02 Mar PC Upgrades
“10 killer PC upgrades that are shockingly cheap
Looking to put more pep in your PC’s step? These surprisingly cheap PC upgrades and accessories do the trick without breaking the bank.
By Alaina Yee and Brad Chacos
No need to break the bank
Sure, swanky new laptops and $1,500 graphics cards may capture all the headlines, but on a practical level, the real story is that PCs aren’t cheap. In the last couple of years, it’s been particularly difficult to swing a whole new PC due to supply chain issues. Fortunately, there’s no reason to rush out and spend hundreds on a fresh system if your computer’s starting to feel pokey.
Investing small amounts in key new PC hardware can keep your computer running strong for years to come. These upgrades—most costing well under $100—breathe new life into slow machines. You just have to be strategic and make sure you’re putting your money in the best place for your particular system.
Editor’s note: This article was last updated December 28, 2021 with current hardware and pricing information.
Speed up your PC with an SSD
Let’s start in the most obvious place. If your PC still runs with a mechanical hard drive, swapping it out with an SSD will make it feel like a whole new computer. SSDs inject face-melting speed into a PC, drastically improving boot times, file transfers, and overall system responsiveness.
This upgrade is incredibly affordable these days, too. Prices have plummeted over the years, sending higher-capacity drives well under $100. You can pick up options like the Samsung 870 EVO (currently $70 for 500GB on Amazon) and the SK Hynix S31 ($53 for 500GB on Amazon), with 1TB drives skirting right around the $100 mark. If you’re on a tight budget, you can always dip down to a 240GB SSD and use it as a boot drive alongside your current hard drive. Our guide to the best SSDs can help you find other top options.
A word of warning about SSDs, and all the hardware discussed in this article: You can often find lower prices if you sift through Amazon or Newegg for no-name or lesser-known brands. But you’re gambling on reliability and support when you move away from established PC hardware makers. Stick with name-brand gear unless you absolutely, positively can’t afford it.
Mass storage is dirt cheap
Good news if your available storage space is filled to the brim: Traditional hard drives are still pretty cheap. A 1TB Western Digital Blue hard drive spinning at a speedy 7,200rpm will only set you back $40 on Amazon, while a 4TB WD Blue drive is just $88 on Amazon (albeit at a slower 5,400rpm).
PCWorld’s guide to SSDs and hard drives dives into greater detail about each type of storage. Don’t forget to back up your data before swapping out any storage drives!
Add RAM for more multitasking
If your computer’s having trouble running multiple tasks simultaneously, low memory is a likely culprit. Two gigabytes of RAM is the absolute minimum modern Windows systems need to run smoothly, and even PCs with 4GB of memory can start to feel slow if you’re running several programs, keep a dozen Chrome tabs open, or game with some background processes still running.
Like SSDs, memory is affordable these days–it’s been thankfully unaffected so far by supply issues. Expect to pay about $50 for 8GB of DDR4-3200 RAM (2x4GB) and $70 for 16GB for desktop PCs. Stick to reliable brands like Kingston, G.Skill, and Corsair, even if you’re tempted to save pennies by going with a no-name company. For laptops with expandable memory slots, a 4GB SO-DIMM of DDR4-3200 is about $25, while 8GB runs about $40.
Be sure to get the right type of memory for your PC: RAM comes in all sorts of different packages. The easiest way to tell what type of RAM resides in your PC is to download the free, superb CPU-Z software, then open the Memory tab and look for the “type” option. Our guide to choosing the right RAM for your PC can help.
MAYBE upgrade your CPU
A sluggish PC may be the result of an outdated processor. Unfortunately, replacing your CPU often means replacing your motherboard too, making the endeavor pretty pricey. But not always—especially if you have an AMD-powered system.
AMD’s AM4 motherboards have powered AMD’s Ryzen CPUs since early 2017. Since many prebuilt AMD systems sport modest processors, upgrading to a modern CPU can give your PC a shot in the arm. If you’ve already got an AM4 system, you can pop in a newer processor. How much newer is dependent on the chipset of your motherboard, though, so you’ll need to first make sure the new chip is compatible. Before you buy, fire up CPU-Z and search for the “Chipset” entry in the main Mainboard tab to see your mobo’s info. Our guide to the best gaming CPUs can help you find a Ryzen chip that’s worth your money.
Intel switches out its motherboards and socket types much more often, and its chips tend to be much more expensive. Replacing Intel chips aren’t really an affordable upgrade in most cases.
Gaming doesn’t have to be expensive
Want to dip your toes into PC gaming? Despite the well-justified complaints on forums and Reddit right now about graphics-card scalpers, gaming doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now service allows you to stream games you own on Steam, the Epic Game Store, Uplay, etc from the cloud to your PC. It works with a wide variety of devices, including Chromebooks, so you don’t need a powerful computer or new hardware for it to work. So long as you meet the minimum internet connection requirements, you should be able to give it a go. (You can improve your experience by following our tips.) The basic tier is free, so it costs nothing to give it a try until prices for graphics cards come back to earth–and companies start releasing new budget cards again.”
(not full article)