The best (and worst) PC upgrades

What are the best 'bang for the buck' PC upgrades you can buy? What are the upgrades that are just a waste of money? Read on to find out!

Samsung SSD
Samsung SSD (Image: Samsung)
PCs are lasting longer than ever, but interest in upgrading them so that they last even longer, or can handle newer software, is still high. But to get the best bang for the buck from an upgrade you have to spend money wisely. And buying the wrong thing might not only give you nothing in return, but it could mean that you have to spend even more money.

What follows are the best and worst PC upgrades you can spend money on, along with an idea of how much the upgrade will set you back.

Best Upgrades

Let's begin by looking at the best upgrades.

RAM

Without a doubt the best upgrade you can carry out. Any modern PC running a 64-bit version of Windows with 4GB or less of RAM will benefit from a bump to at least 8GB, and possibly 16GB if you use a lot of RAM hungry applications such as Photoshop.

To find the right RAM for your system visit Crucial and either enter your system details or use the system scanner.

8GB of RAM will set you back around $75.

Graphics cards

The easiest way to give a PC some extra pep for running a game is to upgrade the graphics card. The graphics card is one place where OEMs skimp on performance to keep prices down, and there are countless PCs out there who are powered by the GPU on the APU (an APU is a CPU that has an integrated GPU).

A budget graphics card will set you back around $99 while something more mainstream will cost $200.

SSD

Hard drives are dead. If you want performance, a solid-state drive (SSD) is the way to go. Rather than your data being stored on a rotating magnetic platter, an SSD stores the data in flash chips.

Not only does fitting an SSD offer a massive performance boost, but it also brings with it improved reliability.

To find the right SSD for your system visit Crucial and either enter your system details or use the system scanner.

Prices start from around $60.

Worst upgrades

Here are upgrades that I see people wasting their money on in the hope of ending up with a better or faster PC.

CPU upgrades

Processors seem to be getting faster all the time, right? But here's the thing, a 2GHz CPU is only 200MHz faster than a 1.8GHz CPU, and in the real world that doesn't translate into much extra performance.

Unless you are in a position to do a major CPU upgrade - which means that your motherboard has to be able to handle it - then I don't recommend them. Even then, if you have RAM, storage or graphics card bottlenecks then a CPU upgrade won't help.

I only recommend CPU upgrades if you are also prepared to swap out the motherboard and RAM (and possibly the graphics card) at the same time.

Motherboard upgrades

I've come across a lot of people who have spent good money on upgrading their motherboards in the hope that it will bring a performance boost.

Don't bother.

Even if the new board promises the earth when it comes to overclocking, unless you have high quality RAM and good CPU cooling, you'll get little or nothing in return for your money, and could just be paving the way for more spending.

Upgrading Windows

Unless you're running Windows XP or earlier, don't waste your upgrade money on a new copy of Windows. Not only will the gains be negligible - and that's assuming you see gains - but it's also a slippery slope that can lead you to spending a lot more money on your system.

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