3 Upgrades to Increase PC Performance

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Do you have any dated desktops or laptops lying around that you haven’t used in a few years? Do you remember how quick and responsive they used to be when you first got them? Now it takes an hour to boot up and opening a new tab feels like you just asked it, “What do you want to eat for dinner?” It may be frustrating and mainly why we replaced them in the first place, but don’t fret, because you can bring them back from the dead with a few selective upgrades. Below is a list of parts that will help speed up your system, in order of efficiency.

Storage

SSDs are quite common now and widely used, especially in thin-and-light systems, not just in computers. As an alternative storage solution, compared to standard hard drives, which use spinning discs, an SSD is made without any moving parts. Without them, an SSD can perform faster and endure more because there is no mechanical limitation. So why exactly does an SSD provide you with an immediate performance boost when upgrading from a hard drive? An SSD is designed to store information, so let’s think of it as a water bottle. When you need to access information, you pour water out, but the water can only flow at a certain rate because it’s limited by the neck. Increasing the size effectively increases the flow of water, and in turn, access to information.

This “neck” is a communications protocol that you’ve seen before: SATA I, SATA II, and SATA III, and each has a certain theoretical throughput. SATA I has a cap of 150 MB/s, SATA II at 300 MB/s, and SATA III at 600 MB/s. Take the WD Black hard drive, for example: it’s a high-performance drive, which has a 150 MB/s data transfer rate. Even though it uses the SATA III interface, the drive cannot provide the speeds to fully saturate it. On the flip side, a Samsung 860 EVO can reach up to 550 MB/s, which provides you with a considerable performance boost.

Samsung 500GB 860 EVO SATA III 2.5" Internal SSD

As technology advances and we near the cap of SATA III, a higher benchmark needed to be set. Thus, came NVMe, which stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express, another communications protocol, but one developed especially for SSDs. NVMe drives don’t operate on the SATA lanes but, instead, utilize PCIe, which has a much higher bandwidth capacity. With a PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe drive such as the Samsung 960 PRO, you can get read and write speeds of up to 3,500 MB/s and 2,100 MB/s respectively, and yes—you read that right.

Samsung 512GB 960 PRO M.2 Internal SSD

tl;dr—Think of hard drives as water bottles and solid-state drives as buckets. Pouring water in or out is the rate at which data can be transferred.

In a laptop, the usual would be something like a 2.5" 7200 rpm HDD, which you can easily replace with an SSD; however, not all SSDs come in a 2.5" form factor. (Be sure to check the drive height for compatibility.) If your laptop doesn’t have a 2.5" drive, chances are it’s already using an M.2 drive. The M.2 is a compact form factor that installs directly onto the motherboard for minimal bulk. Due to its design, you usually only see around one or two M.2 slots on any laptop or desktop motherboard.

Crucial 525GB MX300 SATA M.2 Internal SSD

For desktops, your best bet would be 2.5" drive. Depending on your case, you may need a 3.5" drive converter or maybe a 5.25" drive cage if you don’t have the right or enough drive mounting locations. So why wouldn’t you use an M.2 SSD with a desktop computer? Well it’s because older systems usually don’t have a motherboard with M.2 slots. In that case, your second option would be a PCIe-based SSD or adapter if you have the slots to spare. Lastly, while Intel® Optane™ drives are worth considering, they’re also not a valid option for older systems. If you do have a Kaby-Lake™ and above CPU and motherboard that support Optane, and don’t plan on installing any SSDs, then maybe Optane is the solution for you.

Crucial 500GB MX500 2.5" Internal SSD

Memory / RAM

RAM (Random Access Memory), holds your data for active applications, and doesn’t increase your system speed. In fact, the more RAM you have, the more applications you can have open simultaneously. If you’re the type of person to have twenty-plus Chrome tabs open, a Netflix movie playing, a few spreadsheets hidden away, and a game running at the same time, then you’ll need RAM. How much depends on what you’re doing. Generally, on a Windows 10 system, most users can get by with around 8GB safely. It gives you enough room for standard OS functions and everything casual users can throw at it. Photo and video editors, gamers, live streamers, and VR-users should opt for a 16GB minimum.

When picking out RAM, be sure to watch out for compatibility. Generally, you’ll need SO-DIMM for notebook and compact systems, and regular DIMM for desktops and servers. After that, you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right type and speed: DDR3 or DDR4. The same rules apply for RAM speed. Everyday users will be fine with standard 1600 MHz DDR3 or 2133 MHz DDR4, and power users can opt for faster speeds as needed; however, it’s worth noting that it’s usually better to go with more RAM than faster RAM.

Synology 4GB DDR3L 1866 MHz SO DIMM Memory Module

CPU

You might think that a processor upgrade would be Number One on this list, but it’s one that I would recommend the least. While a new processor can increase your system’s performance, you should remember that for older systems, you’ll need to upgrade the motherboard, as well. And if you’re using a laptop, chances are the CPU is not replaceable. Additionally, jumping a few hundred MHz doesn’t really transfer into a noticeable real-world performance boost. What does matter, though, is the number of cores and the applications you use. If you’re handling plenty of multimedia tasks such as video transcoding, photo editing, and 3D model rendering, then more cores are welcomed, especially if the software you’re using supports them. With better and pricier processors, you’ll get features such as Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading to help speed things along.

So there you have it folks, the three most worthwhile components to upgrade in order of importance to help speed up your PC. Is there some other part you think we should have mentioned? Or does our order not match yours? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

7 Comments

Really?? CPU!????? You mine as well just replace EVERYTHING if you replace the CPU. Such as, the Motherboard and Memory too.

This is very helpful for me as I have a desktop just lying around because it has become so slow, I will take it to the shop and discuss with the technician some of the recommendations from this article to determine what's compatible with my Acer. 

I've been looking at budget workstations for video/photo editing & have been referring to Adobe's list of "optional" Adobe-recommended GPU cards on their System Requirements web page when looking for the right setup.

Does not being included here mean the GPU is the least important when it comes to performance?

This really depends on the application.  The article was written with the assumption that not all readers are graphics users (editors/gamers).  The upgrade suggestions would improve overall performance.  But for you, a good GPU is vital.

Is it possible to clone an SSD drive to a larger drive? My wife bought me an HP desktop and it came with a 128 GB SSD drive.  After installing Adobe Photography CC, Microsoft Office 2016, Canon Digital Photo Professional, I don't have room to install Microsoft Visual Studio.

My SSD is partitions:
260 MB EFI System Partition
980 MB Recovery Partition (HP carves a chunk out for system restores)
118.01 GB NTFS (C:)

I don't need to resize the EFI partition or the recovery partition.

Hi Ralph.  It shouldn't be a problem as long as the target drive is the same capacity or larger.

Thanks Geoffrey,

I plan on doubling or quadrupling the space (quad more than likely).

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