Give your PC a Holiday upgrade

Summary:Planning on putting in some time on the PC over the Holidays? Maybe you're going to be spending some time fragging zombies, or creating cards from friends and family, or maybe you're going to be rendering a family DVD to give out as a gift. Chances are that unless your PC is quite new it could do with a little bit of a performance boost to help you get more done in less time. Here are some ways that you can boost the performance of your system for the Holidays.

Planning on putting in some time on the PC over the Holidays?  Maybe you're going to be spending some time fragging zombies, or creating cards from friends and family, or maybe you're going to be rendering a family DVD to give out as a gift.  Chances are that unless your PC is quite new it could do with a little bit of a performance boost to help you get more done in less time.  Here are some ways that you can boost the performance of your system for the Holidays.

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Add more RAM

Give your PC a Holiday upgrade
I'm always amazed at the lengths that some people will go to in order to try to make too little RAM go further.  I've seen people waste good money on "RAM doublers" and other utilities that make dubious claims about being able to improve performance when they could have spent that money on some RAM and got instant and measurable results.

Unless you're running 2GB on 32-bit Windows or 4GB on the 64-bit flavors, there's always a performance gain to be felt from fitting more RAM. 

Adding RAM is probably the easiest hardware upgrade, and anyone that can handle a screwdriver can do it.  I know that readers here at ZDNet are probably very comfortable with such upgrades but for first-timers, cracking open a PC and tinkering with it can be a daunting experience.  I find that if you hand-hold someone through an upgrade like adding more RAM, their confidence level will be boosted tremendously - that alone could be a great Christmas gift for someone!

Another RAM upgrade that you can do that might be beneficial to your system is to upgrade the speed of your RAM.  For example, if your motherboard supports PC2-6400 RAM but you've got slower rated RAM fitted, adding faster RAM is worthwhile (especially for gamers).

If you're going to push your RAM to the limits or go further and overclock it then you need to go for good quality RAM, and my money goes to Corsair or OCZ.

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Windows ReadyBoost

For people who don't want to crack open their PC and add more RAM, if they're running Vista they can take advantage of a feature called ReadyBoost - this takes a flash memory device (such as a USB flash drive, Compact flash or SD card) and uses this as a cache. 

Not all devices are suited to ReadyBoost - the device must be capable of 2.5MB/s read speeds for 4KB random reads spread uniformly across the entire device and 1.75MB/s write speeds for 512KB random writes spread uniformly across the device and must have at least 256MB of free space.  Look for flash devices that are rated as ReadyBoost compatible.

Using ReadyBoost is simple - attach the drive to the PC and confirm that you want it used as a cache and away you go.  And it does boost system performance.  OK, not as much as adding more RAM would, but it's useful nonetheless, especially for temporarily boosting the performance of notebooks.

Upgrade the graphics card

Give your PC a Holiday upgrade
Upgrading your graphics card not only will make your existing games run smoother but it will also open up the possibility of playing newer games.  If you've had your graphics card for more than about six months then chances are that there's a faster, better and, quite possibly, cheaper one available. 

When it comes to performance at a sensible price, I'd say that the GPUs to look for now are the HD 3850s from ATI and 8800GTs from nVIDIA.

Also, depending on your motherboard and what card you have at present, you might be able to keep your existing card and fit the new one and link the two together to make use of SLI (nVIDIA) or Crossfire (ATI).

Faster hard drive

Give your PC a Holiday upgrade
Another way to boost performance is to install a faster hard drive. 

If your system runs PATA (parallel ATA drive) then these are going to be a performance roadblock and you're better upgrading to SATA (serial ATA).  If you're motherboard supports SATA then you're ready to go already, if not then you'll need a PCI expansion card to do the job. 

If you've got a lot of dough burning holes in your pockets you could opt for a solid-state drive (SSD) but even if you choose to stick with platters, there are some fast drives available.  The fastest is the Western Digital Raptor drive (or the RaptorX is you want a topless drive).  If you want more capacity as well as a performance increase then it might be worth looking at the Samsung SpinPoint T133 (133GB) or the T166 (166GB). 

Processor/motherboard upgrades

Give your PC a Holiday upgrade
Finally, if nothing else will help, you can replace the brain and central nervous system of your PC (the processor and motherboard).  This is a significant upgrade and if you're happy doing this then you'll know how to go about it and if you don't then you're likely to be the kind of person that will buy a new PC to replace the old one.

When it comes to choosing a new processor it's hard to recommend anything that doesn't have the Intel logo on it.  As for motherboards, I like ASUS and Gigabyte and really like the Intel X38 chipset.

Thoughts?

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Topics: Hardware, Processors

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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