage, smoke damage, water damage, and even physical trauma from impact.

Remember, the CPU/motherboard upgrade is one of the most expensive upgrades you can make to your existing PC. If you aren’t confident in your ability to match up parts or to correctly piece everything together once you’re in the midst of your build, it’s always going to be best to opt for a professional installation rather than the cost of replacing damaged hardware.

Beware of Issues With Compatibility

To facilitate an upgrade, you’ll need to match up your new hardware to your existing hardware — or you can go buy a set of all new equipment.

The most crucial bit is that the motherboard and CPU must match. More specifically, the motherboard CPU socket needs to match that of the CPU’s socket. For example, if the motherboard supports LGA 1150, your CPU must support that as well.

There are other considerations too, such as BIOS compatibility, TDP support, and the number of SATA ports. It’s best to find a recommendation for a good pairing before tackling this yourself as a novice.

DDR3, DDR4 and the emergence of DDR5 means that you’ll have to take extra caution to ensure that your motherboard/CPU combo is capable of handling the specified memory you select. If it’s not, you’ll need to upgrade. Unfortunately, there isn’t a workaround for this one, but you can write it off as a learning experience 8 Terms You Need to Know When Buying Computer RAM 8 Terms You Need to Know When Buying Computer RAM While RAM tends to be fairly easy to find and install, tracking down RAM compatible with your system can prove to be a bit more challenging than a casual user may be expecting. Read More .

The RAM’s frequencies and voltage must also match up to the motherboard’s desired range. 1,333, 1,600, 1,866, 2,133 and 2,400 MHz with voltages of 1.65v should match up equally to the stated range of the motherboard.

Meaning, if you have 2,400 MHz RAM and use it with a 2,133 MHz CPU at 1.65v, you could run into compatibility issues that could be detrimental to performance or lead to machine failure.

Remember, the motherboard connects to the CPU, RAM, HDD, GPU, and other hardware, so it’s not only important to ensure compatibility, but also that you aren’t experiencing a bottleneck in the system somewhere.

No matter how fast your CPU/motherboard combination is, it’s still reliant on existing adapter cards that control sound, video, storage, and processing speed (as it relates to RAM). If any of these items are on their last leg, incompatible, or lagging behind in performance, your entire machine can slow to a crawl with or without the new CPU/motherboard combo.

How often do you replace your motherboard? What are you currently using? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. James
    December 16, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    "...a new CPU/motherboard combination and a higher-performance GPU will make your PC feel like an entirely different machine..." lol, well that's pretty much everything bar the case and power supply so I guess it would do! :)

    I'm also building my first new machine in about 10 years (have been making do with work cast offs and hand me down graphics cards). Managed to pick up 16GB of Corsair Vengeance Pro 2400Mhz for £65!! from amazon to go with Z97 motherboard (£62) and i5 4690k (£177). No money left for a new GPU and monitor, so it will be interesting to see if this platform upgrade (from Intel Q9400 cpu + LGA775 Mobo) will give me some extra life/performance from my aging GTX 560ti while I save my pennies for the GPU upgrade.

    • ThomasJamal
      March 11, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      Yeah, I was going to say the same thing. A new CPU/motherboard combination and a higher-performance GPU IS an entirely different machine.

  2. Ralph Cramden
    December 1, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I usually replace my system every four or five years. Money is the main consideration for this as I live on a fixed income from a pitiful disability check.

    This also usually means I constrain myself to the cheaper of things I can find that are still sort of cutting-edge or at least close to it.

    AMD cpu's, budget nvidia gpu'd video cards, etc. I personally see nothing great or good enough about SSD's to spend the amount of money they cost for one as my sata hdd's do just fine (especially the nice and fast WD Black 1TB hdd I have).

    As for RAM...as of yet, since using and working on computers since 1993, I've yet to see any real value in installing gobs of RAM in any 32bit system. I've not once in all these years had any addition to the amount of RAM I started with in my system do anything making the spending of that money worth it (Except for my very first computer, I *ALWAYS* build my own so I know *EXACTLY* what's in my system, how it's configured, what parts I want and the case configuration will work for any future mods).

    • Kelsey Tidwell
      December 6, 2015 at 12:00 am

      I'm a lot like you in that I go about the same time in between builds, and I never buy bleeding edge stuff. That philosophy of not having to have the *best* (read: newest and most expensive) works in a lot of other areas too...new cars and clothes come to mind.

      I did go nuts on my last build in 2012 though and I used an Intel Core I5, my first Intel CPU ever since I started building in 1995. But it definitely wasn't the latest and fastest, and I shopped shopped shopped til I knew I had found a bargain price.

      Keep it up, man. Way more people than you know think like you do. Every upgrade is fantastic, no matter what it is or how little it costs, because it's better than what you had.

  3. likefun butnot
    November 30, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    I replace my main desktop every two years or so. I'm on a Haswell-E CPU and an M.2 SSD already, and absolutely nothing is in the pipe for the near future to make me think I should be thinking about any sort of a switch. I don't see Skylake-E or Cannonlake (the next desktop CPU revisions) doing anything exciting enough to make me upgrade, so I'm probably going to be on my current machine for quite some time.

    • Thomas Sheeley II
      November 30, 2015 at 10:55 pm

      I, on the other hand, built my current machine in 2009. I don't game on it... it's mostly USENET downloads and remoting into my work computer on off hours, so it's been able to get by with the only real upgrade being a bump to 12gb of memory. It mostly just sits there, semi-quietly and serves up my media via Plex.

      That being said, 2016 is the year of the new build for me.

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