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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

What Hardware Should I Upgrade First on My Computer to Make It Run Faster?

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As software evolves and becomes more complex, its hardware requirements become greater. Even if your computer was perfectly capable of running multiple heavy-weight applications at the same time or playing the latest AAA games at the highest settings just a few years ago, the chances are that it’s now struggling.

Sure, you could replace it with a new one, but that would not only be expensive but, most likely, also unnecessary. The right hardware upgrade can make your computer feel new again and let you enjoy it for a few extra years.

Look Up Your Current Hardware Specifications

To determine which hardware component you should upgrade first on your computer, you need to understand what you’re working with.

While there are plenty of terminal commands that you can use to display all kinds of information about your hardware, we recommend you use a graphical utility instead. Why? Because it will display all hardware specifications in an easy-to-understand format, allowing you to quickly determine where the biggest bottleneck is.

We recommend CPU-X, an open-source system profiling and monitoring application inspired by CPU-Z for Windows. Simply install it from your distribution’s repositories and launch it just like you would any other application.

Once running, CPU-X will automatically display information about your processor, motherboard, memory, system, graphics card, caches, and more. You can then use this information to determine which of the following upgrades will likely deliver the biggest bang for your buck.

Purchase More RAM

Cost of upgrade: $50–$200

Installing an additional memory module (or two) is one of the easiest and most cost-effective upgrades you can make, but only if your computer doesn’t have enough memory already. Here’s how much RAM we recommend for different use cases:

  • General office use: At least 8 GB
  • Multimedia consumption: At least 8 GB
  • Software development: At least 16 GB
  • Video/audio editing: 32 GB and more
  • Gaming: At least 16 GB

If you’re a serious multi-tasker, then you can feel free to double the numbers just to have some headroom.

When buying a new RAM, it’s best to get the exact same brand and model you already have, assuming you have at least one empty RAM slot on your motherboard. For the best performance possible, you should install RAM modules in pairs.

Let’s say you have 8 GB of RAM (two 4 GB modules) and would like to double the amount of memory you have. In that case, you can simply buy another two 4 GB modules that are identical to the ones you already have.

Replace a Spinning HDD with an SSD

Cost of upgrade: $50–$500

Traditional spinning drives, especially those found in laptops, are terribly slow. Their write speeds typically get only up to 150 Mbps, whereas even slower SSDs easily manage 500 Mbps, and the latest NVMe can deliver sustained read-write speed in thousands of Mbps.

What’s best about this upgrade is that you have nothing to lose. Even if it doesn’t deliver the desired performance increase, you’ll still get extra storage space, which is guaranteed to come in handy eventually.

Just keep in mind that replacing your spinning HDD with an SSD makes the greatest sense when it comes to your system drive. Your data and backup drives don’t impact the performance of your system nearly as much. Before replacing your system drive, you may want to back up your data so that you can easily recover them once the new SSD is installed.

Get a New Graphics Card

Cost of upgrade: $300–$3,000

Getting a new graphics card can be an excellent upgrade for some and a total waste of money for others—it all depends on how you use your computer.

If you play a lot of video games or are into 3D modeling, animation, photo and video editing, and other graphics-intensive tasks, then a new graphics card is guaranteed to make your life much easier. But if you mostly use your computer for office/school work and basic multimedia consumption, then a new graphics card may have little to no noticeable impact.

Unfortunately, graphics cards are in short supply these days and the cards that are available tend to be terribly overpriced. Unless your current graphics card is on its last leg, you may want to hold off your purchase of a new one for a least a few months, if not a year or two, because that’s how long the current supply issues will likely last.

Install a Faster CPU

Cost of upgrade: $100–$1,000

Installing a faster CPU is a relatively advanced upgrade because the new CPU must be compatible with your current motherboard. If you choose a CPU that isn’t compatible with your motherboard, then you’ll have to get a new motherboard as well—and possibly even new RAM modules.

You want the new CPU to be at least 10–20 percent faster than the current one, otherwise you might not even notice the difference outside of specialized benchmarks. Fortunately, there are plenty of sites that let you compare available CPUs, including UserBenchmark.

The actual installation of a new CPU can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but there are plenty of excellent in-depth tutorials on the internet (and especially on YouTube) that explains the process extremely well. Just make sure to have a new tube of thermal paste ready because installing a new CPU without it is a big no-no.

Improve Your Cooling

Cost of upgrade: $10–$400

Regardless of how much money you spend on hardware upgrades, you won’t ever be able to take full advantage of them unless your computer is cooled well.

To start with, you should figure out what the temperatures of major hardware components are under load. We’ve covered the topic of checking CPU temperature before, and you can always simply download psensor and use it to see all important temperatures at a glance.

Ideally, you want your CPU to run below 75 degrees C (167 degrees F) and your GPU under 85 degrees C (185 degrees F). The ambient temperature in your computer case is less important, but it really shouldn’t go above 50 degrees C (122 degrees F).

To bring your temperatures down, you can replace your case fans, get a better CPU or GPU cooler, or upgrade to liquid cooling. Of course, you shouldn’t forget about the influence of the temperature of the air inside your room on the temperatures inside your computer case. If your room regularly gets so hot that your computer starts throttling just to avoid overheating, then it’s probably time to buy air conditioning.

Takeaways

If your computer is no longer performing as well as it once used to, then there are several hardware upgrades that you can make to help it better handle today’s demanding software applications. We recommend you start with upgrades that are likely to deliver the biggest performance boost for the least amount of money and move on to more expensive upgrades only when really necessary. That way, you should be able to delay buying a new computer without constantly dealing with annoying slowdowns and lag.

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