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It can take a lot of time to decide whether to buy a piece of tech or not. But once you have it, how do you decide when it’s time to upgrade?

Should you wait until it’s broken? Should you get the next big thing 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea 5 Reasons Why Being An Early Adopter Is A Bad Idea Are you the type of person who pre-orders the newest tech gadgets as soon as they’re available? Then you’re an early adopter. Is there a downside? Let's find out. Read More when it comes out? It’s hard to save money while not falling back into the Stone Age, but here are some tips to help you keep up with the times without emptying your wallet.

Before I begin, I would like to note that these are just suggestions that can help you think about making the most of what you already have. Everyone’s upgrade preferences are different. If you have the money and you see tangible benefits in an upgrade, nothing is stopping you. But if money is tighter, there are some upgrades that you really can do without, and I’m here to help you identify some of those.


The storage capacity of your device, whether it’s your computer or your phone, is something you can easily manage without upgrading to something bigger or faster. Have you ever gone completely through all of the contents of your device? Do you really need to keep everything that’s on it? Do you regularly play all of the games that are installed? I’m sure there are several things that you can simply delete and not miss.

For things you do want to keep, you can move those to other devices (say from your phone to your computer, assuming there’s enough room on your computer). There are also plenty of cloud storage services available that you can push your content onto to make room on your personal devices. For example, if you are subscribed to Office 365 An Introduction to Office 365 -- Should You Buy Into the New Office Business Model? An Introduction to Office 365 -- Should You Buy Into the New Office Business Model? Office 365 is a subscription based package that offers access to the latest desktop Office suite, Office Online, cloud storage, and premium mobile apps. Does Office 365 provide enough value to be worth the money? Read More , you most likely have 1TB of space on your OneDrive.


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If performance is more of an issue than storage space, don’t upgrade to an SSD. Instead, use the hard drives you already have and set them up in a RAID 0 configuration What Is RAID Storage & Can I Use It On My Home PC? [Technology Explained] What Is RAID Storage & Can I Use It On My Home PC? [Technology Explained] RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disks, and it’s a core feature of server hardware that ensures data integrity. It’s also just a fancy word for two or more hard disks connected... Read More . It turns your hard drives into a single storage pool and allows all of the drives to read/write at the same time, multiplying your performance by the amount of hard drives in the RAID configuration.

Just note that if you have hard drives of different sizes, the pool will be limited to the size of the smallest hard drive times the number of drives in the pool. For example, if you have a 320GB hard drive, a 500GB hard drive, and a 1TB hard drive, the total storage space would be 3 x 320GB = 960GB. The remaining 840GB will be unusable and wasted in this scenario.

So to reduce the amount of wasted space, try to use hard drives with the same size or as similar size as possible in a RAID 0 configuration. Setting up a RAID configuration can sometimes be done in the BIOS of your computer The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults Your computer’s BIOS (basic input/output system) is the low-level software that starts when you boot your computer. It performs a POST (power-on self test), initializes your computer’s hardware, and passes control over to the boot... Read More , or in your operating system as a software-driven RAID configuration (which is slower than hardware-driven).

Processor (CPU) and Graphics Card (GPU)

The performance of computers, phones, and tablets depends heavily on processing and graphics capabilities. There are so many CPU and GPU chipsets out there that it’s hard to give good advice on what is still fine to use and what needs to be replaced.

The best advice I can give here is to determine whether or not your device is experiencing so much stuttering and lag that it makes simple tasks such as checking Facebook very difficult, aggravating, or nearly impossible. If it’s slow but still reasonably usable, then you can stop worrying about upgrading, especially on phones and tablets, because that means buying an entire new device.

Gaming is another use case in which the topic of upgrades comes up often. The choice of whether or not to upgrade phones and tablets is rather binary. Since most games don’t have very many performance-related settings, you’ll be limited to the games that are playable on your device, or you’ll need to upgrade. You have more options for computers, as most games have a plethora of performance-related settings PC Graphics Settings: What Does It All Mean? PC Graphics Settings: What Does It All Mean? In this video, we'll walk through the most common graphics settings you'll find in today's PC games. By the end, you'll understand what they mean in plain language. Read More .

To avoid having to upgrade anything, try lowering the settings enough so that the game becomes playable. Don’t forget to try lowering the resolution as well — the gameplay won’t be as sharp, but it reduces the amount of work the GPU has to do. While it’s nice to be able to play games on “ultra-high” settings, it’s a luxury that requires an appropriately-sized budget to make it a reality.

If even the lowest settings don’t make games playable, then you may want to consider an upgrade. Make sure you know what exactly needs to be upgraded, however. Depending on the game, either the CPU or the GPU can be the bottleneck, and if you’re tight on money you’ll want to only upgrade the bottleneck. The best way to check whether the CPU or GPU is at fault is to play around with the resolution settings Graphic Display Resolutions - What Do The Numbers Mean? [MakeUseOf Explains] Graphic Display Resolutions - What Do The Numbers Mean? [MakeUseOf Explains] Display resolutions can be a rather cryptic business, with multiple standards used to describe the same display resolution in 10 different ways. All of those technical terms tend to change based on the display's purpose... Read More .

If you try to reduce the resolution and the framerate doesn’t improve, the CPU is the bottleneck. If the framerate improves, the GPU is the bottleneck. Never set the resolution to more than what your display can handle — there’s no point in doing so and it doesn’t help you determine what the bottleneck is, either.


Back in the day, the most common recommendation to improve your computer’s performance was to add more memory. And that was great advice back then, when most computers came with 1GB, or maybe 2GB, of RAM. Nowadays it’s pretty rare to find a new computer that has less than 8GB. However, yours might have less than 8GB of RAM or more, especially if you’ve had it for a few years.

Instead of buying more RAM for your computer, you can instead use what Windows calls “virtual memory Is Your Virtual Memory Too Low? Here's How to Fix It! Is Your Virtual Memory Too Low? Here's How to Fix It! The curse of Windows is its slowing down over time. Often, low memory is to blame. Here is one more way to virtually unburden your RAM. Read More ” or what Linux calls the “swap area” or “swap partition What Is a Linux SWAP Partition, And What Does It Do? What Is a Linux SWAP Partition, And What Does It Do? Most Linux installations recommend that you include a SWAP partition. This may seem odd to Windows users – what is this partition for? Read More .” While they’re not exactly the same thing, the general concept is that a certain amount of space on your hard drive is reserved for use as “extra RAM.” If you have a massive hard drive with lots of free space on it, then this is a fantastic option available to you.

So why don’t we just throw away RAM and use our hard drives for that in the first place? Because RAM is much faster than a hard drive. Usually, virtual memory is only used in emergencies when your actual RAM is already completely full, or to dump the contents of the RAM onto the hard drive in preparation for hibernation.

You’d think that using an SSD would speed things up as they’re much faster than traditional hard drives, but that’s not recommended either, because it adds a significant amount of read/write operations, which wears out the SSD much faster 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD For years, standard hard drives have been the speed limiting factor in overall system responsiveness. While hard drive size, RAM capacity, and CPU speed have grown almost exponentially, the spinning speed of a hard drive,... Read More than normal use. Instead, you could follow the RAID 0 tip I mentioned above to increase the performance of your traditional hard drives. The more hard drives you have in a RAID 0 configuration, the closer they’ll be to actual RAM speed.

If you are unable to do a RAID configuration and you notice that virtual memory is being used very often and is slowing down your computer considerably, then it may be worthwhile to look into RAM upgrades.


Just about every device has Wi-Fi capabilities built in to connect with the outside world. Mobile devices, laptops, and even some desktops come with Wi-Fi ready to go. But we know that Wi-Fi is an evolving technology — it’s certainly much faster now (802.11ac Everything You Need To Know About AC Routers Everything You Need To Know About AC Routers While wireless standards lack a logical progression in terms of letters, the technology under the hood is notable, and with each new release we get one step closer to painless connectivity. Read More tops out at 1,300 Mbps) than it was back in the day (802.11b topped out at an impressive 11 Mbps). Future Wi-Fi standards that are being developed right now have already achieved a reported 10,530 Mbps (10.53 Gbps) in lab testing.

So when should you upgrade your Wi-Fi equipment? Thankfully, Wi-Fi upgrades are a bit more forgiving than other types of upgrades as it takes several years before a new Wi-Fi standard is finalized. And even then, I’m of the opinion that if you’re behind one “generation” you’re still good to go. For example, the latest standard right now is 802.11ac, but if you’re still running 802.11n, which came directly before it, you don’t need to upgrade.


Anyone running anything less than 802.11n should probably upgrade. Once the next standard comes out, anyone running less than 802.11ac should probably upgrade. You’ll spend less money and have to do less upgrading if, when you do upgrade, you get products with the newest standard. That way, you won’t have to upgrade again until two Wi-Fi standards later.

If you think you can afford upgrading to each new Wi-Fi standard when it comes out, then I would recommend only upgrading specifically because of Wi-Fi when the majority of your devices support the new standard. If you have a brand new router but none of your devices support the new standard yet, you’ll have spent a lot of money on a new technology that you can’t use.

At least by the time more of your devices have support for the new standard, that standard will have existed for a while and buying a new router will be cheaper, as others with the same standard will have flooded the market. Also, you should try to only upgrade your other devices for reasons other than their Wi-Fi capabilities.

Upgrade When You Really Need It

As you might be able to tell, I don’t focus much on whether you should upgrade entire devices, but rather if a device has components that need upgrading. Problems that you have with a device are usually caused by a single component, so if you single that out and know how to deal with it, you can definitely save money.

This is even more true for devices for which it’s impossible to upgrade individual components. There’s no need to upgrade a whole device like that when there are problems that you can work around. For many other components, such as cameras within devices, you just have to ask yourself whether they work and if they’re good enough. Of course there’s always going to be something better out there, but if it works for you, just keep your money.

What other easy workarounds have you used to avoid buying upgrades? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits:, LichtCatchingToby via Flickr.

  1. closetedhippie
    June 4, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    As for upgrading smartphones, the adventurous Android user can often squeeze more useful life from them by rooting and installing a custom ROM. I do a "backup, wipe, and flash" about once a quarter and it feels like a new phone each time - and I upgrade the ROM I have weekly.

  2. lichtcatchingtoby
    March 24, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    I thank you for using my RAM picture of Flickr. Cheers!

  3. Kilroy
    March 21, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    I too am concerned about the RAID 0 advice, especially without the warning that one drive failure will result in total data loss. The chance of failure is increased by the advice to "use the hard drives you already have". Hard drives last three to five years in normal use, sure you may get more years, but I wouldn't bet all of my data on it.

  4. Ruppert Wahner (The Katz Meow)
    March 14, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Well I've never messed with raid0 setups but if your looking to increase your speed and you have 8 gigs of ram or more then simply lose the swap files. I stream and watch anime on line as well as play World Of Warcraft as well as dabble in Graphics! The thing about speed on the internet depends on the speed of your connection and who your connecting to on the web, you will only be as fast as the slowest connection is as well as how many connections are using the connection you are connecting to.

  5. Mike
    March 14, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Oh dear, a very disappointing article. Advice on WiFi and CPU/GPU pretty much OK ; the other topics show the authors lack of in-depth knowledge.

  6. likefun butnot
    March 8, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    There's a lot of desperately bad advice in this article. Please don't heed the advice of anyone who suggests a RAID0 array for any sort of general purpose computing need, especially over and above the real-world benefit of a solid state disk drive. This person is utterly, fantastically, inexcusably wrong on every possible level and should be disqualified from offering advice or commenting on topics related to computer hardware.

    • Lachlan Roy
      March 9, 2016 at 3:31 am

      While RAID0 may not stand up to a SSD, there's nothing wrong with utilising it if you have a few hard drives lying around and want to repurpose them for some speedier storage. Of course, you'll want to make sure you have appropriate backups of the data (particularly if you're repurposing older drives that are more likely to fail).

      The whole point of this article is reusing what you already have rather than spending more money on new hardware. Yes, an SSD would have far greater real world benefits, but it would also involve spending money and going directly against what is trying to be achieved here.

      While you may disagree with the contents of the article, there's no need for your last sentence.

      • likefun butnot
        March 9, 2016 at 4:11 am

        @Lachlan Roy,

        There are several very important reasons why it's a bad idea to encourage use of RAID0 for general purpose computing and the suggestion to the contrary suggests a poor understanding of its purpose and its value. RAID0 is not an all-around disk performance improvement. It offers a linear-ish improvement in sustained data transfer rates in exchange for a multiplicative increase in probability of data loss.

        What laypeople (apparently including the author of this article) frequently do not understand is that improvement in sustained transfer rates really only have value for workloads that involve constantly reading very large files, something that's seldom helpful for desktop computing. RAID0 does nothing to reduce drive latency, the characteristic that SSDs immediately and dramatically improve (nearly all SSDs will also offer higher data transfer rates than a RAID0 of two consumer-grade magnetic disks as well, but being let's focus on the two, three or four orders of magnitude of difference in latency instead). Low latency improves the ability to move lots of small files into the system bus/RAM/CPU very quickly, which results in obvious and universal improvements in system responsiveness for nearly all workloads. The benefit isn't even comparable.

        RAID of any sort also makes a system somewhat more complex to manage, particularly RAID0, where any sort of error in one of the array members will take the whole disk set offline. This risk is multiplied by the number of disks in the array, so RAID0 should REALLY only be used for entirely replaceable data (work area for content creation; gaming application files) or in cases where no other data collection strategy can sustain the I/O needed for the application. It doesn't really belong in home computers.

        Finally, SSDs aren't particularly expensive. 240GB drives are approximately US$75 and 480GB drives are about $125 as of this writing. That price has only a very slight premium over a typical desktop or notebook drive. A user interested in upgrading overall system performance should absolutely be steered toward that SSD, particularly if they're tempted to even the slightest degree by the possibility of using RAID0.

        I'd also take some issue with the description and understanding of CPUs and 802.11 hardware and how or when they might be upgraded in this article, but that's a topic that's actually been discussed more accurately in other MUO articles.

      • David Bobb
        March 9, 2016 at 7:36 am

        Raid 0 trades speed for reliability. You will lose all the data on that array as soon as one of the drives on that array fails. This is a very important caveat. Secondly, while a 2-disk Raid0 array will have double the read/write speed over a single drive, it does not have the benefits that an SSD has in instantaneous seeking, so there's less delay in reading/writing to random places on the disk (ie: the disk spinning up and then the read head seeking to that location). Basically, a RAID0 array might be worth trying if you are aware of it's shortcomings. On the plus side, a RAID0 array will offer MUCH more storage space than an SSD so might be good if the data is not critically important (or if you back up the stuff that is)

        • David Bobb
          March 9, 2016 at 7:41 am

          On the subject of RAM. I will disagree with this article. For basic computer use you will only need 4GB of RAM (but 8GB will be a bit faster), if you're doing memory-intensive tasks like playing 3D games, editing high-resolution pictures using programs like Photoshop and GIMP, etc. or do a lot of multitasking, than 4GB of RAM will not cut it. Most modern OSes like Windows will create a swap file automatically if you run out of RAM space, but the problem is that using the swap file will usually slow the computer down as the hard drive is tied up with reading/writing data in and out of the swap file and there's always that extra delay as the hard drive must spin up and then seek to the location of the swap file, especially if you're trying to open a file or program while it's doing this. Just upgrade your RAM unless you can tolerate the extra bit of sluggishness that this incurs.

        • Richard Harris
          March 15, 2016 at 7:56 am

          I totally concur with David. Upgrading to an adequate amount of RAM allows the computer to focus on processing rather than read/writes to some page file. Google your 32/64 bit system to see the total RAM that it can address, so you don't purchase more than the system can use. You may have to make a few tweaks so your computer can "see" the new RAM, and google can help you with that also. I maxed out my 64bit Windows, and it seems like a new machine. My frustration at waiting for "the stupid computer" has disappeared.

      • F4G
        March 14, 2016 at 8:14 am

        A practical setup requires two well-matched and sizeable drives for the RAID 0 array and two larger drives for two backups, and a suitable RAID controller or NAS unit: not a likely profile of leftovers from old equipment.

        Buying a SSD for the computer and using two old drives in external enclosures or in the computer for backup is simpler and probably less expensive, not only technically better for the obvious performance and reliability reasons.

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