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How to pick the right PC upgrades for you

ASUS Strix X470-F
ASUS Strix X470-F

A number of components can be upgraded inside your PC, whether it's a desktop or laptop. Options for the latter depend on the make and model, and how easy parts are to replace. A custom-built PC can be stripped out and rebuilt with upgraded supplies. There's no secret weapon when it comes to adding horsepower to your PC, but a number of upgrades can improve performance.

If you happen to be on a budget, it's worth looking at each option below to help gauge just what you need to experience the best performance gains for your buck.

RAM

RAM

RAM (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

If your PC has only 4GB or 8GB of RAM, Windows may struggle to run intensive applications and games at optimal performance. System memory is used by the OS to store data for quick access, which negates the need to use slower storage like a hard drive. Increasing the amount of RAM can overcome instances where the PC may appear sluggish.

This is ideal for high-end gaming, running multiple apps, or video editing, where a lot of data needs to be stored and accessed quickly. Should the OS run out of this resource, it'll resort to the hard drive, and while your SSD may be fast, it's not as fast as RAM. An easy way to check if you need more RAM is to check Task Manager when the PC slows way down. If your RAM usage is at or near full then you should consider buying new sticks.

We recommend 16GB for PCs that are used for intensive workloads, video editing or gaming. 8GB should be considered the minimum for Windows 10, but 4GB should be fine for systems that aren't used for much more than light web browsing, streaming, and communication.

How much RAM do you need?

GPU

GTX 1070

GTX 1070

The GPU is an interesting upgrade prospect. If you're serious about gaming, you'll want the latest and greatest GPUs companies such as NVIDIA and AMD have to offer. But if you don't play games on your PC, the GPU should be further down the priority list. In fact, many people won't need to install a new GPU at all.

The largest difference you will see with a GPU upgrade is if you're moving up from integrated graphics processing on a CPU to a dedicated PCI-e card. The next big leap is from a mainstream product like an AMD R7 265 GPU to the latest GTX 10 series of GPUs from NVIDIA. For gamers, if your frame rate is below 60 FPS (considered by many to be the baseline) in titles you'll need to upgrade your GPU.

Luckily, there's a handy tool available to compare between GPUs, including integrated solutions. If you need to upgrade, be sure to head over to our roundup of the overall best graphics cards on the market today.

Storage

SSD

SSD

The only time you'll want to upgrade your system's storage drive (the unit with Windows installed) is if it's an old, slow mechanical drive or you're running seriously low on space. Upgrading to an SSD for Windows from a mechanical drive will vastly increase performance in opening applications, as well as lower boot time. It's a worthwhile investment that will instantly return results.

Should you have more than 75 percent of the Windows drive capacity deployed, it's worth checking on a potential replacement. SSD upgrades on compatible laptops are sometimes considered a priority for owners who wish to take advantage of faster speeds over hard drives with spinning disks. The only issue with SSDs is the price, especially with more advanced solutions with more than 250GB of storage.

Best SSDs for your PC

CPU

AMD Ryzen 5

AMD Ryzen 5 2600

The central processing unit is last on our list, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered after all other avenues have been exhausted. Replacing the CPU in a PC isn't an easy task, and it is one that involves research, compatibility checks, experience, and know-how. Depending on what you wish to achieve on the computer, upgrading the CPU may provide a much-needed boost in performance.

The only issue with processors, especially older models, is in order to take advantage of newer chips, your motherboard will likely need to be replaced with one with a supported socket, which may need compatible RAM. What may appear as a small upgrade could end up costing a lot, with the knock-on effect of forcing you to upgrade other components to support the new CPU.

Those who wish to do some photo and video editing will need more advanced CPUs with multiple powerful cores and Hyper-threading. See this CPU comparison tool to see just how much of an upgrade a new processor will provide. Remember, however, that more cores you don't necessarily mean increased performance.

Best CPUs for your PC

Conclusion

There's no upgrade roadmap that works for everyone. What's right for you depends on your current component configuration, as well as what you actually use the PC for. For example, gamers will likely favor the GPU and RAM upgrades over CPU and storage enhancements, while those seeking to increase productivity will want throw in more RAM and a better processor.

Updated on July 06, 2018: This guide has been refreshed with more details on making the right decisions when looking to upgrade your PC.

Rich Edmonds is a word conjurer at Windows Central, covering everything related to Windows, gaming, and hardware. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a device chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

7 Comments
  • i would love to replace my nvidia 660ti  but no money no honey
  • 660ti is what I have too! I can get 50s FPS on Doom 2016 in full 1080 and Ultra settings, but Gears 4 at the same settings frequently dips below 30 (which is kinda what I consider to be my drop dead minimum, not 60). Fortunately, I am going to be able to upgrade this year! Hooray! But unfortunately, like the article alluded to, I'm going to be one of those stuck in the situation of having to upgrade almost everything just to be able to upgrade anything. It doesn't make sense to upgrade past the GTX660ti when because of my old AMD Phenom II 965 x4 black I'm actually CPU locked more than GPU locked. But I can't replace the CPU without replacing the motherboard since it's the second to top CPU an ROG Crosshair IV Formula mobo will accept. And it doesn't make sense to get a mobo which uses DDR3 RAM when that technology is on the way out, so a I need new RAM too. Nor does it make sense, conversely, to get a new mobo, RAM, and CPU if I'm just going to mate it to a tired old 660ti, so I need a new GPU. Now, I probably COULD stop there. But with a big clunky over the top space hog Prolimatech Genesis CPU air cooler, I worry that I'll run into space conflicts with a physically bigger GPU card, a mobo with different orientations, and taller RAM sticks, so that means I need to invest in a water cooler, which should be more out of the way. And lastly, adding up the wattages of everything SHOULD still keep me under the 500w limit of my meager PSU, but it'll be close and an overload could be disastrous! So I need another one of those too! So that means the list of parts I WON'T be replacing is shorter and much, MUCH less expensive than the list of parts I will. I will not be replacing my PC case, nor my SSD, nor my HDD, nor my case fans......that's IT! My total upgrade bill is going to be right around $1300!!!!! YIKES!!! Of course, I'll also be upgrading to an i5 7600k Kaby Lake CPU, a GTX1070 GPU, and 16GB of PC3200 DDR4 RAM! That's a paradigmatic upgrade from the Phenom II CPU, 660ti GPU, and 8GB of PC1600 DDR3 RAM -especially when we're also replacing an 11yr old 32" 1080i LCD TV which served as my monitor as a living room rig with a 40" 4K UHD TV with HDR to support the systems new high res and color and clarity capabilities! We're also going to replace a decent sounding, but ultra clunky and totally unsexy bookshelf stereo system with a sound bar. So between all of this, my gaming life is going to be nothing short of completely and utterly revolutionized!!!! Can't Wait!!!!.....of course, this also completely wipes us out of discretionary spending in the tax return money, meaning if I still want a Nintendo Switch - and I do - then I'm going to have to completely surrender all free money for the next couple months and live flat broke...which I think is gonna be worth it! Between the new PC and the Switch, I feel very, very bad for the abject neglect the PS4 and XB1 are probably going to be getting for a while! :-D Cheers!
  • I got to say that impressive. I once had a computer with a AMD PHonom II x4 925 clock at 2.8ghz it had a Nvidia 660 ti. Then the GPU burn out threw in a 1050 ti and well performance were not even noticeable lol. But now that I have a used intel i7-2600 pc that I threw the Nvidia 1050 ti in. Now I can see the performance difference. :)
  • Fortunately, I am going to be able to upgrade this year! Hooray! But unfortunately, like the article alluded to, I'm going to be one of those suckers stuck in the situation of having to upgrade almost everything just to be able to upgrade anything. It doesn't make sense to upgrade past the GTX660ti when because of my old AMD Phenom II 965 x4 black I'm actually CPU locked more than GPU locked. But I can't replace the CPU without replacing the motherboard since it's the second to top CPU an ROG Crosshair IV Formula mobo will accept, the top one being hardly any better. And it doesn't make sense to get a mobo which uses DDR3 RAM when that technology is on the way out, so a I need new RAM too. Nor does it make sense, conversely, to get a new mobo, RAM, and CPU if I'm just going to mate it to a tired old 660ti, so I need a new GPU. Now, I probably COULD stop there I I absolutely had to. But with a big clunky over the top space hog Prolimatech Genesis CPU air cooler, I worry that I'll run into space conflicts with a physically bigger GPU card, a mobo with different orientations, and taller RAM sticks, so that means I need to invest in a water cooler, which should be more out of the way. And lastly, adding up the wattages of everything SHOULD still keep me under the 500w limit of my meager PSU, but it'll be really close and an overload could be disastrous! So I need another one of those too! So that means the list of parts I WON'T be replacing is shorter and much, MUCH less expensive than the list of parts I will be. I will not be replacing my PC case, nor my SSD, nor my HDD, nor my case fans......that's IT! My total upgrade bill is going to be right around $1300!!!!! YIKES!!! Of course, I'll also be upgrading to an i5 7600k Kaby Lake CPU, a GTX1070 GPU, 16GB of PC3200 DDR4 RAM, an Asus ROG Strix Z270E mobo, 760w PSU, and water cooler. That's a paradigmatic upgrade from the Phenom II CPU, 660ti GPU, and 8GB of PC1600 DDR3 RAM I'm rockin' now -especially when we're also replacing an 11yr old 32" 1080i LCD TV which served as my monitor in a living room gaming rig context with a new 40" 4K UHD TV with HDR to support the Computer's new high res and color and clarity capabilities! We're also going to replace the reasonably decent sounding, but ultra clunky and totally unsexy bookshelf stereo system we've been using with a sleek new sound bar and sub. So between all of this, my gaming life is going to be nothing short of completely and utterly revolutionized!!!! Can't Wait!!!!.....of course, this also completely wipes us out of discretionary spending in the tax return money, meaning if I still want a Nintendo Switch - and I do - then I'm going to have to completely surrender all free money for the next couple months and live flat broke...which I think is gonna be worth it! Between the new PC and the Switch, I feel very, very bad for the abject neglect the PS4 and XB1 are probably going to be getting for a while! :-D Cheers!
  • I am looking at upgrading my 8 year old pc. Upgrade cost is coming to $2000 i7 7700K, 32 GB DDR4 RAM, 960 EVO 500 GB SSD, 2 TB SHDD, GTX 1060 6 GB, Gigabyte Gaming 8 Z270 Mobo, Water cooling solution. I am looking for a future proof system that will be 4K and VR ready.
  • You cam save a little. 1. Buy 256g SSD for windows and essential apps 2. Buy 2 x 2gb fasr HDD and run them in RAID 0 3. You do not need 32gb ram if you are no running any ram hungly apps like video rendeing software
  • 4k pretty much needs 32GB, havent looked into VR yet so that may help a lot there. Also RAID 0 sucks.