4 Things You Absolutely Must Check Before Upgrading Your Desktop PC

Matt Smith 29-05-2012

factors consider before upgrading your computerUpgrading your desktop computer is an excellent idea. You can extend the lifespan of a PC indefinitely by changing out components over time. Absolutely everything can be replaced.


Computers are complex, however, and this can lead to headaches when trying to upgrade. Nothing is more frustrating than finding out that you have a compatibility issue while you’re in the process of installing new hardware. Let’s review 4 potential trouble spots you should check before digging into your desktop’s internals.

The Power Supply

factors consider before upgrading your computer

A desktop computer consists of various components, each of which needs power. The power supply is responsible for managing and distributing power. It needs to have the right plugs and it needs to be able to handle the overall power demand of your desktop at load.

Some of the power connections in desktops have remained the same over time, but some haven’t. The most recent examples of new connections are SATA and PCI Express. If you own a computer that is more than five years old it may not support them, and that means you won’t be able to use a SATA hard drive 5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive Before you install a SATA hard drive, here are a few things to consider so you don't mess anything up. Read More or a PCI Express video card without an adapter. Always makes sure that your power supply has the connectors required to accept any new hardware you might purchase.

Overall power draw can sometimes be an issue, as well. Video cards are the primary troublemaker. Be sure to check the power requirements specified by the manufacturer before buying a new video card. If your current supply is below the requirements you should upgrade it before installing new hardware.


The Motherboard

computer upgrade tips,

Everything inside a computer must connect to the motherboard for it to function. Most motherboards have a significant number of connectors for installing new hardware, but the number is finite, and can be filled to capacity more quickly than you’d think.

Always check how a new piece of hardware will connect to your motherboard. The most common connections are SATA (for hard drives and optical drives) and PCI Express (for video cards, sound cards and network adapters), but there are others.

Once you’ve discovered what is required, verify that your motherboard can accommodate the upgrade by opening up your desktop and inspecting it. This is an important step. Your motherboard may technically have eight SATA ports, but what if a large video card or cooling fan is blocking two of them? This is not something you’ll discover just by cracking open your desktop’s manual.


The Enclosure

computer upgrade tips,

Once you’ve verified that your power supply and motherboard can handle new hardware you’re done, right? Not quite.

Even if these components can handle your upgrade you may still run in to trouble if it won’t fit in your enclosure. This has always been a common problem, but it’s even more common today. Computers are becoming smaller, which means a lack of physical space is more of a concern.

Find the physical measurements of any hardware that you plan on installing and use a tape measure to make sure that you have room. Be sure to account for not only the width of new hardware but also its depth. Some cases have thin profiles that will only fit “half-height” PCI Express cards. Processor coolers are another common troublemaker, as the most effective air-cooled models tend to have extremely large heatsinks that are as tall as the typical mid-tower PC case is wide.


The Operating System

factors consider before upgrading your computer

Last, but not least, you need to deal with the software.

Operating systems generally are not a limitation when you are upgrading hardware, which is why the topic shows up last in this article. This doesn’t mean they are never an issue. It’s possible that you may find yourself with a hardware upgrade that is physically compatible with your system in every way but still doesn’t work.

This most commonly occurs because you’re using an older operating system or an unpopular one. Windows XP will work with most of today’s hardware despite its age, but you’re often going to be left with reduced functionality. Mac OS X is very finicky about the hardware it will work with. Linux is a little better, but only if you stick with popular, well-supported distributions.


You should check the specifications of the hardware you’re buying to see what operating systems it is officially compatible with. If you are using a Linux distro, you should check its help forums. You’ll often find lists of fully and partially compatible hardware.


Once you’ve accounted for these four points you can safely purchase a hardware upgrade. Yes, I know – checking all of this can be a bit annoying and will take some extra time. But it does reduce the chance that you’ll buy incompatible hardware. It will also make you more familiar with your system and with computers in general, which means you’ll have less homework to do the next time you want to upgrade.

Have you run into any other compatibility problems while upgrading?  If so, tell us about it in the comments.

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  1. sl0j0n
    November 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Hello, all.
    This is mostly pretty good info.
    IF you're considering a processor upgrade,
    be sure to check your motherboard for compatibility w/ the processor you want.
    I've still got 2 Pentium III processors that I couldn't use, after I bought them.
    Fortunately, they were *very* inexpensive, but its still wasted money,
    when you buy parts that you can't use.
    I managed to upgrade my old win2k box, from 800MHz to 1GHz,
    which was a nice little bump.

    IF that mobo had only had room for more RAM that box would still rock.
    The main reason I don't like Intel is setting such low RAM limits in the BIOS.
    512MB is *NOT* 'enough RAM' for modern computers, at least since 2k.
    I may load apache on it, and use it for a local server;
    just need to see if I've got the HDDs for it.

    Actually, it probably makes more sense to use my ASUS M4A88T-M/USB3,
    as the basis for cheap server; just add a cheap AM3 processor,
    keep the RAM [12GB], and throw a big HDD in it.

    I want to upgrade my homebuilt box, particularly the mobo and the video card.
    I also want to get a win7 64bit gold RETAIL dvd,
    so I can upgrade & reinstall till the cows come home.

    Here's a big issue;
    assuming your using M$ Windoz,
    will the upgrade blow your "Windows Genuine Authentication"?

    I think the makeuseof authors might want to doublecheck that w/ M$,
    because changing hardware can make your Windoz install come up bad,
    from the WGA not recognizing your new hardware.
    Its a distinct possibility, since M$ decided that you have to check w/ them,
    to 'clear' your upgrades, and get 'permission' to upgrade YOUR computer.

    That's the only thing this article needs, IMO.

    Have a GREAT day, neighbors!

  2. pahaysaz
    August 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Thinking of upgrading my HDD. It's my limiting factor for the time being. Three options I'm exploring and I could use some advice: 1) 10K or 15K RPM HDD for system disk, 2) hybrid HDD for system disk or 3) SDD for system disk. A fourth option is to use one of the preceding types of HDD as the sole HDD on my system. Any advice. Oh, I am a little cost sensitive...

  3. Ravi Meena
    June 20, 2012 at 10:45 am

    any idea about how to check processor health? i mean the performance of non ceramic processor degrades with time so is there anyway to check that?

    • Matt.Smith
      June 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm

      I don't know of any way to check processor health. I haven't heard of this problem before, either.

  4. Great1122
    June 15, 2012 at 12:51 am

    Kind of late, but anyone who reads this, learn into building your own computer, more often then not, you can save money this way since you can save money on ram and future upgrades by building your own computer. This includes checking all the things this article mentions but to make stuff a bit less complicated, if you are just starting there are certain factors that you should consider when upgrading your computer. This includes where your priorities are, for example a gamer would have a priority for higher end equipment then a regular desktop user. If you're a gamer there are numerous guides on the internet(even one on this site) to build your pc. If you're just an average user, if your pc right now is good enough right now then just keep it, but if you feel it's starting too slowly or working too slowly, the things you are looking to buy are an ssd drive(note you might need a 2.5 inch to 3.5 inch enclosure for an ssd drive to fit but it's all worth it), a new processor a core i3 would be enough for most non-gamers, but if you're into video encoding and high end photo editing look into a core i7, a new motherboard that has your processor socket and is the same form factor that fits your case(the two form factors you want to look at are matx and atx) and finally a quality 500 watt power supply(don't cheap out on quality here this component is very important a few companies to look at is seasonic and corsair), and ram.

    • Matt Smith
      June 17, 2012 at 2:45 am

      Yep. And when you build your own computer it's easier for you to upgrade, which will save you money in the future when you want to improve your computer's performance.

  5. Shehan Nirmal
    June 1, 2012 at 3:40 am

    Linux is great... but no ALWAYS... It sometimes does not support some VGA drivers... so my opinion is that Windows XP comes to the 1st place in the aspects of hardware support...

  6. infmom
    May 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Make sure you've got the drivers for all your hardware on hand. If you don't have them, some critical piece of equipment (like your ethernet connection) might not work.

    Yeah, I learned that from experience.

  7. finite
    May 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    What? Linux will generally work with/on anything.
    Hardware support is far better and wider than with any of the alternatives.

    • alexander
      May 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm

      correction, linux will work with anything!
      if you arent capable of coding/migrating/translating your own drivers, chances are you are on ubunto or similar mainstream distro. then, just ask on the forums, and the power-users will very quickly point you towards a couple of usefull guides, if that doesnt solve your problem, simply state that in your thread, and a coder will take it upon himself to make it work.
      as long as you are willing to make an effort yourself, the distro contributors are more than happy to help you the rest of the way. this actually happened to me.
      i had to figure out how to make my mixer work under ubunto (with a modified low latency kernel) for audio recording, and wasnt able to find a driver. while one coder actually offered to make/port a driver for me, another musician helped me make it work through jack. took a couple of hours of research, and work, but it works! and in general, as long as you arent afraid to do some of the work yourself, and ask politely, the communities of linux distro forums are willing to help you do almost anything.

    • Kevin Maher
      May 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm

      I am a Linux fanatic. The best OS out there, but, the peripheral support for items such as printers, scanners and the like is very patchy. Epson seem to be the only hw manufacturer out there actually writing code for Linux. Apart from those issues, no problems with installs.