Upgrading Your PC? Five Ways To Keep The Price Down

Matt Smith 14-12-2012

upgrade your pc cheap
Making the move to upgrade your PC is exciting for any geek. There’s almost always something bigger or faster available – if only you spend another fifty bucks. This can lead to a slow budget creep that sneaks up to you and then, BAM! You’re spending a lot more than wanted.


That doesn’t have to happen. Through a combination of smart buying and willpower you can keep costs down while gaining a significant performance upgrade.  Here are five ways to keep money in your wallet instead of your PC.

Aim A Little Low With Your Processor

upgrade your pc cheap

For any particular processor line there’s usually numerous models. Intel’s popular Core i5 quads What You Need To Know About Intel’s Ivy Bridge [MakeUseOf Explains] Intel has just released its new updated processor, code-named Ivy Bridge, for both desktops and laptops. You’ll find these new products listed as the 3000 series and you can buy at least some of them... Read More , for example, start with the Core i5-3330 at $189 and then range upwards to the $215 Core i5-3570.

If you’re looking for minimum budget it’s not a bad idea to go for the low-end processor. The performance difference is usually too small to notice in real-world use. You’ll save a few bucks without any downside.

Don’t take this too far, however. Downgrading from one product line to another will result in a performance difference. There’s nothing wrong with a Core i3 but don’t buy it under the illusion that it’s about the same as a Core i5.


Don’t Go Overboard On Your Motherboard

cheap ways upgrade your pc

Buying a new motherboard is often a part of buying a new processor. There’s a wide selection of them available and they range in price from $50 to $400 or a little more. High-end motherboards are often given exciting names like Formula, Sniper or Rampage.

Don’t be fooled. Motherboards have almost no impact on performance. They can increase the potential of your PC by supporting more video cards or RAM, but that’s it.

There are a lot of good options in the $100 to $150 range for any given processor and, if budget is your concern, it’s wise not to stray too far from them. Top brands like ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI offer plenty of choice for budget shoppers.


Buy A Last-Generation SSD

cheap ways upgrade your pc

You will obviously save money if you don’t buy a solid state drive Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] If you've kept up with some of the latest news about new computer parts, you may have heard about SSDs, or solid state drives. They are designed to replace your clunky, slow hard drive and... Read More . They offer a huge performance boost, however, so I think it’d be silly for me to recommend skipping one entirely. It’s a worthwhile upgrade.

To keep costs down you can aim for one of the less impressive options or an older product. The Crucial M4, which was once considered cutting-edge, is now pretty mundane. And that means you can buy a 128GB model for just $99.

There’s nothing wrong with an older model. SSDs are great upgrade because of their low access times and almost any option on the market can provide you with that. You wouldn’t even notice a difference in data transfer speeds unless you regularly move large files on or off the drive.


Don’t Buy A Video Card If You Don’t Game

cheap ways upgrade your pc

Video cards How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained] Read More have slowly but surely become less necessary for the average PC. A few decades ago it wasn’t even possible to enjoy graphics without one. Today, the integrated graphics in an AMD or Intel processor can handle multimedia use and 2D games without issue.

A video card is only needed for people who want to play 3D games at decent detail settings. Everyone else will find an IGP to be adequate. Users with multiple monitors are the only exception to this.

Most of today’s processor ship with an IGP – but not all. AMD’s FX line lacks this feature, as do a couple of Intel products. Be sure to double-check this before buying.


Use Existing Components When Possible

upgrade your pc cheap

Technology moves quickly. Except when it doesn’t. Processors continue to advance at a blistering pace but mechanical hard drives, optical drives, sound cards, network adapters and power supplies Power Supplies Explained: How To Pick The Perfect PSU For Your Computer Most geeks interested in buying new hardware or building a new system think first of the processor, graphics card and perhaps the hard drive. These components have the most impact on performance, so they are... Read More have experienced less progress. It’s possible, even likely, that your existing PC has several components that can still be used.

There are three things you need to check when determining if you can use old hardware.

  • Can it physically connect to my new motherboard?
  • Does my new power supply support it?
  • Are there drivers for the operating system I’m installing?

If you’re going to use the same power supply and the same operating system, great! Then you only have one thing to check.

You also can work this checklist in reverse when shopping. Instead of asking if your old parts work with the new motherboard, find a new motherboard that works with the old parts. It won’t always be possible but it’s worth a look.


Following these steps can keep hundreds of dollars in your wallet. The system you end up may be not as awesome as it would have been, but it will be extremely close. So close that you won’t miss the more expensive hardware that you didn’t purchase.

Remember, there’s always something better on the horizon. Even if you buy the fastest, most expensive hardware it will be out-paced by something new in a few months. Taking a step back and buying fast but affordable hardware is a better choice.

Image Credit: Mark

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  1. Thenewholly
    March 28, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    I recently upgraded my newest desktop, originally intended just to upgrade it's 2.8 GHz single core possessor. I went with the AMD Athlon II X4 640 Propus 3.0GHz processor, which cost me $80. By then, I decided to upgrade the RAM, adding 12 GB of ram for $75, and a MSI N640-4GD3 GeForce GT 640 4GB Graphics card for $100. I'm not a fanboy for the computer, but I love playing computer games from time to time, and upgrading was a blast, but it taught me two things, One, your always going to want to upgrade another part, and two, your going to spend more than you originally plan to. I went from sending $80 to $255 before shipping and taxes.

  2. Griffin
    December 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    This isn't particularly true when it comes to motherboards. When putting together my PC I found it extremely hard to find a motherboard that worked with what I wanted. I was getting 2133mhz ram but very few boards supported this. These abilities are normally what drives the price up. Also video cards are necessary in more places than just gaming. Large and high detail monitors can just eat integrated graphics. This is especially true when it comes to having multiple monitors. On top of all this some motherboards don't include integrated graphics. These, nowadays, are usually high end motherboards (odd how this has changed). This is because integrated graphics can sometimes conflict with video cards.

  3. Junil Maharjan
    December 16, 2012 at 5:20 am

    This is a great help. Thanks. Bookmarking this.

  4. Ron Lister
    December 16, 2012 at 3:42 am

    Good article Matt, I'll have to check out some of your other articles and your blog.

  5. Bob F.
    December 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    High-quality video cards aren't just for gaming. If you regularly need to edit video, you'll want a good one.

    Also, I think it's cool that this article seems to have been written by The Doctor.

  6. Anonymous
    December 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Recommending a SSD isnt a way of Keeping The Price Down. :)

    • Matt Smith
      December 18, 2012 at 12:18 am

      You can get some cheap SSDs these days. And if you're upgrading, presumably you already have a mechanical drive, which you can still keep in service for bulk storage.

    December 15, 2012 at 10:35 am

    good one....

  8. Doc
    December 15, 2012 at 12:28 am

    "Motherboards have almost no impact on performance." Wrong. The number of memory slots and maximum supported memory can make a huge difference, as does the memory supported (DDR2 vs DDR3, and actual supported clock speed, such as PC3-1066 versus PC3-1600). The chipset also makes a big difference, as does the BIOS (performance fine-tuning, overclocking, and EFI support for drives over 2TB).

    • James Maciel
      December 15, 2012 at 12:34 am

      DDR2 vs DDR3 is almost no performance difference and 1066 vs 1600 also doesn't make a big performance difference. Even the basic motherboards support overclocking. Motherboards make very little difference and you should do some research before saying things like that.

      • Doc
        December 18, 2012 at 5:01 am

        " should do some research before saying things like that."

        How about over 20 years building my own PCs and over 15 years being an IT administrator? Does that count?

    • Matt Smith
      December 18, 2012 at 12:18 am

      I did say "Don’t be fooled. Motherboards have almost no impact on performance. They can increase the potential of your PC by supporting more video cards or RAM, but that’s it."

      We could have a drawn out conversation about if you can add this, and how it does that, and etc - but this is a budget article. Maximum performance, lowest price. All of that besides the point because it's expensive.

  9. Jim
    December 14, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    I've seen new desktops (which I'm interested in) that have two hard drives, one a ssd and the other a conventional sata hard drive (moving disks). How does this work? Two Os's? Some of my computers have Linux and windows but I choose the boot with Grub. If I get one of these desktops, can I still run three hds with Debian Wheezy?

    • Doc
      December 15, 2012 at 12:35 am

      No. The OS is installed on the SSD for speed, the second HD becomes a "D:" drive (or mount point) for anything that doesn't affect your boot time. You can still partition an SSD to install Windows and Linux for dual-boot.

  10. theMike
    December 14, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I would suggest amd builds. The average user will see absolutely no difference in performance but a huge difference in price. I've used both and an older amd quad or triple core is worth the savings. my everyday computer is an over clocked intel q6600 @ 3.33mhz that i paid close to $200 for 5 years ago. you can now get a 3.0mghz amd quad core for around $80 and the stock heatsink does a sufficient job at cooling. amd also doesn't bring out new products every few months making your build irrelevant. what you'll spend upgrading an intel, you could possible have a brand new build with amd. I'm an intel fan and i'll run my q6600 until it dies but for a great inexpensive build i would go with amd. I'm not paid to review products so you're getting an honest opinion.

    • Matt Smith
      December 18, 2012 at 12:14 am

      There is a noticeable difference in performance. The Tech Report has demonstrated this repeatedly with its innovative frame-time tests. I would not recommend an AMD build over something with a Core i3 dual-core, which can be had for roughly the same price.

  11. Daniel Smith
    December 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Good advice and helpful! For a bit higher end, I blogged a wishlist for a Hackintosh build that addressed the issues of balancing speed, stability, and price (key ideas: dont overclock, and use the money saved towards memory for RAM disk use)
    Hope this helps!

  12. Sonal Khodiyar
    December 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    What ever you decide, go for a previous Gen Processor and SSD( if you want an SSD).

  13. one word
    December 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    One word AMD

    • Doc
      December 15, 2012 at 12:30 am

      One reply: AMD is great for a "budget" PC, but are slipping in comparison to even budget Intel CPUs, and buggy ATI drivers, are pushing me to favor Intel (I've loved nVidia since I got my first GeForce card, and have been using AMD CPUs since the mid-90s).

  14. Brenden Barlow
    December 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    ive been thinking of upgrading a few parts on my machine, and this will really help. thanks!