When to upgrade your PC — or when to start over from scratch

Insomnia 58
Insomnia 58

The first thing one has to ponder is whether or not an upgrade or new system build is actually worth the effort. What do you need the extra power for? If there's a component, like the hard drive with Windows installed for example, that has ground to a halt and no longer performs well enough, then a replacement is likely in order.

That said, just because your PC may be running slow or is sluggish at times, it doesn't necessarily require new hardware, but could mean you need to use some tools to clear any clutter out, clean the insides of dust, or run some scans just in case you've somehow managed to pick up a virus or two while browsing online.

Fractal R3

Fractal Design R3

There's also the consideration based on who actually built the rig. Was it yourself or did you purchase the PC pre-built? Should the answer be the latter you'll likely need to open the unit up and investigate to see just how easy it's going to be to upgrade components. For systems you build yourself, this opens up new options for upgrades as you should know how everything has been put together.

Even if you opt to build a new system from scratch, it's certainly worth looking into all the parts already installed in the old PC to see what can be re-used. You wouldn't want to throw away that GTX 1080 GPU simply because you're building a new PC, right? I'd recommend leaving a full re-build as an absolute last resort. If there are various components that are old and everything is just dated, then extracting everything for the dump may be a solid option.

ZOTAC GTX 1070

ZOTAC GTX 1070 (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Taking us back to an aforementioned point, just what do you need to the PC to do? If you're wanting to crack on with some video editing but the PC struggles when it comes to actually rendering everything for output, you'll likely need to take advantage of the latest CPU, but that means you're going to likely need a new motherboard, which then could lead to new RAM being purchased.

You'll also need to make sure that anything new you add to the PC won't be hindered by under-performing components. As another example, throwing in a new CPU won't make your games run faster if your GPU is still sub-par. There's no easy answer to whether or not you should start from scratch when it comes to PC building. It all depends on what you have, what you need, and money.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

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

42 Comments
  • Is liquid cooling system better as compared to ordinary design?
  • I think a liquid cooling system is better. But the price and hassle / performance just wasn't enough for me to justify it. So I got a giant, quiet cpu fan instead and it knocked the idle and active cpu temps down like 10 C or more...
  • I heard/read that liquid cooling systems life is not good as quite PC. And there is problem of leakage too.
  • There can be a leakage problem. But as far as cooling the system I think it is better. The life of the cooler is probably shorter and the life of the part might be shorter (because liquid cooling is more for those who want to overclock their parts). But the cooling it provides is pretty great. But I don't want to overclock anything to those extreme levels.
  • I'm also not playing with overclock. And playing that games having at least minimum requirements. -- Apart i don't like to play heavy games on my new laptop. :)
  • I'm not sure what you mean about the life of the cooling system not being as good, but I can tell you leakage is more of an issue when it comes to quality of parts and labor. If you're new to putting together a water cooling system, don't do it yourself and never check on it. I myself have build multiple liquid cooling systems, as well as countless set ups for supplying water to other devices (a previous job I had) so I am confident in any system I built not leaking after the inital test. The main concern is cost vs reward. If you don't want something quiet, or overclocked, it's probably not worth it.
  • It depends upon users needs.
    I'm not giving priority to games after college(& seldom play games on desktop pc not laptop).
    And i asked it because i Saw that every RIGGED BOX PC gamers are using LIQUID COOLING SYSTEM from least year.
  • If your not going to OC the cpu, the stock cooler will do.
    It may get noisy if the cpu is under load, but any after market ail cooler will solve this.
    Of course cheap and cheerful, may be just as noisy, I use the Noctua air coolers.
    The Noctua NH-L9i is a nice cooler, if not OC.
    Or you can get a passive cooler, no noise.
  • Part of the reason you see liquid cooling used in a lot of gaming rigs is because of the cool factor. (no pun intended)  Lines of colored water running through the lit up internals of a system just looks more interesting.  I have also built both and I personally like building systems with extra large heatsinks and slow moving fans.
  • If you're worried about leakage, or just don't want the hassle of building your own water-cooling, then you can buy All-In-One (AIO) kits, like the Corsair H80i v2, H100i v2, or even the H115i (like I have). They are pre-filled and ready to install immediately - you can have them installed in 5-10 minutes... just screw the radiator to the case, then the block gets bolted onto the CPU. You don't even need to worry about thermal paste as those kits have it already applied.
  • "As another example, throwing in a new CPU won't make your games run faster if your GPU is still sub-par." This is very true. If your GPU is the bottleneck a new CPU wont work. What I had happen to me is I threw in a new CPU but my motherboard was a cheap one and garbage so the bottleneck was the motherboard not the cpu or gpu. Once I get a new motherboard my PC was way faster.
  • I have not bought a new computer since 1997, just replaced parts of it. I have no original parts any longer, everything has been replaced a couple of times-just not everything at the same time
  • Nice
  • Trigger's Broom? https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BUl6PooveJE I'm with you on this, but does beg the question whether either of us has the "same computer".
  • I've been using the same broom for over twenty years. Its had three new heads and two replacement handles.
  • The PC of Theseus, eh?
  • Same but since 2003. Still using old CABINET(& also have un-plugged floppy&Cd-drive in it) but assembled with new hardware excluding Mercury Speakers. -The main reason behind upgrading is HeatSink of motherboard[ twice; in out-of-warranty period].
  • Did you replace the case as well?
  • That wouldn't be the same PC then, would it? Haha.
  • I time my upgrades with the release of games I care about.
  • I've not had a full system rebuild for well over a decade. There are always components which are transferred from one system to the next. The biggest I have to do is motherboard memory and cpu. If i do this HDD, SSD, GPU, cas and , (if still compatible) PSU are all transferred over.
    I dont get the thrill of a new build but I pay smaller amounts over time and not feel the pain, and some times remorse, or paying over a thousand getting a whole system.
  • I've been considering this option myself, rather than going for a full system re-build since my PC is only about 3.5 yrs old. My OC'd 4790k is still more than capable but interested in the newer line of CPU's. What would you say is the most difficult part about about a partial re-build (CPU, mobo and ram)? I assume Windows will need a fresh install at this point due to the mobo swap. Also, would Windows have problems activating on new hardware? I assume I'd need to extract my key and use it again on my partial re-build. 
  • it's about devices which upgradable or not .
    anyways its three things important rpm of hdd , bus speed of ram , and ram capacity of vga .
  • Motherboard and processor too.
  • Nope , im talking about specific speed with low budget. Not like u , rich man .
  • I'm talking in terms of upgrading from a scratch dude! Otherwise i agree with you.
  • I took apart my old PC I built in 2007 and compressed air all the dust and slapped on a new SSD for my dad. The "newer" GPU was slow-motioning all videos and games, so I put in my old 8800 gtx and everything still works great!
  • managed to keep an old Core2duo (overclocked to 4.2Ghz) running fine until 2 months ago. It got to the point that anything added was just bottlenecked by the rest of the system.... All I kept was the video card (GTX 660, yes, it's old) and the Blu-ray/HD DVD hybrid drive (yes, I still need access to optical media) All in all, HUGE increase in everything, but 7 years and the old system still runs pretty good.
  • For a builder or modder, wether you build a gaming pc, just for show, htpc, mini itx, etc. etc., its all depends on the money you have.
  • Well this is all quite true. Unfortunately for me, I always go overboard with it and what starts with me just "upgrading the GPU" ends up with me upgrading the entire computer. Oh well...¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Same here..."If you give a mouse a cookie..."
  • For my desktop I'm sill using a 5 year old mobo/cpu. Upgraded to SSD, upgraded memory, upgraded GPU. Next upgrade will probably have to be mobo+cpu. Small performance improvements when it felt slow instead of doing a whole new build and re-purposing the old PC
  • Usually the components dictate an upgrade or rebuild. Unless you have money to burn.
  • I overbuild as in get really overly fast ram and nicest CPU and GPU and Mobo so the computer lasts for 4-5 years. With CPU tick tock slowing down I find less reason to upgrade more other than newer parts being more power efficient. Currently waiting on desktop Kaby Lake and new high end it board. Current ram is DDR3, but runs 2400 so DDR4 is nice, but not necessary.
  • I'm not into building my own. I just wish someone offered a prebuilt specifically designed for being used as a media server with Plex or Emby.
  • There are some custom PC builders that would be happy to put one together for you.  But at a cost. 
  • PSU is the only component I've never replaced whenever I upgrade or rebuilt a PC. I've used it since I built my first PC (it's been about 10 years now), went through 4 generations of CPU and GPU combo (Pentium 4 and 7300GS, Core 2 Duo and 8600GT, Haswell i3 and GTX 650Ti, Skylake i5 and GTX 960) and still going strong.
  • What brand name is that case in the photo ?
  • It's a Thermaltake. Not sure which model its called. But many online sites sell it.
  • If I had money.....
  • Well I added a bit more RAM to my off the shelf all-in-one last night and that made me feel technical enough aha, gotta say it'd be really cool to build one but I don't have the money or need.
  • I just assembled a brand new PC, my previous one had been used for nearly 10 years, the OS was Windows Vista. the reason I got myself a new one is because it's old, also MS is about to end extended support for Vista sometime next year, so it's time to retire it.