So you’ve had a computer for a while and you’re finding that it’s not as fast as it used to be, or maybe it’s never been really fast, but you’d like to make it faster. It might be time to upgrade your hardware. Here are some tips to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to upgrading computer components.
For our non-techie friends, here are some words you’re going to read throughout this article. Click each one to learn about them. Knowing these terms will help you understand this article better.
CPU – Central Processing Unit
Memory (RAM) – Random Access Memory
HDD – Hard Disk Drive
SSD – Solid-state Drive
GPU (Video Card) – Graphics Processing Unit
First Things First
When your computer starts to run slow, it’s best to investigate before buying new hardware. Windows task manager is your friend when it comes to determining what hardware needs upgrading. You can get to task manager by right-clicking the taskbar and clicking Task Manager or press ctrl+shift+esc. To find more ways to open Task Manager, check out this howtogeek.com article. When you open Task Manager for the first time, it’s going to be in simple view that just shows a list of programs that are running. Click more details to get to the information you really need to make a good decision.
The next step is to close all programs except the Task Manager window. Click on the Performance tab. Typically with all programs closed your CPU, Disk and GPU should be in the zero to single-digit percentage range. The memory should be flatlined, but should not be any higher than 50% with no programs open. If any of these seem to have high usage with all programs closed, you can switch over to the Processes tab to determine what program is using up resources. You may find that Windows update is running or your virus scanner is running. These are programs that have to be on the computer and have to run, so you may just need to schedule them appropriately so that they don’t affect you when you’re using the computer. Make sure you don’t have multiple virus scanners installed on your computer. One is enough. Find a virus scanner you trust and stick with it. Avoid installing additional virus solutions. You may also find that you have apps you don’t need running in the background. These can be uninstalled via Apps and Features or Programs and Features.
If everything is peachy with all apps closed, let’s see what happens with apps open. I recommend opening an app at a time, while monitoring Task Manager to determine what kind of resources each app requires. You may find that one app may use the CPU more, and another the GPU or Memory more. Work through all of the apps you use regularly to determine if each app is operating well without maxing out CPU, Memory or GPU. If you find an app that is maxing out one of the big three (CPU, Memory or GPU), it might be time for an upgrade. Check the software manufacturer’s website to determine if your hardware is adequate for their software.
A good way to view the hardware configuration of your computer is through the DXDiag tool. Click on start and type in dxdiag, then click the dxdiag icon to launch the tool. On the System tab, you’ll find the Windows version, Processor information, and Memory information. Clicking the display tab/s will provide information about the video card. All of this information will help you determine if your computer meets the requirements of the software manufacturer.
What Can I Upgrade?
With desktop computers, you can upgrade almost any component, but with a laptop, you’re limited to storage and memory. Everything else is usually soldered onto the motherboard. Whether you’re using a desktop or laptop, if you find memory usage is maxed out most of the time, it’s pretty simple and cost-effective to upgrade RAM. 8 gigabytes of RAM is pretty standard these days, and 16 gigabytes is more than most need for day to day work. The biggest bang for your buck when it comes to upgrades is switching your primary storage drive to an SSD drive. This process isn’t as hard as you might think. SSD manufacturers usually bundle cloning software with their drives, so you can easily clone your existing HDD to the new SSD. The cost of SSDs has dropped quite a bit, so you can pick up 500 Gig to 1 TB SSD drives without breaking the bank. I recommend purchasing a USB drive dock to make the cloning process easier. Your boot times should be cut from minutes to seconds and you’ll notice your favorite software opening much faster with this one change.
With a laptop, if you’re experiencing high CPU or GPU usage with the programs you use on a regular basis, it’s probably time to say goodbye to the old lappy and get a new one that meets or exceeds the requirements for the apps you’re using. If you have a desktop computer there’s still hope. Let’s say your favorite app really relies heavily on the GPU for rendering 3D content. This is where you’ll consider upgrading video cards. Again check the software manufacturer’s website and buy accordingly. Please keep in mind the power requirements of the new GPU. You may have to upgrade the Power Supply to make sure it gets enough power to push them pixels. Upgrading the GPU in a desktop computer is as easy as sliding the old card out, pushing the new card in and installing the driver software.
The CPU, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Depending on the generation of CPU in the computer, it may or may not be feasible to upgrade the CPU. If you’re experiencing high CPU usage with specific apps, google the CPU you have and see if there is a higher-end CPU for that generation, then see if one of those meets the needs of the software. If so, you may find a good deal on a CPU online that meets your needs. Remember, when upgrading a CPU, apply new thermal paste between the CPU and the CPU heat sink. Also, make sure that you are shopping for the same generation CPUs otherwise you could get a CPU that will not fit in the socket on your motherboard. Check out Linus Tech Tips video on replacing your CPU.
Using What We’ve Learned
My church computer has some age on it, but it’s only about four years old. When I play videos in EasyWorship the videos don’t playback smoothly. I opened task manager and noticed that the CPU is hardly doing anything, Memory isn’t maxed out, but the GPU (Video Card) is at 75% or more most of the time. When I check dxdiag, the system tab says the CPU is an i5-4690K and I have 8 Gig of RAM. The display tab says I have an Intel video card. Intel video cards are great for day to day internet surfing and standard office work, but for multimedia programs that need fast 3D video rendering, they just can’t cut it. I just need to purchase a better video card to make my videos play smoothly. I opened the computer case and found that I have an open PCI Express X16 slot for a video card and two empty slots in the case. The Power Supply label says it’s a 750 Watt 80 Plus Bronze, so I’m good to go there. Going to the EasyWorship support page I found that EasyWorship recommends the NVIDIA GeForce GTX/RTX video card. At newegg.com I mouse to Components, Video Cards & Video Devices, and clicked Desktop Graphics cards. Next, I filter my search down to NVIDIA under Chipset Manufacturer, then under GPU I check GeForce GTX 16, 10 (uncheck GT 1030), 900 Series and RTX 20 Series and click apply. Next, I’ll sort by price. We want to start using the foldback feature in EasyWorship, so I need three video outputs on the video card. It looks like I can get an NVIDIA GTX 1050 that fits in my budget. I will have to convert some of the video ports to different video formats for our old equipment. EasyWorship provides a handy conversion chart that helped me determine what adapters I need to buy.
As you can see, upgrading hardware is more than just buying new computer parts and installing them. You need to know why you’re upgrading and what parts will benefit you the most. Upgrading the wrong components will not help. Even if you replace the right component, if it doesn’t meet the software requirements then you just have a new component without any benefit. So, next time your computer is running slow, put your detective hat on and track down the part that needs to be replaced, if it even needs to be replaced, so you don’t waste your money.