Now that Microsoft has released Windows 10 to the public, a lot of people are considering whether to purchase a new system with Windows 10 already installed or upgrade their current computer to the latest version of Windows themselves. I’ve been running the Insider Preview version of Windows 10 for about three months now, and like it quite a bit. I’ve upgraded to Windows 10 on computers running Windows 7 or Windows 8 with only a few minor issues that, I assume, will be resolved soon.
If you’re looking for the least complicated way to get a computer running Windows 10, you should purchase a new system. This is a good option if you’re running a computer that’s older than five years. Not only will you be running Windows 10 on the latest hardware, but the burden of testing, installing and configuring Windows 10 falls to the company from which you made the purchase. If you’ve got the budget, and you’re the type of person with no patience for technical interruptions, go this route.
But I’ll bet readers of this blog aren’t the type to be scared off by a few technical challenges. No, instead you embrace them, and that’s the person I’m addressing in this week’s article. Maybe you’ve had a desktop or laptop that’s served you well for a couple of years but are considering a few hardware upgrades to make sure Windows 10 zings. This week I take a look at few areas where your money goes furthest when upgrading a desktop computer. I specifically mention Windows 10 because it’s a major upgrade for those of us who run Windows, but these suggestions will work just as well for those who are looking to get a few more miles out of a PC running older version of Windows or Linux.
RAM is simply the best place to start when upgrading a desktop PC. For best performance, you should be running the 64-bit version of Windows which can address more than 4GB of RAM. Most users will notice a substantial boost in system speed moving from 4 to 8GB of RAM. And if you work with large files (video, photos) in programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Premiere you will benefit by going to 16GB.
RAM works best when each stick is the same brand and model. Crucial has a nifty system scanner which tells you what RAM is compatible with your motherboard. Both Crucial and Kingston build quality RAM kits making it simple to upgrade your system.
RAM is one of the few PC components where pricing can fluctuate quite a bit. Today 8GB of of RAM costs around $75, making this upgrade one that’s easy on the wallet.
If you’ve already installed an SSD, you don’t need me telling you how great they are. Once you have an SSD, you’ll never go back to a traditional platter drive unless you need massive amount of storage. But every PC today should be booting from an SSD for the best performance. Go ahead and add a platter drive you need terabytes of storage, but boot from an SSD.
SSDs are a bit more challenging to install because you end up reinstalling Windows from scratch or using a system image, neither of which are trivial. My favorite desktop cloning and backup software is ShadowProtect Desktop. It’s both easy to use and includes a tool that verifies your image to make sure you’re golden before you make the switch.
I prefer SSDs made by Intel or Samsung. Before you begin, make sure you purchase an SSD that’s larger than the amount of data you’re current drive is housing. I consider a 256GB SSD the minimum size I’d consider, and with prices falling, a 512GB or 1TB are even better options.
256GB SSDs start at under $200 while 1TB drives are prices at around $400 making this one of the most expensive upgrades you make, but is offset by being the one upgrade that makes every PC run faster.
Graphics cards aren’t just for gaming, although they do determine gaming performance as much as any other component. But in a business setting, upgrading the GPU can have other benefits such as the ability to run multiple monitors and vastly increase GPU-accelerated applications such as Adobe Premiere and many 3D rendering programs.
Higher-end GPUs can add substantial heat to the inside of your case, and may require specific power cables and expansion slots so it’s best to check for both before you add a dedicated GPU. If your monitor is more than few years old, it probably support VGA and DVI inputs. Newer monitors include such connections as HDMI, and increasingly DisplayPort for the highest resolutions.
Dedicated GPUs start around $75, but you’re probably looking at $150 for a good mainstream model that provides reasonable 3D performance and support 3+ monitors.
Upgrades to Avoid
These are the three areas I’d focus on. You might try a RAM upgrade and see if that gives you the performance you’re after before considering a more costly SSD or GPU upgrade.
I’m sure some of you are asking why I didn’t include the CPU as a component with upgrade potential. I’ll admit there are scenarios where it make sense. If you have a relatively new computer, but opted for a slower Intel i3 CPU, it might make sense to upgrade to a mid-range i5 CPU, as long as it’s supported by your motherboard. I’ve talked to friends who upgraded their i5 processors to i7 models and couldn’t tell any difference. It really depends on the type of work you do and what programs you run.
Motherboards are another component seldom worth upgrading unless you plan to upgrade your RAM, GPU and CPU at the same time. And at that point, you might as well consider a new PC!
In conclusion, I want to mention that Windows 10 feels like it runs about as fast as Windows 8 did. Of course Windows 8 didn’t feel like much of speed boost over Windows 7. What I’m saying is that upgrading to a new version of Windows probably is not going to make your computer feel or run any faster than it does today. Assessing the ages and condition of your current PC will allow you to make intelligent choices on whether to replace it perform a focused upgrade or two to it.