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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

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