Upgrade your PC or Mac (May 2013 edition)

Upgrade your PC or Mac (May 2013 edition)

Summary: Now that tablets and smartphones are all the rage, people are making their PCs last longer by improving them with strategic upgrades. But choosing the right upgrades can mean the difference between a faster, better system, and throwing your money away.

TOPICS: Hardware

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  • GPU

    (Source: Nvidia)

    Another way to squeeze some extra life out of your desktop PC system – the graphics card in notebook systems, as well as those found in all Macs except for the Mac Pro are not upgradable – is to upgrade the graphics card. However, this advice applies primarily to one class of user – gamer.

    Perhaps your current system has features an older graphics card, or perhaps your GPU is integrated onto the CPU. In either case, investing in a new graphics card should give your system a big of a performance boost.

    Unless you are a hardcore gamer looking for cutting-edge hardware, then a graphics card doesn't have to cost the earth. $99 will buy you a Radeon HD 7750 or GeForce GT 640, both of which are capable cards, and will give you a good gaming experience with any modern title (assuming that the rest of your PC is up to the challenge).

    If your budget goes a little deeper, then $200 buys you a Radeon HD 7850 or GeForce GT 660, both of which are superb graphics cards. 

  • CPU

    (Source: Intel)

    Most newcomers to upgrading automatically think that the CPU is the place to start. After all, it's the brains of the CPU, and the faster the CPU, the faster the entire PC will be, right?


    CPU upgrades are fraught with problems.

    • Boosting performance by a few hundred megahertz doesn't translate into much real world gains.
    • Finding out what CPUs are compatible with your motherboard can be a nightmare. Not only do you have to make sure the sockets match, but that the actual CPU is supported by the BIOS/UEFI and the hardware.
    • If your PC is old enough that adding a new hundred megahertz would indeed make a difference, then chances are your newly upgraded system will be compromised by another bottleneck (RAM, storage, etc) and you end up having to spend more money.
    • Notebooks – along with some desktop systems – are not upgradable because the CPU is soldered onto the motherboard.
    • CPU spec and data sheets can be very complicated, leading you to buy something that is worse than you already have.

    The only people for whom CPU upgrades are worthwhile are hardcore enthusiasts who have high-spec systems, and know them inside out. If you're not one of these people, then if you're considering a CPU upgrade, then what you really want is a new PC. 

  • Display

    (Source: Dell)

    Here's one upgrade that you desktop PC and Mac users might not have thought of. Adding a bigger screen to your system – or, if the system allows, a second display – is an excellent way to improve performance without having to crack open your system.

    If you work with a lot of applications at once, or your job involves having to split your attention between two or more applications/data sources, then adding a second screen means you can give the applications you use more screen real estate, making them visible all the time.

    Many modern systems have two ports (or sometimes more) for displays. If not, you can add a graphics card that will support multi-monitors.

    Even notebooks can support dual screens, although with some you may have to invest in an adapter. 

    Don't underestimate the enormous productivity boost that adding a bigger -- or second -- display will bring.

Topic: Hardware

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  • RAM upgrades

    Older systems use DDR2 (or even "worse", DDR). Adding new RAM to such systems may not make much economic sense since it can be both hard to find and very expensive.

    Quite a while back I built a system from some spare parts I had available. I decided to pick up a new mainboard that would accept the Core2 Duo CPU I had, but that also supported DDR3, just because DDR3 was a LOT cheaper than DDR2. I sold the DDR2 I had on Craigslist.

    If you need DDR or DDR2, your local CL may be your best bet. You may be lucky and find modules that are reasonably priced. RAM is very reliable and rarely fails in my experience, so buying used is not too risky. Make sure the modules are not physically damaged in any way, and if you can see them running in a system before you buy, that is even better.

    Make sure you read your mainboard manual and/or inspect the mainboard to see what type or memory it supports and how many slots are free if any. Wikipedia probably has good diagrams showing the physical differences between the various types of memory.

    What I said above is also applicable to notebooks, but most of them only have 2 slots that are usually both occupied. Hence a RAM upgrade entails removing lower density modules to fit higher density ones. Laptop and desktop memory modules are NOT interchangeable. Again, Wikipedia is your friend.

    CPU-Z (CPU-ID) is a free utility that may also be of assistance in this regard. It will tell you the type and speed of the memory currently installed.
    • D.T. Long In Case You Missed It

      See my posts about you on the "Google I/O by the numbers: 900 million Android activations" blog.
    • Oh yeah, And as Far As DDR2 Being More Expensive and Hard to Find??

      Try going to newegg dot com and searching on DDR2. You will find that DDR2 is slightly less expensive and there are plenty of DDR2 RAM modules are in stock.
    • Dance dance revolution

  • It all depends on what your needs are and where you're starting from.

    RAM used to be the no brainer upgrade. Today I'm not so sure. It makes no difference if you've got 4GB or 8GB if you're needs are for 2GB. The same goes for SSDs...SSD offers improved startup/shutdown/application load times. But given the infrequency these are done it usually doesn't make sense for the typical user.

    And finally if you've got an iMac, especially one of the current generation, much of this could all be for naught.
    • I beg to differ

      There is a huge difference between the responsiveness of a 2Gb machine and a 4 Gb machine from the first day on a Mac mini. As for SSD's and memory, on the PC the general responsiveness for a pc is noticeably better when you have a PC with 8Gb and and SSD on board. I am not even talking about the start up times.
      • Mac mini

        There's a reason why on the Mac mini amazon pages you see third party memory upgrades to 4Gb.
  • How about some similar tips for laptop owners?

    External storage is the only easy one. And getting an external keyboard, I guess.
    • RAM in notebooks is easy,

      usually, unless you are already maxed out.
      • RAM is Easy? Why You Say That?

        bmeacham98@ mentioned storage not RAM memory.

        From Computer 101 class:

        1) RAM refers to program memory for holding executable instructions to be run directly by the CPU and to store (not storage) temporary program data.

        2) Storage refers to the Hard Drive, Flash Drive, SSD, and etc. devices that are used for long term storage of programs and data that when need to be used are transferred from Storage to RAM Memory.

        Just like when above you recommended to people reading this blog that they should go to craigslist to buy used memory rather than newegg or Amazon where DDR2 RAM is cheap, readily available, and comes factory sealed with a warranty.

        If you do not agree with another that posts here try, as difficult as it will be for you, to make an intellectual argument or educate them on how you believe them to be wrong. Just calling them a a paid corporate shill does no one any good. Instead explain to others precisely why you believe their post is erroneous.

        The case in point is this. You are very annoying because most of your posts are non-sensible attacks toward others, that are way above you in intelligence, just because they do not agree with your opinion. When you do attempt to make a post that you truly believe would be helpful to others, unfortunately, you get it all wrong.

        I highly doubt this advice will be able to penetrate your thick skull and reach your tiny pea brain, but I am making an effort for the better good.

        I read your previous post where you found the numerous Flags to your posts being done in an organized conspiracy against you and the companies you support by their opponents.

        Sorry to have to break it to you. No one views you as a serious threat. Certainly not enough to hire others to Flag your post. The sad point is you are flagged overwhelmingly more than others because you are a cognitively impaired asshole.
        • Hmmmmm. Not-so-good?

          Are you sure you are mentally stable?

          Too much anger can be damaging to your health. You may be close to popping an artery?

          I posted 12 inoccuous words, suggesting that notebook RAM upgrades are easy, (and for your information, I would have answered specific questions if the poster had followed up), and you blew your lid with an 8 paragraph incoherent rant. If you do not consider me a "serious threat", why do you even bother? I am sure many of the people here who may dislike my posts simply ignore me, just like I do to many posts and posters.

          And for your information, this is an international forum, Not everyone can (easily) shop at Newegg.

          Finally, trying to make an intellectual argument with Owlllllnet or LD (and apparently you) would be like trying to argue with chimps. I do not recall either of them ever having presented much in the way of coherent logical arguments or positions, but perhaps they impress you. That would not be surprising.

          Has my "shill hunting" finally gotten to you?

          Have you considered seeking help?
          • You Made My Point

            Like I said: I highly doubt this advice will be able to penetrate your thick skull and reach your tiny pea brain.

            I know I was asking a little too much out of you to attempt to make an intellectual argument. As close as you got was "this is an international forum". Except that you could not back up your claim that DDR2 RAM "... can be both hard to find and very expensive."

            I'll be fair and give you another chance. Let me know in what country is DDR2 hard to find and expensive.

            Mentally Stable? Me? Yes I am sure. I am NOT.

            I'm not in the least bit angry. You make me laugh sometimes. But most of the time it's just a shake of the head that you may actually believe some of the dim witted trash you spew. (e.g. DDR2 RAM can be both hard to find and very expensive).

            I do not consider you a threat, certainly not a serious threat. You lack the intellect. I just find you annoying. I did not much care for your false accusations either. If I considered you a threat would I have given you enough information about me and where I live?

            "coherent logical arguments"? You very likely lack the ability to understand a coherent logical argument. I am still at a loss as to why you thought my post was "incoherent rant".

            "incoherent rant"? What did you not understand? Hint, there is this thing called a dictionary.
            It's spelled A-S-S-H-O-L-E, look it up. Maybe look up incoherent too. The only theory I have is you may not know the true meaning. You have used the word multiple times and neither time was it used sensically.

            Shill hunting? More like a snipe hunt. When someone disagrees with you you resort to name calling. I make my point first then call you an asshole.

            Yes I have considered getting help. Thanks for asking... Asshole.
        • ram

          Tigerdirect.com has a utility that will assess your current memory and make suggestions as to what will work on your system, as did crucial.com (I think they are still in business.)
          • So does MemoryX.net

            MemoryX.net has the same type of service and they have an easy way to navigate to a list of all correct memory and hard drive upgrades for each model from each manufacturer.
        • Are you an idiot?

          Seriously, are you? Can you follow a logical train of though? Do you even know how to read?

          Case on point: your latest diatribe. You write:
          "bmeacham98@ mentioned storage not RAM memory."

          You then go on to post a totally irrelevant series of definitions. But your ENTIRE argument is based entirely on your complete failure to comprehend the original post. To wit:

          "External storage is the only easy one. And getting an external keyboard, I guess."

          So the O.P., by using a universally quantified statement, is NOT just talking about storage. The O.P. was talking about ALL upgrades. And said the only easy ones for laptops were external storage and keyboards. D.T. Long then replies that, no there were other easy upgrades for laptop owners, including RAM.

          What part of this chain of reasoning, a syllogistic argument, even a 10 y.o. could follow,are you failing to understand?

          Talk about cognitively impaired.
          • *though=thought

  • Intel is Making PCs Last Longer

    Intel's power reduction largely responsible for the decline in PC sales not tablets. Less power equals less heat. Heat is the biggest factor in PC reliability. The life of a semiconductor is reduced by 5% for each 1 degree C rise in ambient temperature. PC are lasting much longer and the computational ability of these processors is often beyond what most people require.

    It's PCs with powerful processors that now last years longer being the reason for sluggish PC sales.

    The desktop market is not dead, we are not in a post PC era we are experiencing a huge pivotal change in the way people conduct their lives.

    I predict Intel will soon release a mobile processor that can be used in a smartphone that will be able to run a desktop OS such as Win 8, OSX, or Linux.

    It may no longer be called a smartphone. The phone will be a accessory communicating with the mobile device via Bluetooth.

    That is also when BYOD will be common place. It will require an full featured OS like Win 8 and features like Windows to Go.
    • Sadly

      Most electronic gadgets, including computers get out of operation because of low quality capacitors in the power circuits. Capacitors too, have tendency of degrading faster with higher operating temperatures and since low-spec capacitors are few cents cheaper than higher grade (higher temperature) capacitors, those get used.
      It is easily observed that in recent years, most of the low grade capacitors are gone from component assemblies.

      I have yet to see an silicon chip damaged because it's thermal life has been exceed. Not impossible, but other parts would fail much earlier.

      For your information, Intel already produces processors that power smartphones. Those processors being of the same kind that run "desktop" software, can do what you dream of.

      However, just like the desktop is not going anywhere, so are tablets and smartphones. People more and more use different devices for the task. Imagine, in the past you had only one size hammer, and you used it on every occasion. Today, you have several sizes hammers and you use whichever fits best for the task. Inevitably, some people will use the wrong tool from time to time, just as with hammers.

      BYOD is not a technology thing. It is a policy thing. You can just as easy bring your own desktop, or your own mainframe, as you can bring your own smartphone. The difference is that if your employer asks you to bring your own mainframe, you are likely to look elsewhere for employment. Perhaps, some day, when everyone has their own personal mainframe or two, this might work.
      • Agree

        I have NEVER had a CPU or RAM module go bad on me, and I have overclocked with air cooling by up to 50% for years on certain CPUs.

        I agree some mainboard components can cause problems. The biggest problem I see with computer case design (including laptops) is dust accumulation on heat sensitive components, particularly fans/heat sinks and ducts. I think in general, it is bad design to allow unfiltered air to be sucked in to a case, only to have the dust settle and cleaner air be exhausted. In my view, air should be blown IN TO a case through a filter that can be vacuumed regularly.

        I think sealed fanless designs (smart phones and tablets) are clearly the best way forward.
    • Bull

      Silicon almost never goes bad.