The Five Best PC Upgrades to Improve Performance

The interior of an Intel gaming PC.Intel

Upgrade a PC? Your choices range from installing more RAM to custom building a housing designed for a DIY liquid cooling system. The most suitable upgrades depend on your PC. What specifications does it currently have? Do you play, edit 4K videos, or just browse the web?

Here are five common PC upgrades and the systems that will benefit the most. We also underline how difficult we think these different upgrades are. Most are easy to do, although some require a little more thought and planning than others.

Add an SSD

Samsung SSDSamsungDifficulty upgrading: Easy
Device type: Desktop or laptop computer

This is the classic rudimentary upgrade that makes a dramatic difference, especially for aging systems. If your laptop or desktop computer works with a hard drive, enter a 2.5 inch SSD will make a big difference. Your PC will feel more responsive and boot times can be significantly shortened. Given the current flash storage status, you are probably better off with a three-level cell reader (TLC) than with a four-level cell (QLC).

If you are already using a 2.5 inch SATA SSD, the next step would be to upgrade to an NVMe M.2 drive. It will also improve overall responsiveness and boot times, but not as dramatically as with a hard drive.

M.2 readers with a caveat: your PC needs a special PCIe M.2 slot. Most modern desktop motherboards should have it, but laptop capacities will vary a lot. Check your motherboard or device manual to see if your system supports these drives.

RELATED: Multilayer SSD: What are SLC, MLC, TLC, QLC and PLC?

More RAM

G.Skill Random Access MemoryG. SkillDifficulty upgrading: Easy
Device type: Desktop or laptop computer

Should you add more RAM to your configuration, or will it be an unnecessary exercise? It depends a lot on what you do. If you use a PC to stream videos, write documents in Microsoft Word and edit the occasional photo, 8 gigabytes (GB) may be enough. Players will often be happier with at least 16 GB, especially when playing modern AAA video games.

Then there are media-rich tasks. If you’re into serious video editing as a hobby, 32 GB of RAM may be ideal.

In the end, there is an optimal amount of RAM that your system needs to do its job. If you add more RAM beyond that, you won’t see much improvement, if any.

Using these general guidelines, you should be able to estimate the amount of RAM you need. If that’s not enough, try to double it and see how it goes.

Also consider the limitations of your motherboard and processor. They can only handle a certain amount of RAM, although this is usually enough. Remember that when you buy a new RAM, it should be at the same speed (measured in MHz). Learn more about our guide to replace your PC RAM.

Once you are organized, changing the RAM on a desktop is as simple as inserting the new RAM modules and turning on the machine. Laptops are a bit more complex and usually require opening an access panel at the bottom, or sometimes removing the keyboard. Be aware that some laptops cannot accept RAM upgrades at all because the RAM is soldered onto the motherboard PCB.

RELATED: How to upgrade or replace your PC RAM

Exchange your graphics card

AMD Radeon RX 5700 XTAMDDifficulty upgrading: Easy
Device type: Desktop pc

If you have the right amount of RAM in your system and your games work with an SSD, the next step to improve performance is to upgrade the graphics card. Before exchanging your GPU, ask yourself what is the resolution of your monitor. If you get a great graphics card for 4K games but only play at 1080p, you could have done it with a much cheaper graphics card.

If your processor is particularly old, you may need to use a newer one before upgrading your graphics card. However, you can go surprisingly far with an older processor combined with a newer graphics card. Also, if it’s time to upgrade the processor, it’s probably time to completely overhaul the system.

Once you have a new card, remove the latch from the slot, remove the power cable from the old card and remove it, insert the new one and reconnect the power, if your card requires it. Then, just install the new map drivers and go for the races. For a more detailed overview of the upgrade process, see our tutorial on how to upgrade and install a new graphics card on your PC.

RELATED: How to upgrade and install a new graphics card on your PC

Upgrade your CPU

A stylized processor on a motherboardRost / ShutterstockDifficulty upgrading: Intermediate
Device type: Desktop pc

Upgrade your CPU is not difficult, but it is more difficult than inserting new RAM modules or changing your graphics card. Before deciding to get a new processor, check which models are compatible with your motherboard. The motherboard CPU socket must be compatible with the processor you want – the socket is the space where the CPU fits on a motherboard.

Please note, however, that CPU manufacturers (especially Intel) may have different versions of the same socket type. A SkyLake-compatible LGA 1151 jack, for example, is not compatible with the LGA 1151 jacks used by Coffee Lake processors.

In general, it is best to upgrade your motherboard and processor at the same time. However, it will sometimes make sense to simply upgrade the processor. For example, you could catch a very good CPU sale.

If you don’t upgrade your motherboard when changing the CPU, there are often trade-offs, especially if the new processors have more advanced features. Anyone with an AMD X470 motherboard, for example, could use a Ryzen 3000 processor. However, they would lose PCIe 4.0 that the CPU and motherboard must support.

Change the CPU is a little different depending on whether you have an AMD or Intel motherboard. Essentially, however, all you do is remove the old processor, gently drop the new one, and secure it. Then just attach your processor cooling fan or liquid cooling solution.

RELATED: How to upgrade and install a new processor or motherboard (or both)

Add an all-in-one liquid cooler

Corsair liquid coolerCorsairDifficulty upgrading: Intermediate
Device type: Office

Heat: This is what keeps custom PC builders at night, or at least awake enough to think about how to keep computer temperatures lower. Keeping your PC cool keeps your components running longer and makes it easier to overclock your system.

Standard air cooling fans are great, but there’s nothing like a liquid cooling system when you seriously want to overclock – or your PC is usually too hot all the time. An all-in-one cooler (AIO) is a good first step. These are predefined devices that circulate the liquid from a radiator to a block on your CPU. To install an AIO cooler on an existing PC, you must remove the current cooling fan, then get rid of any thermal compound existing on the processor. Then install the radiator in your case and place the cooling block on the processor – the thermal compound is usually pre-applied to the block. Install a few cables on your motherboard or on the power supply and you’re good to go.

Make sure your case can hold your AIO cooler. The four typical AIO sizes are 120mm, 140mm, 240mm and 280mm. They are all based on the size of the radiator fans. A 120 mm AIO has a 120 mm fan; a 140 mm has a 140 mm fan; a 240 mm has two 120 mm fans; and a 280mm has two 140mm fans.

The question of whether a liquid cooler is suitable for your PC depends on the temperature of your machine. If you can sell an AIO, there is something to be said about the beauty of a liquid cooling system, especially if it contains a little RGB glare.

You can do many other PC upgrades, but these are some of the more common ones that don’t require a lot of expertise to work well.

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