One of the biggest advantages of desktop PCs is that these systems are open enough to allow you to replace components.
While you may be able to replace some components, a hard drive for instance, in laptops or devices created by companies like Apple or Google, usually, you are very restricted in what you can do with them when it comes to updates.
This openness has two core benefits: you can replace faulty or failing components to keep the PC live and kicking without having to send it in, or upgrade components to make it faster or more suitable for running modern programs.
There are some downsides to upgrading PC components on your own. While not overly technical, it requires that you open the PC, unplug some cables, remove a component or two, to put new components in.
The biggest issue in my opinion is compatibility. This is true especially for components like the processor, memory or the power supply unit.
The motherboard make and model is of special importance, as it will reveal to you limits in regards to PC components supported by it.
You need to look it up online or consult the motherboard manual if you still have it to find out about the maximum RAM it supports or which processors you can install on the device.
Also, if you bought an OEM PC from a company like Dell, HP or Lenovo, you should contact them about upgrades as they may have locked down certain components to only allow (their) custom components.
What should you upgrade?
While you can, in theory, upgrade all components of the PC, it makes sense to upgrade components that offer the greatest return.
Additionally, you may prefer easy to replace components over components that require some expertise.
The following upgrades are easily done as you will only need to plug in or out a couple of cables or components.
Memory is a core candidate for upgrades. Not only is it relatively cheap, you can grab 16GB of memory for less than $60, it is also easy to replace and upgrades will be highly beneficial in many circumstances.
If your PC has less than 4 Gigabyte of RAM currently, or if you are running memory intensive operations regularly, then it will benefit from a RAM upgrade significantly.
The jump from less than 4 Gigabytes of RAM to four or more is noticeable on day to day operations, while memory intensive processes such as games or video editing do better the more RAM the PC has.
Note: Before buying memory, you need to make sure that the motherboard supports it. Also, most of the time, it is easier to purchase all new RAM instead of adding RAM modules to existing ones unless they have the same specs and are from the same manufacturer.
Replacing a hard drive with a faster one, or adding a new hard drive to the PC may be beneficial as well. This is the case especially if the main drive is still a platter-based drive and not a Solid State Drive.
The operating system will boot a lot faster with a SSD and programs too will open and load faster if you use one.
Solid State Drives with 250 Gigabyte of storage are available for less than $80 for instance.
If you have enough connectors for an additional drive, it may make sense to add the Solid State Drive to the PC instead of replacing the old hard drive with it.
Still, it is necessary to install an operating system on the new drive, and you may want to consider cloning the old hard drive for that.
Note: Most Solid State Drives use SATA III connections nowadays. They are backwards compatible, but if you want to get the most out of the drive, it is beneficial if the PC supports SATA III as well.
Replacing an onboard video card or an older card with a new one can be very beneficial, especially for gaming, video editing, and other activities that make use of the video card.
It makes little sense for office PCs on the other hand.
While it is relatively easy to plug in a new video card, you need to be aware of the following:
Note: while it may be tempting to put the meanest video card out there in your PC, a far better solution is to select one that is slightly less powerful but more power and cost efficient. The two breakthrough cards you may want to look at are Nvidia's GTX 1070 and AMD's Radeon RX 480. From what I could gather, Nvidia's card is faster than AMD's card, but it costs nearly twice as much.
With the exception of the CPU fan, it is easy enough to replace or add fans to the system. This is helpful if you notice overheating issues when using the PC.
One additional fan, or a better one, may make the difference between a PC that is powering down frequently because of overheating, and one that does not do so.
All PC cases support fans to a degree but you need to make sure that there is still a fan slot available and that the fan fits in that slot (same goes for upgrading an existing fan).
Hard to upgrade
The following components are difficult to upgrade, especially if you have never done something like this before.
The central processing unit (CPU) is probably the most important component of a PC. Which processors you can replace the existing one with depends on the motherboard.
Consult the manual to find out about compatibility, and make sure you check for BIOS / UEFI upgrades as well to see if they exist and may add support for new processor types.
You will face four core issues when it comes to processor upgrades.
Sometimes, you may not only need to purchase a new CPU but also a new CPU fan that goes along with it if the old one is not powerful enough to keep the new processor under the temperature threshold.
The motherboard is probably the most difficult component to replace in a computer. Since everything is connected to it in one way or another, replacing it means lots of work.
You need to make sure that all components are compatible with the new motherboard, that it fits in the case, and that it offers enough connectors and cables to connect all components.
Usually, it makes sense to upgrade the motherboard if you want to upgrade other components as well that require a new one.
One of the better ways to ensure compatibility is to purchase bundles that include the motherboard, a cpu, fans and RAM.
Upgrading PC components may extend the life of a PC almost indefinitely. It is usually cheaper than buying a new PC.
If you don't feel comfortable making the upgrades yourself, you may ask a local computer shop for assistance in that. This works especially well if you have bought the components there as well.
I would suggest however to avoid handing over the PC with the hard drive attached to it unless it is encrypted. Also, make sure you create a system backup just in case.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.