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Is your PC running slow? Maybe you’ve tried optimization software Speed Up Your Computer & Fix Errors With WinOptimizer 11 Speed Up Your Computer & Fix Errors With WinOptimizer 11 Is your computer slow? Every Windows machine eventually shows signs of degrading performance. Ashampoo's WinOptimizer 11 promises to be "the tuning specialist for your PC" and it's free with our rewards program. Read More  and investigated all the common solutions How To Really Speed Up Your Computer - Common Myths & What To Do Instead How To Really Speed Up Your Computer - Common Myths & What To Do Instead Suffering from a slow computer? You might not know why and maybe you're trying to fix it in all the wrong ways. Let us help you with tips for a real speed boost. Read More , but nothing seems to be working. In that case, it’s time to upgrade some of your hardware.

But which components, exactly? Where should you start? Which upgrades will give you the best bang for your buck, and which are a waste of time?

Although you should always tailor your upgrades to suit a particular need, here are the best upgrades to make in order of generalized importance.

1. RAM

Adding more memory is the easiest and most accessible PC upgrade you can make. It’s affordable, you can do it on almost any machine (including many laptops), and it doesn’t require much tech know-how.

If you’ve never cracked open your PC case before, then this is the place to start.

ram

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Upgrading RAM delivers an instant performance to almost all PCs that are running slow 5 Little-Known Specs That Could Be Slowing Down Your PC 5 Little-Known Specs That Could Be Slowing Down Your PC We'll take a look at five lesser known factors that affect your computer's performance, and show you how you can always get maximum bang for your buck when upgrading. Read More . For resource hungry tasks — like video editing or gaming — the more RAM you’ve got, the better. Even for casual use, extra RAM will enable you to have more apps running in the background and keep a greater number of tabs open in your browser.

So how much RAM do you need How Much RAM Do You Really Need? How Much RAM Do You Really Need? RAM is like short term memory. The more you multitask, the more you need. Find out how much your computer has, how to get the most out of it, or how to get more. Read More ? 4 GB is currently the baseline amount, but you’ll notice a significant improvement if you upgrade to 8 GB. For heavier tasks, you should look to 16 GB for best results.

2. Graphics Card

We’ve got this second on the list, but if you’re a serious gamer then it should probably be the first thing you upgrade. If you aren’t a serious gamer, 3D modeler, or 3D animator, then you probably won’t ever need to upgrade it at all.

Skimping out on graphics is an easy way to save on costs, so PC manufacturers tend to go with integrated graphics cards rather than dedicated graphics cards. If you have an integrated card, then moving up to a dedicated one will work wonders.

graphics

Despite the fact that integrated graphics performance has been improving, even a good one is about the equivalent of a $100 dedicated graphics card Can Shared Graphics Finally Compete with a Dedicated Graphics Card? Can Shared Graphics Finally Compete with a Dedicated Graphics Card? There are two kinds of graphics cards for PCs: dedicated and shared. Read More . Upgrading to something like an Nvidia GTX 960 card for around $200 will give you a big boost in most cases.

You can compare the performance of dedicated cards against your current option at gpu.userbenchmark.com.

3. Data Drive

There are two reasons to upgrade your hard drive: you’re running out of space or you want faster performance.

If you’ve done everything you can to free up your hard disk storage 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer Clutter can be a big downer on productivity. Over time, files get lost, programs go unused, and suddenly, your once spacious hard drive is packed with useless things and you have to clean it up.... Read More  and still regularly run out of space, then you will need to swap it out for a larger one. Not only does a full hard drive make it impossible to save new data, but it can also impact performance. At the very least, try to keep 10 GB of free soace for the operating system to use.

For hard disk drives, consider upgrading the physical speed. If your PC currently has a 5400 RPM drive, then upgrading to a 7200 RPM model will give you a nice speed boost.

hard drive

But the fastest option is to switch to a solid state drive. These use flash memory instead of a spinning disk and are many times faster than a typical hard disk drive. (Not to mention more reliable, too Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More .)

On average, a 5400 RPM drive might achieve speeds up to 100 MBps, a 7200 RPM drive up to 150 MBps, and a solid state drive over 500 MBps. The newest models can even go considerably faster. The downsides to solid state drives 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD The world of home computing is moving towards solid state drives for storage. Should you buy one? Read More  are that they have much smaller capacities and are more expensive than hard disk drives.

Ultimately, a faster data drive means faster boot times, faster program loading times, faster boot times for games, and more responsiveness in programs that use large files (like video editing or RAW photo editing).

hybrid

If you don’t want to compromise on size, a hybrid drive combines the best of both worlds. These have a small amount of flash memory — where your most commonly used files are cached for instant retrieval — and a traditional hard disk that provides large capacity for storing long-term data.

4. Processor

Upgrading your PC’s processor is a far more advanced task than the other upgrades we’ve covered so far. Not only is it physically trickier if you’re doing it yourself, it’s one of the more expensive upgrades 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 there are compatibility issues to worry about, too.

Of course, there are compatibility issues with the other upgrades as well, but they’re much easier to negotiate. More importantly, a processor upgrade isn’t always a good thing and may not bring you the performance improvement you’re looking for.

The benchmark tests at cpubenchmark.net can help you compare the relative performances of different processors. In general, these tests show that modest updates don’t deliver big improvements. Other detailed tests show that a CPU’s performance varies hugely depending on the software on your system.

A processor is only worth upgrading if the upgrade is significant. But it’s expensive and may require you to upgrade your motherboard (and that might require you to buy new RAM). Even if your motherboard is compatible with a new processor on paper, it may need a BIOS update to work. It can be a pain, so check before you buy.

Ultimately, if your processor is the speed bottleneck in your system, you might want to consider buying a whole new system altogether. (Or you can save money by building a PC from parts 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 instead.)

5. Software

Chances are good that the programs on your system are set to update automatically. If not, you probably click the Update button as soon as you’re alerted to the release of new program versions.

In most cases this is the right thing to do, but not always. For a lot of software, the version number is depicted in the form of Major.Minor.Revision. If an update is 0.0.1, then it’s likely to be bug fixes. If it’s 0.1.0, then it likely includes optimizations and small new features. Minor and Revision updates should be installed right away.

windows 10

But Major updates — a change in the full version number — are a different matter. It’s almost a given that new versions of programs will use more resources than old versions, so if your PC’s hardware is already being stretched to the max, you’ll probably want to deal with that first.

The same goes for operating system updates. The regular incremental updates are essential for performance and security reasons, but whole new versions aren’t. They will almost certainly have bugs Is Windows 10 Build 10240 the Most Unfinished RTM Version Ever? Is Windows 10 Build 10240 the Most Unfinished RTM Version Ever? What's the proof for Build 10240 being the RTM version and is it ready for public release? We have investigated the latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build and compiled the evidence. Read More  and may run slow on your system Is Your Computer Compatible with Windows 10 & Can You Upgrade? Is Your Computer Compatible with Windows 10 & Can You Upgrade? Windows 10 is coming, possibly as soon as July. Are you eager to upgrade and will your system be eligible? In short, if your computer runs Windows 8, it should also run Windows 10. But... Read More .

If your PC is running fine, it’s worth holding off on operating system upgrades until you’re absolutely sure they won’t end up as downgrades.

Other Components

The motherboard is the most difficult of all upgrades since all of the other PC parts attach to it. It’s only worth considering if you’re dead set on a new processor that’s not compatible with your current setup. It won’t give you much of a speed boost on its own.

There are other components to consider, too.

monitors

A keen photographer, for instance, would surely benefit more from having a better monitor than making Lightroom run a little quicker. A web developer might become more productive with a second monitor How to Be More Productive with Dual Monitors How to Be More Productive with Dual Monitors You need space for several documents, to get an overview and swiftly shift between tasks. What's true for your desk also applies to your virtual workspace. We show you how it matters. Read More , as could a writer with a mechanical keyboard.

Instead of focusing purely on performance, think about how you can upgrade your experience. Speed is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

There Are No Miracle PC Upgrades

So, RAM, SSDs, and graphics cards are the most important things to upgrade. You should see real, instant improvements whenever you upgrade any combination of them.

Just don’t expect miracles. There will always be a bottleneck in your system. As soon as you replace the slowest part, something else will take its place. And as your computer ages, it’s important to be able to discern whether you should upgrade a single part or buy a whole new machine 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 instead.

Have you upgraded your PC? What did you get and how effective was it? Have you ever made an upgrade that didn’t deliver what you hoped? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Image Credits: RAM via Ben, Graphics via MiNe, Hard drive via Gary J. Wood, Hybrid via Yutaka Tsutano, Monitors via Will Keightley

  1. Sandy Coulter
    November 27, 2015 at 2:03 am

    The processor is really what sets the limit on speed, while other components factor into the equation. RAM doesn't really increase speed, but does enable the simultaneous running of more programs without bogging the system down. I agree with eljorgisimo, that the best upgrade is to go for a SSD over conventional HDD. If you need a lot of space, then add a SSD as the boot and programs drive while keeping the HDD for file storage. This should be in the number one position of the article. As for the graphics card, you will not notice any difference unless you are a gamer or rendering videos. Like someone said, if the PC is running on Intel atom or similar, there is not much that can be done to improve performance unless you actually change the processor.

  2. Bujang Terlajak
    November 22, 2015 at 10:29 am

    choose 64bit os over 32...data flow will increase tremendously.But his apply to high end spec only

  3. Harry K
    November 21, 2015 at 1:42 am

    I'm going to give instructions that I followed to setup my Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit system.
    I agree with the first step in this article, and I have 8GB installed that came with the kit that I built this PC with, altho I've made a few alterations as I could afford them.

    Currently I have a 128GB ADATA SSD with Windows 7 installed on it. I also have a 1.5TB Westen Digital Black HHD.

    What I did was go to the HHD and create folders for Libraries and the sub-folders for each of the four that Win 7 creates when it's installed: Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. I then right click on them and click to include them in the default Library.

    Then open Windows Explorer and click on each of the four sub-folders under Libraries, then locate the sub you created on the HDD (D:\) and then click to make it the default folder for the main folder (one of the 4 Library Folders). Once you do this, every thing you save to one of the libraries will go to the D:\(HDD). saving space on the SSD.

    Next step is to create folders Program Files and Program Files (x86) on D:\.

    Once I've done that, any apps I install, which normally defaults to the c:\ drive, I click in the box showing the location of install, hit home, delete C and then type D:.... so that all apps are installed on the D:\ drive.

    The exception to this is an app installer that allows you no choice of install location and automatically go to C:\ There aren't many that do that but the ones that do, I decide do I really want this app and am willing to let it use space on the SSD.

    When you install apps to the D:\ drive the installer sends necessary file to AppData and other locations on the SSD, which is mostly unavoidable, but they usually don't use much space.

    I'm gonna stop for now, but I think I've covered this enough that it can be followed and you'll get great results, at least I have and hope you do as well.

    Good Luck,
    skilz853

    • Kelsey Tidwell
      November 24, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      I've got a very similar setup to yours that I build back in 2013, and it has worked exceptionally well! It boots up in seconds, but the D drive is still plenty fast enough for my games.

      The only issue I've had is a very random one where the PC mysteriously tries to boot from D instead of C, but a reboot into bios, advanced bios settings, and a move of the SSD back up to the number one boot slot fixes it for a few more months.

      If it were actually annoying I'd take the time to track down the real cause, but I suspect it's just a BIOS glitch. Keeps life interesting!

  4. Mike Lilley
    November 21, 2015 at 12:50 am

    @Zhong Jiang

    Increased performance = higher power bills is an incorrect conclusion.
    SSDs, modern generation chip-sets (on motherboards), CPU's and GPU's all use less power and have better performance than their predecessors.

    Yes, if you upgraded only the CPU in your current system it will use more power but its not necessarily the case in all upgrades.

  5. eljorgisimo
    November 20, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Andy Bets,

    You sir are wrong!!! :) The best upgrade, in the vast majority of cases, as far as increasing performance, is replacing the hdd with a ssd.

  6. eljorgisimo
    November 20, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    We have recently begun to experiment with ssd drives and the performance is nothing short of astounding. If speed and performance is the issue and you can sacrifice capacity (or have the scratch to afford a large ssd) this is the upgrade that will yield the biggest boost in performance by far.

  7. Stephen Rice
    November 20, 2015 at 8:33 am

    A good reason to upgrade GPU even if you aren't gaming too much is to add additional monitor ports to your machine. It's hard to go back to a single monitor if you're used to the space.

  8. Ib
    November 20, 2015 at 6:16 am

    SSD in combination with HDD or NAS gives the best performance.
    Regarding RAM, be aware that Windows 32 bit only support up to 4 GB!

    • Erik
      November 20, 2015 at 8:01 am

      people still use 32 bit OSes these days? :))

  9. Ramses G
    November 20, 2015 at 6:02 am

    I am a PC gamer. My first option is to keep an updated discrete VGA and a good CPU. I have only 8GB of ram and a low end MOBO which is good enough for gaming. HDD specs are not relevant for gaming experience (no additional frames per second when having a solid state drive)

  10. Ron Ablang
    November 20, 2015 at 4:30 am

    Replacing a traditional hard drive w/ an SSD has been the best upgrade for me for almost any machine. The only one it hasn't worked for was my wife's netbook (2009) which has an Intel Atom processor. The SSD didn't make the computer any faster at all.

    SSDs have made my other older laptops (Intel Core 2 Duo) useful again. Not bad for a $50 investment.

  11. Andrew
    November 20, 2015 at 3:22 am

    The most stark performance change you can make is for sure, without a doubt is going from mechanical to SSD. I have a couple older laptops that run like little ponies. And as long as you're not looking for TOO much space, a nice 120GB will only set you back about 50$. If you watch for sales, you can get a decent brand 500GB for well under 200$

  12. john
    November 20, 2015 at 2:12 am

    I've had much joy recently taking laptops with Vista Business and adding RAM, an SSD and Windows 7. The difference between Vista on a 5400rpm HDD and Win 7 on an SSD is miraculous and can make a 6-7 year old laptop very useable again.

  13. Public Citizen
    November 20, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Not mentioned but something that will make a significant performance upgrade, especially on older hardware, is to put the operating system on a SSD while keeping the data on a traditional drive. SSDs of sufficient size to hold the operating system have come down in price to the point where you get a lot of bang for your buck.
    It does take a little more savy to get things configured right than just loading an operating system from a disk but it is a lot less "learning curve" than actually going out and earning the money necessary to replace the whole box, or even do a significant enough hardware upgrade in other areas to achieve the same performance increase.

  14. hildyblog
    November 20, 2015 at 1:14 am

    I'd go for RAM first (8GB is probably enough and make sure you get the type your motherboard supports) followed by an SSD. But remember that when getting an SSD, you can add it to the disk you have rather than replacing it. Put your OS and program files on the SSD and your documents and multimedia on the old HDD.

  15. Zhong Jiang
    November 19, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    With performance, comes the equal pressure of hiking that electricity bill up ( unless it's at a fixed rate). I think if you're a professional working several projects, it's worth the upgrade but most people use it for mundane tasks which doesn't require much power at all. So it isn't a good idea to jump on the band wagon when everyone is upgrading their PCs.

  16. likefun butnot
    November 19, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    An SSD *is* a miracle PC upgrade most of the time. As long as a PC has enough RAM for its operating system and typical workload, moving to an SSD will absolutely provide the biggest overall improvement to a computer since a PC's storage subsystem is always going to be the slowest component that is in continuous use. Reducing boot or application load times by 50 or 75% vs. a magnetic disk drive feels pretty miraculous to me.

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