If you ever felt frustrated by your slow PC, you’re not the only one. After a couple years of intense office work or personal use, your PC can inevitably show signs of age. Fortunately, there are many simple, cost-effective ways of upgrading your PC by buying only the necessary components. It may be a single memory stick or an entire graphics unit processor—whatever component you end up upgrading, it’s important to start asking the right questions regarding your PC.
When to Upgrade (or Not)
The first question to ask yourself is if you really need to upgrade. For small business end users, a single upgrade can be costly, so look out for important signals to know when it’s time to upgrade. Some signals are constant crashes, noticeable performance hit, and aging operating system that may be unsupported soon.
Most problems related to performance, such as lag, delays, or crashes can be attributed to hardware bottleneck—a scenario where a certain component can’t keep up with other parts during a certain task. An easy way to quickly check what hardware may be bottlenecking is to go to ‘Performance’ under ‘Task Manager’ (Ctrl+Alt+Delete). An idle CPU usage can range from 0 to 10% while normal usage for business can range from 50 to even 70%. However, constantly hitting maximum usage will lead to notable slowdowns. For memory, it’s normal for usage to hit as high as 80-90% as modern operating system utilize RAM to cache files. However, if you see high RAM usage along with a slow computer, it may signal that you’re using memory-intensive programs that your computer can’t support.
More often than not, you can maximize hardware life without sacrificing performance by allocating different specifications for different needs. For instance, people who work on simple data entry or copywriting will require less upgrades. For the creative designers who are constantly utilizing demanding software programs like Photoshop, it’s probably best to stay on top with hardware upgrades. Bottom line—make sure to fully understand user needs and experience in order to optimize budget and time.
One of the best ways to improve an aging PC or laptop is to upgrade storage. Many older PCs have hard drives as the main storage which translates to slower data writing and reading speeds. Solid state drives drastically improves application loading, OS booting, and file reading, all of which are critical, everyday business tasks. If you’re constantly working with data and using many shared files, upgrading to an SSD will speed up all of those processes.
While it’s true that SSDs are more expensive than hard drives, prices have been constantly falling for the past year. A 1TB SSD can be as low as $100, which is why upgrading to an SSD is the most cost-effective hardware change you can bestow onto your PC.
The best part about upgrading storage is the fact that you can have multiple storage drives. Rather than replacing, you’re simply adding onto your system and moving around files. The upgrading process is same as the initial installation process: unscrew the side panels, locate the available drive bays, secure the SDD (or HDD) in a mounting bracket or storage bay, and finally connect the SATA cable to a SATA port on the motherboard. If you’re adding onto existing drives, you will want to take extra steps by moving the operating system and commonly used programs to the SSD to optimize your time and cost.
In modern office settings, 8GB is a sweet spot for your everyday productivity tasks, such as running multiple browsers, spreadsheets, and programs. Also, having a high memory usage shouldn’t alarm you right away—the OS is efficiently utilizing unused memory to cache files. However, high RAM usage and slow PC performance shouldn’t go hand in hand. You’ll probably notice more extreme performance hits by running multiple programs simultaneously. This holds true even more if you use more memory-intensive programs, such as creative design or video editing.
The first step to upgrading and installing a new RAM is to double check compatibility. Make sure you have the 64-bit Windows version in order to support 4GB or more memory. Afterwards, confirm that your motherboard will support your new RAM’s format, whether it’s DDR3 or DDR2.
Installing in new RAM is easy as it gets. Simply remove the old RAM by pushing down on the two latches on each end. Gently lift them up and replace with the new RAM in the same fashion you installed the first time. One thing to note if you decided to go with 4 RAM sticks is to make sure with the motherboard manual to see slot layout. Pairs may not be next to each other, so it’s important to double check to avoid hardware failure.
Upgrading your CPU is the hardest process by far because it requires more handy work dealing with the old CPU on the motherboard. The other work is making sure that your new CPU will fit into the original motherboard socket—otherwise, you would have to upgrade the motherboard too. This is a hassle that goes against the philosophy of easily optimizing, so try to choose a CPU that fits your older motherboard socket.
The first step in installing the CPU is removing the old one. Gently remove the CPU cooler and clean the cooler where the thermal paste may have been. This ensures that your new CPU will have a clean contact point with the cooler. Remove the chip by lifting the lever to release the socket and raise the CPU gently. Swap in the new CPU and secure it with the lever just as you did in the initial installation. Apply a tiny bit of thermal paste on the CPU and screw or push the CPU cooler back on firmly.
The final commonly upgraded component is the GPU. If you need to get into visual development work or graphic-intensive applications, upgrading an aging GPU is an attractive option for your PC. Another common reason for upgrades is graphically demanding games or entertainment systems. A brand new 4K monitor will be hindered by an aging GPU because it won’t have the necessary graphical powers.
Before deciding on a GPU to upgrade with, it’s important to check for compatibility and size. Most modern GPUs require a PCI-E x 16 slot and most motherboards with PCI-E slots will cater to that. Also, make sure you have a powerful enough PSU to support the GPU as it does draw more power than other components. Finally, GPU size is really important; double, triple-check. If it can’t fit in the case, you’ll have to buy another case (and that’s a huge hassle) so double check the GPU and case size specifications to make sure everything fits nicely.
Installing a new GPU, similar to that of RAM, is extremely easy because of the accessible location. Disconnect all the cables and power connectors and start by unscrewing the GPU from the case’s metal panel. Press on the plastic tab that “opens” up the GPU for removal—and be extremely gentle with this to avoid any hardware damage. Simply slide in and secure the new GPU by aligning it in the PCI-E slot and I/O ports in the back. Use the screws if there are any to fully secure the GPU in place.
A PC is only as good as its worst components—an under-performing part will surely bottleneck a task, so it’s important to constantly check for aging hardware. In order to optimize your budget and performance, diagnose your PC first and understand your computing needs. Afterwards, you can go onto the fun part of scavenging for great upgrades for your hardware and enjoy your PC just like new.
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