Speed Up My Desktop PC's Hardware

Thumpergdi asked the Windows forum for advice on desktop hardware updates.

That's what I like about desktops: Compared to laptops, they're cheap and easy to upgrade. Here are four improvements you should consider:

RAM
Adding memory doesn't cost much or take too much work. Conventional wisdom labels it the best upgrade for the price, although not all tests agree with that.

If you're going to upgrade your PC's memory, keep these issues in mind:

First, your motherboard can only handle so much RAM, and before you buy any, find out how much it can take.

Second, if you're running a 32-bit version of Windows, it can only use about 3.5GB of RAM. (The 64-bit versions can take more than your motherboard).

For a quick and painless way to see your system's memory options, visit Crucial--a RAM retail site with some very good tools to help you make a choice. Click the Scan My System button, and you'll get a report listing how much RAM the motherboard has, how much it takes, and of what kind. The report will also offer to sell you different RAM configurations. You can then buy the RAM there or use the information to shop for a better price.

Crucial also offers an Advisor tool where you identify your PC model and they will offer you RAM guaranteed to work.

CPU
Should you upgrade the chip at the heart of your PC? Perhaps, but only if you're comfortable working deep inside your PC and the new chip is considerably better than the old one. What's considerably better? It should have either more cores or at least a 50-percent gain in clock speed.

I have yet to find a Crucial-like web site for CPUs. To find a compatible CPU is to check with the manufacturer of your computer or--if its home- or locally-built--the manufacturer of the motherboard.

If you're unsure about your motherboard and current processor type, download, install, and run SiSoftware Sandra.

See How to Replace Your CPU for directions on the actual installation.

The Graphics Card
If you're a serious gamer, you want a powerhouse graphics card. If you're not, you don't. Check out PC World's Graphics Card page for specific products.

Storage
Are you ready to replace your hard drive with something faster? A solid state drive (SSD) has no moving parts, and thus can read and write data with a speed that a 7200rpm hard drive can only envy. Tests done by the PC World Test Center showed improvements in disk-related tasks of up to and over 30 percent.

But there's a heavy price you pay--literally. By the gigabyte, SSDs are much more expensive than hard drives. You can buy a 1TB internal hard drive these days for well under $100. You can't buy a 120GB SSD for twice that.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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