Where to Spend your Upgrade Dollars – Hard Drive / CPU / Motherboard

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Welcome to the second part of our Where to Spend your Upgrade Dollars series. As you can see from the title, we’re going over the basics of what to keep in mind when you’re ready to upgrade your gaming/work/home PC. Let’s get started:

Hard Drives

You probably need a new hard drive when:

  • You think your current hard drive is on the way out. If you’re like most people, you’re not prepared to have all your pictures, movies, documents and your very operating system go belly up. If you’re starting to get strange disc errors or unwelcome beeps or clicks on boot-up, you should think about picking up a new hard drive before it’s too late.
  • Your current hard disc is (very nearly) full. The popular notion that a full hard drive will slow down is true, but it has to be crammed to the digital rafters. Hard drive slow-downs are much rarer that most people supposed, but they can happen, IF your hard drive is more than 95%-99% full. A small, but important, section of your hard disc is dedicated to running virtual memory, which is used to handle RAM overflow (basically, when your computer needs more memory than you have physically installed, it creates [much slower, but necessary] virtual memory from disc space to stand in). An exceptionally full hard drive can cut into these designated memory reserves and experienced slow downs will affect every program and be especially noticeable when trying to multi-task. Not fun.

Cost: ≈ $100-$500 (≈$.50 per Gb for non-SSD; ≈ >$1.25 per Gb for SSD drives)

Remember: Everyone needs a hard drive with plenty of space, for document/picture/video/program storage (kept empty enough for virtual memory processes to be effective), but only power users will really benefit from spending more. Impressive solid-state (SSD) hard drives exist that cater to users that put a lot of stress on their PCs, but the additional cost isn’t for everyone. These next-gen data storage devices boast faster transfer speeds and superior performance under load, but are much more expensive (for now): you can get a traditional 1Tb for around $100, while a 1Tb SSD drive starts around $300-$400) Also, keep your operating system installation disc handy. You may need to install a fresh OS if your new hard drive doesn’t come with one installed.

Skip the new hard drive if: You have more than enough space in your current drive, it’s is in no danger of going bits-up and you don’t plan on multi-tasking to-the-max.

CPU / Processor

Consider a new CPU when:

  • You’re looking to do a serious overhaul of an upgrade:  This is the big one. Replacing a processor can be a fairly straight-forward operation, but don’t       count on it.   If the processor you’re looking to upgrade to uses a different socket setup than your          motherboard supports: it’s either time to choose a different CPU or time for a new motherboard. If you opt for the latter, hold on to your hat (and that grounding strip you should probably be wearing): you’ve got some research to do. Every other component you have in your system has to work with your motherboard. Memory usually isn’t an issue, but you’ll need to make triple-  sure that your:
  •   video card is compatible (PCI-E or AGP?),
  • power can supply energy to all your components,
  • hard drive is compatible (it usually is, but make sure you understand jumper settings and what cables you’ll need before you wade it)
  • chassis will house your new motherboard (it might fit inside, but not to existing screw mounts; are you comfortable attaching your own mounts?)
  • Your memory and video card aren’t holding you back: The most powerful processer in the world can’t make-up for too little memory or a video card       that doesn’t pack enough punch. Make sure these are up-to-snuff beforehand.
  • You can identify everything in your PC case by sight:

CPU installation (and all the ‘fun’ that can come along with it) can be among the most technically complex undertaking may people will every attempt with their own computers. Screw up in adding/removing/troubleshooting hardware will always cost you time and can sometimes cost you hundreds-of-dollars. A little time boning-up on PC hardware basics before tearing your computer apart can save you hours of headache and possibly much more.

Cost: ≈ $100-$1000 (or more, if you need addition compatible components)

Remember: Make sure you have the time and money to troubleshoot. This is one upgrade that can quickly become several and mistakes can be costly. Make sure you understand what your new CPU needs (socket type, power requirements, cooling, etc.) before you pull apart your existing machine.

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