Upgrade your PC
Give your PC a new lease of life (and save money) by upgrading key components rather than buying a new model from scratch
When you really want to speed up Windows, there’s simply no substitute for upgrading your hardware. That doesn’t mean showing your existing PC the door, though – if your budget doesn’t stretch to a new top-of-the-range model, you can look at selected upgrades that will revolutionise the way you use your machine.
Let’s start with the biggest potential bottleneck: your computer’s hard drive. The emergence of solid-state drives (SSDs) ensures that you can noticeably speed up your system with just one upgrade – moving your Windows install on to an SSD will achieve far more than all the cleaning and system tweaks combined, however useful they are.
SSDs are priced at a premium, which limits the amount of storage you can have. That might be an issue if you’re upgrading a laptop, but if you’ve have a desktop with a 500GB hard drive and space to spare, you can add a relatively small SSD – 128GB or even 64GB if you don’t have that many apps – and use that exclusively for Windows and your programs, keeping all of your data on your older, slower hard drive.
The process doesn’t have to be a difficult one – the step-by-step guide on the facing page reveals how to clone Windows from an existing hard drive to an SSD without having to reinstall.
More memory please
The other way in which you can give your Windows machine a new lease of life without incurring too much expense is by maxing out the RAM. Go to a website like https://uk.crucial.com, select your PC or motherboard make and model and discover how much memory your PC can support, then aim to buy as much memory as you can afford – 4GB is a comfortable minimum, while 16GB will really help your PC to fly.
If your computer only has two memory slots, then chances are you’ll be replacing the memory you already have, but if it has four slots, you should be able to add to your existing RAM, thereby helping to keep the cost down.
Prices vary depending on the type of memory you need, but expect to pay around £40 for 4GB, £65 for 8GB and £130 for 16GB – buy memory in pairs for maximum performance.
Laptop users are pretty much stuck with extra memory and a new storage drive. Desktop users have some additional options, although the cost will start rising. If you’re a gamer, you may be tempted by a new graphics card. Modern processors include powerful graphics onboard – capable of supporting 4K Ultra HD video for example – but a discrete card has some advantages, including coming with its own memory and being clocked at higher speeds. When choosing, be aware that NVIDIA cards are supported for much longer than AMD ones.
If you regularly perform CPU-intensive tasks, such as HD video encoding or editing, then you might be tempted to consider buying a new processor. The problem here is that unless your PC or motherboard is relatively new, you may not be able to source a more powerful CPU for it, such as an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7. That’s because processors get refreshed on an annual basis, and aren’t backwards-compatible. This means that you’d also have to factor in the cost of a motherboard upgrade, although you’ll also gain from other improvements if you do that – new motherboards are likely to include USB 3.0, which is ten times faster than USB 2.0, as well as SATA-III drive ports, for example.
The downside of embarking on such an upgrade cycle is that the costs soon start to mount: replace the motherboard and processor and you’ll probably have to replace your RAM too. You may even need a higher-rated power supply and then there’s the question of Windows. A motherboard upgrade will trigger a reactivation of Windows, which isn’t a problem if your copy is a retail one, but if Windows came pre-installed when you bought your PC then you’ll have to purchase a new licence. If that’s the case, you may find it’s cheaper to just buy a new PC – see our April 2017 issue for more advice.
“The problem is here is that unless your PC or motherboard is relatively new, you may not be able to source a more powerful processor for it”
If you only upgrade one PC component, make it your hard drive.
Fit RAM in pairs for maximum performance benefit.