There comes a time in our lives when a regular old computer just won’t cut it anymore. Maybe you’ve taken a liking to gaming and want to be able to play free PC games like League of Legends in the highest possible quality. Maybe you’ve gotten a new job in design, or have just started college and need something better for your projects. Maybe you just decided to try a new hobby and want to change up different aspects of your computer to see how it will run and you’re not sure where to start.
Regardless of the specific circumstances, reaching this point calls for an upgrade of your existing hardware — from the motherboard all the way to the monitor. Here are the five best upgrades you could give your computer.
A Faster Storage Drive
One of the most noticeable changes you can make right away is to get a faster storage drive. Most people upgrade their hard drives because they are running out of storage, but the amount of space you have free can only speed up your CPU so much.
The first aspect of moving to a faster drive is upgrading your old hard drive to a newer model. Older hard drive models work via a spinning mechanical disk to which information gets written. The number of rotations a traditional hard drive makes every minute has a direct impact on its read and write speeds. Old HDDs run at about 5,400 rotations per minute (RPM) while modern hard drives average about 7,200 RPM.
Rather than getting a newer model of the same hard drive, you can also switch to an SSD. Older generation hard drives can achieve speeds of up to 150 megabytes per second when worked to their limits. SSDs are about three times as fast on average, with lower-end SSDs running at 1,500 megabytes per second. Faster disk speed is important because it impacts everything from how quickly your computer is going to boot up to how fast your next game loads.
The catch is that SSDs can be pretty expensive. If you’re unable to afford 1 terabyte of SSD space, a handy option would be to go for a hybrid approach. Use the SSD for critical files like those that Windows depends on to increase boot times and a good old HDD for storing files you don’t use that often.
Upgrade Your Keyboard
If you’ve spent enough time on the internet, chances are you’ve spotted a random person bragging about their amazing RGB keyboard. If you’ve never used one, you might be surprised to find out just how useful they can be.
Ever tried using your computer in the dark, only to realize you have no clue where any of the buttons are? It’s a pretty nifty feature the students can take advantage of to clear their last-minute assignments or even a web developer who doesn’t feel like seeing the light for a day or two. Aside from the obvious utility they provide, it also looks pretty nice when your computer is turned on. Bonus points if the colors can be customized.
The second way to upgrade your keyboard is to use a mechanical one. It’s a rather controversial opinion because most of them are designed to be really noisy, if you’re not used to it. Once you do get used to it though, the feedback you get every time you press down on a key is great for people who type a lot.
Feed It More RAM
Another accessible upgrade you can acquire for your PC is to buy more RAM. RAM is thankfully easy to replace on most devices, too. If you have a desktop, you should first confirm whether it uses DDR2 (for really old computers), DDR3 (for relatively new ones) or DDR4 (most new-generation computers). You also need to make sure the RAM isn’t soldered to the motherboard, as often happens with “mini” laptops.
The minimum amount of RAM anyone should have is 4 gigabytes. That’s great for general movie-watching, listening to music and very casual gaming. At the 8-gigabyte mark, things start to get a little bit more serious.
It offers a better punch for casual gamers who aren’t into competition or don’t expect to play games at their highest settings. Any title with the word “pro” or “professional” before it calls for nothing less than 16 gigabytes of RAM. Professional design, pro-gaming and all similar functions will run without a hitch.
Get a Better Monitor
The monitor is the aesthetic center of your computer. You’re probably going to spend more time using this screen than any other peripheral device attached to your computer. With the increasing focus of companies and, indeed, people, on videos and media content, not having a screen that can show you all your favorite shows in full HD is a total waste.
The first way of improving your computing experience, especially if your computer is your workstation, is getting a wider monitor. Or, if that’s not an option, get more monitors to attach to your computer. This is one of those upgrades that’s also not for everyone, but wide monitors allow for more productivity because multitasking is now easier.
You can have three browser windows open separately on one monitor and your workstation monitor(s) with all your work in the other(s) for instance. If you’re a movie-watcher, the additional details you’ll be able to witness is something there’s no coming back from.
Width aside, the next thing you should be on the lookout for is aspect ratio. This is the ratio of the width to the height of the monitor. It can be thought of as the “squareness” or “rectangularness” of the screen. A 16:9 ratio is very wide and high, for instance, while a 4:3 aspect ratio crops out some of the details to fit your screen.
A final point here is the resolution of the screen. This is the number of pixels that can be displayed and has the largest effect on the quality of content you can view. Here, you need to be aware that just because a monitor is widescreen doesn’t mean it can display HD or UHD content. If you’re a sucker for good visuals, get something that can display up to 4K or 2K content on the lower end.
Buy a Newer Graphics Card
The graphics card comes last on the list because while the effect of upgrading to a newer one is a lot larger than a lot of people will admit to, it’s a tad more esoteric than the other items on this list. Almost every computer you will come across is going to have a relatively cheap graphics card to keep the cost of their computers down.
Anyone that has a job or hobby that involves design or visuals cannot ignore the importance of having one. That’s designers, gamers, anyone dealing with AutoCAD software or graph plotting libraries like Matlab and Numplotlib.
For everyone else? An NVIDIA or AMD will work just fine — it won’t really matter unless you’re aiming for really high-end specs. In which case, you’ll need to do a little bit more research into it. A cheap alternative still worth your buck is to buy an older graphics cards like the NVIDIA GTX 980. It can still run most modern games on medium settings. It’s also not an unreasonable choice for anyone doing light gaming.