Working with an older PC can be frustrating because of the slow load times and ancient software but it doesn’t have to be this way. In this guide, we share tips on how to upgrade your PC and which components matter most. First let’s run through the basics, what kind of performance is actually required?
For office applications like word processing, e-mail and the internet, a low-cost processor (e.g. from AMD or Intel) and at least 4 GB of RAM is sufficient. If you want to edit your holiday photos or surf with multiple browser tabs, choose 8 GB. An extra graphics card is not necessary and a noiseless SSD hard disk ensures fast program starts and short load times.
For video editing, it‘s crucial to have sufficient RAM available. At a resolution of 1080p, it should be at least 8 GB and at 4K at least 16 GB. Since both photo and video editing are very write- and read- intensive, it’s worth investing in an SSD.
A graphics card that supports OpenCL or CUDA is also worthwhile as professional software like Adobe Premiere uses it for calculations.
Modern development environments benefit from generous memory, 16 GB or more is recommended. In addition, projects often consist of many small files that are analysed by the appropriate tools – an SSD speeds this up considerably. Memory and SSD are therefore more important than the fastest CPU. A simple on-board graphics card is often sufficient for the graphics. If you work with more than one screen, you should make sure that the appropriate connections are available.
For gaming PCs, the following applies to all components: more is better. A fast processor and a good 3D graphics card are a must for a smooth gaming experience. 16 GB RAM is now the minimum requirement for most modern games. An SSD is not absolutely necessary but ensures faster program starts and significantly shorter loading times.
The most important components and how they interact
The rule of thumb is: the bigger the amount of data you work with, the bigger the memory should be. If the memory available is not sufficient, the slower hard disk will be used.
The maximum amount of memory you can have depends on the operating system, the motherboard and the processor. If the operating system is the 32-bit version, a maximum of 4 GB is possible. A 64-bit system supports a maximum of 128 GB. With Windows you can find this information in the system properties. Find these by pressing the ‘Windows’ and ‘Pause’ keys at the same time. How much memory the mainboard and the processor support can be found in the manufacturer’s specifications.
When selecting memory modules, three things are important:
- Design: PCs usually use DIMM modules, laptops and Mini-PCs frequently use the smaller SO-DIMM.
- DDR generation: Modern PCs work with so-called “Double Data Rate” modules, or “DDR” for short. These can be divided into different, incompatible generations. The interruption in the contact strip prevents you from accidently installing the wrong generation model.
- Clock frequency: The clock frequency of the RAM can be selected theoretically, but all modules use the speed of the slowest module.
Tip: If you want to upgrade the existing RAM, it is best to use the existing modules.
Hard drives are divided into classic HDD hard disks with magnetic disks and SSD hard disks, which function similarly to memory cards or USB sticks.
While classic hard drives are much cheaper, especially for large amounts of data, SSD hard disks are fast because they have moving parts. Classic defragmentation is a thing of the past. The advantages are easy to see when working with multiple files, starting the PC or individual programs. SSD hard disks are also completely silent, which it a nice side effect!
When making your selection, pay attention to the design (e.g. 2.5″, 3.5″ or M.2 for some Mini-PCs), which depend mainly on the PC case. On the other hand, the type of connection is important – usually SATA.
For processors, it is crucial to choose a model that is as up-to-date as possible. In addition to the clock rate and number of cores, the internal structure plays a key role in performance.
The most important characteristics of a processor are:
- Clock frequency: The clock frequency indicates how fast the processor can manage instructions. Processors with a higher clock frequency are faster than comparable processors with a lower clock frequency, but use more energy.
- Number of cores: Each core can serve a process simultaneously. Most processors support at least two, which is sufficient for simple applications. For more demanding applications, we recommend four cores.
- Cache: The fastest cache in the PC . Data that does not fit into the cache is retrieved from memory.
Processors usually specify type and clock frequency for the supported RAM modules. These should be matched, since faster RAM modules are technically possible, but don‘t carry any advantages. There is also an upper limit for the maximum amount of RAM the processor can support.
Please note: The most powerful processors can only be used sensibly if the other components are fast as well. The CPU and motherboard must be compatible. The mainboard manufacturers offer lists of supported CPUs for each mainboard.
The graphics function in the processor is usually sufficient for simple applications. For more demanding applications (e.g. photo and video editing or gaming) or when working with multiple monitors, a dedicated graphics card makes sense. With powerful graphics cards, you should make sure that the PC power supply is sufficiently strong.
The most important features of a graphics card are:
- GPU clock: This value indicates the speed of the graphics processor (GPU).
- Graphics memory and bandwidth: In order to exploit the high performance of the GPU, the current required data is transferred from the main memory to the memory of the graphics card. The graphics memory is permanently installed and cannot be expanded. The bandwidth indicates how fast data is transferred to the graphics memory.
- Shader units: The number of shader units is a measure of how many of these calculations the GPU can perform simultaneously. What was originally developed for 3D graphics is now also used by other applications such as video editing software.
Tip: Graphics cards differ in dimensions. Some are slightly longer than others, and some need the space of two expansion cards because the fan is so large. So make sure the graphics card fits into your PC.
Everything comes together in the motherboard. It‘s important that the desired processor and memory are supported. The expansion slots are usually only needed for graphics cards. Network and sound are already integrated on most motherboards. If you use a lot of external devices, you should pay attention to the number of USB ports.
The form factor indicates the size of the motherboard. Most PCs have motherboards in ATX or µATX format. The latter is smaller and therefore usually has fewer slots for extensions such as graphics cards.
Upgrade your PC with an easy upgrade set
Upgarde sets are a simple and cost-effective solution for updating your PC. These include components that have been tested together and are compatible. As a rule, a tuning kit contains:
- A motherboard
- A processor with cooler
- And the main memory
You don’t just save on planning, you also get the whole PC up to scratch in one go. And because you buy the components as a set, they‘re even cheaper. All upgrade modules have illustrated installation instructions so upgrading is a breeze.
Build your own PC with an upgrade set
Upgrade modules are also an easy way to build the PC you want. A suitable empty ATX housing with power supply unit, the desired upgrade module and the appropriate hard disk, and the individual PC is all you need to get going.
Cover picture: Fotolia, #190661380, Patrick Daxnbichler