Technology Explained

Which Upgrades Will Improve Your PC Performance the Most?

Andy Betts Updated 27-03-2020

Is your PC fast enough for the things you want to do? Does it take forever to boot, or grind to a halt when you try to use Photoshop? If so, it’s probably time to upgrade your hardware.

Advertisement

But now you’re wondering, “What should I upgrade on my PC?” What gives the best bang for buck, and which upgrades are a waste of time? Here’s our guide to the best PC upgrades you can make.

1. Why You Should Upgrade RAM

RAM stick sitting on top of a dozen plugged in RAM sticks
Image Credit: Kingston

Adding more memory is the easiest and most accessible way to upgrade your PC. It’s affordable, you can do it on almost any computer, and it doesn’t require much tech know-how. It’s also one of the best laptop upgrades, if your machine allows it.

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

A RAM upgrade delivers an instant performance boost to almost all PCs that are running slow. For resource hungry tasks—like video editing or gaming—the more RAM you’ve got, the better.

Advertisement

Even for casual use, extra RAM will enable you to have more apps running in the background or keep a greater number of tabs open in your browser.

So how much RAM do you need?

  • 4GB is the minimum amount. It’s fine for general use, with up to around 10 browser tabs, a little photo editing, and video streaming.
  • You’ll notice a significant improvement if you upgrade to 8GB. This is good for serious multi-tasking, browsing with up to 30 tabs open, editing RAW photos, and even some mid-range gaming.
  • For heavier tasks, you should look to 16GB for best results. Serious gaming, media editing, or any pro-level tasks will be best with this much memory.

You might also take a look at SuperFetch on Windows and its affect on your RAM along with the best DDR4 RAM to improve your PC’s performance The Best DDR4 RAM to Improve Your PC's Performance If your computer is feeling sluggish or slow, then you may be due a RAM upgrade. Here's the best DDR4 RAM for your next upgrade. Read More .

If you need to know what RAM is compatible with your computer, memory maker Crucial has a PC upgrade advisor tool that helps you identify the type of memory you need.

Advertisement

2. Consider Upgrading the Graphics Card

upgrade your graphics card
Image Credit: Gigabyte

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 might not 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 Integrated vs. Dedicated Graphics Card: 7 Things You Need to Know Wondering if you should use an integrated vs. dedicated graphics card? Here's what you need to know to make your decision. Read More rather than dedicated graphics cards.

And on modern systems integrated graphics is good enough for most users. It’ll let you do some Photoshop work, or watch 4K video. Around 10 percent of users on Steam are even gaming with integrated graphics.

Advertisement

But if you do need superior graphics performance, for gaming or VR work, then upgrading to something like a Radeon RX 5700-XT will give you a big boost. You can compare the performance of dedicated cards against your current option at gpu.userbenchmark.com.

Gigabyte Radeon RX 5700-XT Gigabyte Radeon RX 5700-XT Buy Now On Amazon $359.91

3. Get a Faster Storage Drive

upgrade to an ssd
Image Credit: Samsung

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

Advertisement

If you’ve done everything you can to free up your hard disk storage 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 10GB of free space for the operating system to use.

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

But one of the most useful computer upgrades 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.

On average, a 5400RPM drive might achieve write speeds up to 100Mbps, a 7200RPM drive up to 150Mbps, and a solid state drive over 500Mbps. Higher end SSDs like the Samsung 970 EVO Plus have incredibly high write speeds of 3300Mbps and more.

Samsung 970 EVO Plus Samsung 970 EVO Plus Buy Now On Amazon $163.64

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

The big complaint about solid state drives used to be that they had much smaller capacities and were more expensive than hard disk drives. While this is still technically true, it’s much less of an issue today.

1TB SSDs are now pretty common, and very affordable—take a look at the SanDisk SSD Plus as a great example. That should be big enough for many people, but if you need more space you could consider a hybrid drive. This combines both technologies to give you a balance between speed and size.

Samsung SSD Plus Samsung SSD Plus Buy Now On Amazon $99.99

4. Upgrading the 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 to install, it’s one of the more expensive upgrades and there are compatibility issues to worry about, too.

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.

A processor is only worth upgrading if the upgrade is significant, like moving from an i3 to an i5, or from an older generation to a newer one. Don’t go for something just because it has a faster clock speed.

Processors are 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.

5. How Upgrading Software Can Improve Performance

upgrade operating system

Chances are that the programs on your PC 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. So, 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.

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 should 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 and may run slow on your system.

If your PC is running fine, it’s worth holding off on operating system upgrades until you’re absolutely sure they won’t turn out to be downgrades.

Software tweaks are often a good way to make your computer feel faster without needing to spend any money. Our guide on how to make Windows 10 faster 14 Ways to Make Windows 10 Faster and Improve Performance It's not hard to make Windows 10 faster. Here are several methods to improve the speed and performance of Windows 10. Read More is a good place to get started.

What Else Should You Upgrade?

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.

A keen photographer, for instance, would surely benefit more from having a better monitor than from making Lightroom run a little quicker. Equally, a writer could become more productive with a mechanical keyboard.

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

The Best PC Upgrades for You

When you’re deciding how to upgrade your PC, we recommend RAM, SSDs, and graphics cards as the main areas to focus on.

Make sure you buy parts that are compatible with your existing kit. A good PC upgrade checker is PC Part Picker, which helps you identify and shop for the right components.

Ideally, you should always tailor your upgrades to your precise needs. If you aren’t sure where your computer’s bottlenecks are, check out our guide to the Windows diagnostics tests you can use to help you pinpoint them.

And watch out for these common mistakes that could slow down your PC You're Slowing Down Your PC: 5 Common Mistakes and What to Do Instead Find that your computer is running slow? You might be the cause! Here are various ways you've made your PC slow down. Read More . Are you making any of them?

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Computer Memory, Computer Parts, CPU, Graphics Card, Hard Drive, Solid State Drive.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Mike Walsh
    January 28, 2019 at 11:34 am

    Running 14-yr old hardware as I do (from the very early days of 64-bit computing), the biggest improvement I ever made was upgrading from an AMD Athlon64 single-core 3200+ to a dual-core X2 3800+. In those days, AMD had made it possible, because the single & dual-cores both used the exact same CPU socket.

    RAM (DDR1, of course) is by necessity 'maxed-out' at 4 GB; this was the limit for all DDR1 boards. But this isn't a problem, because I run a tiny Linux distro called Puppy Linux. The entire thing loads into, and runs from RAM.....typically around 400-450 MB. Blazing speed, and a miniscule 'footprint'. And Linux typically supports older hardware for far longer.

  2. Godel
    January 1, 2019 at 11:20 pm

    The reliability of SSDs vs HDDs is debatable. SSDs are definitely a good thing but they're not bullet proof. A number of people have commented that when an SSD fails it will do so without warning, whereas you often get some sort of warning noise from a HDD before it goes.

    Either way SDDs are not suitable for long-term offline storage or backup. After one or two years without being plugged in an SDD will lose data.

  3. HildyJ
    December 25, 2018 at 3:48 am

    1) Make sure you are running a 64 bit OS or many of these suggestions will not do much.
    2) Get an SSD and make it your C: drive (boot drive). Put your OS and program files on it. Make your existing drive your D: drive and put the rest of your files on it.
    3) Get at least 8gb of RAM. Buy two 4gb sticks so the computer can balance the load. If your motherboard and budget can support it go for 16gb.
    4) Only if you've done all of the above, including the 16gb of RAM, should you think about upgrading your graphics card .
    5) I wouldn't recommend upgrading the CPU or motherboard.

    In line with #5, sometimes your computer is just too old. Before you go on a major renovation, check manufacturers' outlets where they sell last year's models. It may be cheaper than upgrading and you get a manufacturers' warranty.

  4. Gane
    August 15, 2018 at 9:28 am

    I have Dell optiplex 790 Series .. 4gb Ram, 500GB Hard disk, Intel i5 - 2400 3.1ghz ,intel hd graphics ... I'm planning to upgrade my PC to play Assassins Creed oddesy... Can anyone recommend best options like ram, Graphics Card which supports my Dell optiplex 790.....

    • lee
      October 5, 2018 at 11:59 pm

      A stand along GPU would be your biggest upgrade to play assassins creed. id go with a gtx 1060.. tho that may require you to upgrade your power supply as well, your ram is very low too but for gaming if you get a good gpu the gpu will have its own ram making motherboard ram less valuable and frankly terribly slow by comparison.

  5. Ichu
    June 1, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    Suggest me for ram upgrade for my pc Amd e - 240 processor 1.50 ghz
    Currently im using 2 gb ram
    32 bit os
    Budget 5k
    Thank you

  6. 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.

    • lee
      October 6, 2018 at 12:01 am

      Agreed the only exception to that rule is AMDs AM4 chipset using infinity fabric.. then its the speed of the ram more than the amount you want.

  7. 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

  8. Anonymous
    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

    • Anonymous
      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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. Anonymous
    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.

  13. 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? :))

  14. 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)

  15. 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.

  16. 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$. If you watch for sales, you can get a decent brand 500GB for well under 200$

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. Anonymous
    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.

  20. Anonymous
    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.

  21. Anonymous
    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.