Best Bang for your Buck Upgrades
Not everyone can afford to shell out for a new PC every few years to stay at the cutting edge of PC gaming, but for relatively little money you can markedly improve the performance of your PC one component at a time.
REINSTALL YOUR OS
Backup all your data, wipe your primary drive and reinstall your OS. This is the cheapest and easiest way to get some extra performance from your PC. After a few years of running, your OS will build up a whole load of cruft that takes up valuable cycles, hogs RAM and generally makes your machine run slower than it should. These files aren’t necessarily malignant or malicious, but they are a royal pain in the butt. Regular maintenance can keep your OS running smoothly, but if you haven’t been diligent in clearing out all the accumulated crap from uninstalled programs, hardware changes, driver updates, cookies and the like, then nuking the site from orbit and starting again is a good way to make your PC feel fresh again. It’s also free, so there’s that too.
If you’re running a 64-bit version of Windows and have less than 8Gb RAM, then an upgrade to 8Gb will make a palpable difference to your machine, speeding nearly every operation and allowing games to use more memory that would otherwise be taken up with background tasks. If you already have at least 8Gb RAM then an upgrade to 16Gb won’t be as noticeable, but will make things run more smoothly overall. If you record and edit footage, use Photoshop or like programs, then the more memory the better. At the moment you can buy an 8Gb RAM pack for around $100 and 16Gb at around twice that.
Although buying new peripherals won’t speed up your computer, having a nice keyboard and mouse can really change how games feel. Increased accuracy and tactility can really make games feel more responsive and alive, so if you’re running cheap peripherals that came with a PC – a no-name mouse and membrane keyboard for example – it’s worth looking into getting yourself a nice new optical mouse and entry level mechanical keyboard.
New quality peripherals can cost you an arm and a leg, but there are some very good budget options available, such as the Cooler Master MM530 optical mouse which is available for around $59 or the Logitech G Pro available for a similar price. Logitech also has an excellent budget mechanical keyboard with the G413 for $129, and HyperX has the fantastic Alloy FPS keyboard available for a similar price.
Upgrading a standard HDD to an SSD will change your life. If you already have an SSD running your OS then you know how fast everything boots, but upgrading your game drive to an SSD will make your computer feel like new thanks to fast load times, smooth level transitions and flawless cutscenes. The only problem with using an SSD as your game drive is that you have to be sparing with the number of games that you install. With a standard HDD of 2TB, you don’t have to think too much about deleting games to fit new ones, but when you’re limited to 250 or 500GB you have to be diligent about uninstalling games you’re no longer playing. That said, the ability to have games boot almost instantaneously is fantastic.
How much the upgrade will cost depends on the kind of SSD being installed. SATA SSDs (using a standard HDD connection) are the cheapest, and slowest option (though still massively faster than a HDD) and are currently available for around $130. NVMe SSDs that use either M.2 ports on the motherboard, or a PCIE slot are faster but also more expensive, so will set you back around $175 or so, and around double that for a 500GB.
When it comes to gaming, no one upgrade will feel as monumental as getting a new GPU, but how much you’ll get out of the card ultimately depends on how powerful the rest of the system is. There’s little reason to shell out $1000 for a cutting edge GPU when the rest of the machine is five years old and is made up of mid-range hardware. It used to be that you could pick up premium cards from the previous GPU generation for cheap when a new generation came out, but in the current generation that no longer seems to be the case, with R9 390 and GTX 980 cards selling for around $550.
Luckily there are some very good cheap card in the current generation perfect for playing at 1080p or even 1440p. A 3GB GTX 1060 can be purchased for around $290 and is as fast as the GTX 980. The 6GB version of the GTX 1060 can be found for around $370 and is around half again as fast as the GTX 980.