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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.
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.
Don't feel like cracking your system open to add more storage, or perhaps you want to add a LOT of storage, then external storage is the way to go.
Here you have loads of options, ranging from a single one-disk external drive that connects to your system via USB (1TB should cost about $80), to something more elaborate that can offer many terabytes of storage and be accessible to a number of PCs over a network (a 16TB LaCie Quadra Big will set you back $1,600).
If your system has a Thunderbolt port then there are a number of extremely fast external storage devices that make use of this port, but expect to pay a premium for this sort of performance.