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How do you know when it's time to upgrade your PC?

A PC is no different than any other piece of electronics; eventually, it just goes beyond its useful life. But, unlike something like a smartphone or a tablet, or even a microwave oven, a PC doesn't have to be thrown out at the first sign of trouble.

Before upgrading a PC, you can upgrade the parts in your PC most of the time before giving in to the inevitable and upgrading the whole thing. But there are some things to consider.

It's running slower

The first sign something is wrong with your PC is that general performance has dropped off substantially. Is your CPU always running close to 100 percent? Is your RAM always full? Are the fans always running at maximum? Constant blue screen of death? Old PCs have old components, and even if you haven't really changed your habits, the software you're using has inevitably become more demanding as time goes by.

On a desktop PC, you may be able to add more RAM or swap out your CPU for a newer, more capable one, but both could also involve replacing more parts like the motherboard. You should investigate just how much you'll need to spend before pulling the trigger, as it may work out better, in the long run, to just get a whole new PC.

On a laptop, often you can add more RAM or swap out a hard-disk drive (HDD) for a solid-state drive (SSD), which can help. But if the laptop is really old (circa Windows 7 or earlier), it's probably time to get a new one when things start getting slow.

Your needs have changed

Surface Laptop

If you used to just check email and browse the web, you might have a pretty low-spec machine. If all of a sudden you're wanting to play games or do some heavy creative work like editing video, your PC might not physically be able to handle it.

New software will always tell you what you need in your machine to run it properly, so you'll have an idea before you do anything. But if you're clinging to an old netbook and you want to start shooting video for YouTube, you'll want a new laptop.

More: The Windows Central laptop buyers guide

You want to game hard

Razer Blade

Gaming is one of the most intensive processes a consumer PC will have to undertake. Graphics need power to be able to process, and in most cases integrated graphics (those found on the processor) won't hack it, especially if you're using an older PC.

The great news is that modern gaming PC parts should see you through many years, whether you build or buy a desktop or get a new gaming laptop. Decide what sort of games you want to play first, then match those against the sort of parts you're going to need. If you're playing lighter titles like CS:GO or League of Legends, you don't need to spend $800 on a graphics card.

More: Best gaming laptops

It's physically broken

If something on your PC is actually broken, is it worth your time and money to get it repaired? Some parts, like batteries on laptops, are fairly easy to replace and don't cost the world.

But if there's substantial damage, especially on an older laptop, it's probably going to cost you more than the machine is worth to get it fixed. Don't bother, and put that money towards a new one.

Newer connections

USB-C

USB-C (Image credit: Windows Central)

Old PCs will have ports on them consistent with the time they were new. Let's face it, who wants a VGA port anymore? Or USB 2.0? The world has moved on to USB 3.0 and even USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 and HDMI.

On a laptop, you're stuck with what it comes with it, and even on a desktop most of the ports you're using will be attached to the motherboard. Replacing an older motherboard for a modern one could also require RAM and a new CPU, at which point you're basically looking at a new PC.

Your tips

Those are five things to look out for when deciding if you need to upgrade your PC, but if you have some tips you'd share with your friends or family, be sure to drop them into the comments below.

More: Best Dell laptops

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

22 Comments
  • When I want to throw it out the window because it is so slow.
  • An SSD fixes most laptops.
  • Bingo! And to add to that, when fresh Windows installs and even SSD doesn't really help.
  • Or when Intel CPU security bugs slow it down enough to peeve and so encourage an update to an AMD system? That's what I'm currently thinking for many of my boxes. Thank goodness my desktop rig is Ryzen.
  • AMD has the same issues as Intel
    I thought?! Spectre and Meltdown weren't Intel specific issues ;)
  • Meltdown is specific to Intel. Spectre affects all of them.
  • When it doesn't meet the minimum requirements for a game I want to play on it.
  • My tip: Don't buy any Surface Pro configurations with 4 gb RAM. Even light multitasking makes mine run like c**p. It's enough for browsing and note-taking, but anything more is too much for it.
  • I can't really imagine anyone from 2013 onward being sane buying a laptop with only 4 GB ram (maybe only if it's upgradable)
  • When you apply the spectre and meltdown patches and it doesn't run properly lol.
  • Use inSpectre and disable updates for Spectre and Meltdown. It bring back the use of old laptop. I did it with mine and now it can be used again for light casual work.
  • Lol yea I know that but you're disabling the protection so it would mean your machine isn't as secure anymore. I was more or less joking. Since only they latest hardware fixes this exploit.
  • I bought a small fanless PC Stick and got the BSOD. It was brand new...so, it went right back. Aint nobody got time for that. 
  • The Lenovo ones had some issues like that and they are a pain to reimage/reset too.
  • When I can afford new kit!
  • I've had this computer since 2012 and it got slow so I put in an SSD instead of an HDD and now it runs super fast. Just isn't able to run some special programs that require newer graphics cards.
  • Also the other factor to take into account is the cost of a Windows 10 install or upgrade. No one, I repeat should be running Windows 10 home. Most users will be best served through Windows 10 S and plus it removes the headache of dealing with a gazillion toolbar installs. However if you are savy enough, you can just switch out the motherboard and keep your windows oei license through generalisation. I'm not going to detail how in order to prevent misuse and Microsoft removing that feature altogether.
  • Windows 10S is the new RT, it's something that shouldn't be recommended to anyone.
  • windows 10s is not rt 2 cause it can run win 32 app by the centennial bridge
  • Actually it should be recommended to everyone that uses their computer only for social media, web browsing, and occasionally office. Which btw is a lot of people. Less to troubleshoot and less for the end user to inadvertently mess up.
  • When I crack the screen whilst hitting and killing a wasp that landed on the screen, that means it's time for a new laptop PC. 😆
  • It's always time since I buy used machines, but I often can barely afford the rent so never.