PC parts eventually wear out and become painfully slow.
New technologies also render older ones obsolete, forcing customers to buy new computers.
That brings up the question, how long can you use your computer before spending some money to upgrade it?
What’s the sweet spot between having a usable PC and shelling out for new parts?
Read on to find out.
How Often Should You Upgrade Your PC?
Ideally, you should upgrade your PC every three years as manufacturers release new architectures with significantly improved performance.
However, you can reliably use most computer hardware for at least five years before your performance starts to deteriorate.
Once you pass the six-year mark, consider partially upgrading your system by installing more RAM, faster storage, or a new graphics card.
You shouldn’t expect to use a PC longer than eight years as the components will degrade, and finding replacements becomes exceedingly hard.
These numbers are rough estimates, and your mileage will vary depending on your needs and exact components.
For instance, if you’re a gamer who always wants the latest technology in their rig, you’ll upgrade your parts every nine to twelve months.
In contrast, an occasional user may go a decade without replacing any component as they can get regular tasks done with older hardware.
Therefore, instead of looking for an exact number, you should learn to spot the signs and make the right decision.
Signs That Your PC Needs An Upgrade
Here are a few indicators that you may need to buy new components for your PC.
However, none of these signs prove that you need an upgrade.
Rule out software issues before spending on new hardware and carefully consider your requirements.
1. Starting Up And Shutting Down Take Forever
When you turn on your computer, it goes through a boot sequence that checks the hardware and loads your operating system from the permanent storage.
If your computer boots from a hard drive, you’ll notice that starting it up will take exceedingly longer.
This drop in performance has two reasons:
- Your hard drive is a mechanical component, so it’ll slow down as it ages.
- Your OS files grow as you use your computer, so more and larger files need to be loaded.
That’s why a clean OS installation usually makes your computer faster.
Shutting down your computer also involves a process during which the OS signals running programs and services to save their data and exit.
Since the process involves writing files to permanent storage, it’ll take a long time if your hard drive is old or full.
Turning your computer on and off shouldn’t take longer than two minutes.
If it does, consider reinstalling your OS.
If that doesn’t help, and your hard drive is a few years old, upgrading to an SSD will do the trick.
However, if you already have an SSD as your boot drive, getting a new one won’t solve your problem, and you should look into other causes.
2. Moving Files Is A Pain
In line with the long bootup and shutdown issue, copying/pasting files from an external drive or internally may also take painfully long.
The main reason is that your hard drive is old, and the mechanical head can’t move quickly enough to read and write data at an acceptable rate.
You may be able to remedy the issue by keeping your drive relatively empty, but that sort of defeats the whole purpose of having a hard drive.
The better solution is to buy a new hard drive if you want bulk storage on the cheap or an SSD if you want to run your games and apps faster.
3. You Can’t Run The Latest Apps And Games
Hardware manufacturers usually release new architectures every two to four years with incremental improvements yearly.
These new architectures are usually only backward compatible with one generation of hardware.
Plus, software companies usually update their apps to take advantage of the latest developments in hardware technology.
As they do so, they stop supporting and extending their older versions.
That’s why you can’t install Windows 7 or Vista on many new computers.
Even if you manage to do so, you’ll be hard-pressed to find compatible drivers.
The same story is true for games and applications: they won’t run optimally on hardware that’s older than six years old.
There are two reasons for this:
- Newer software requires more physical resources, such as RAM. For example, most modern games expect you to have at least 8 GB of RAM.
- Newer software uses hardware optimizations that aren’t available in older generations of hardware, such as ray tracing and DLSS.
If you constantly find yourself unable to install the latest game or resource-intensive applications, consider upgrading your hardware.
The place to start is with RAM, but you may also need a more advanced graphics card and CPU.
4. You Experience Frequent Freezes And Crashes
Freezes and crashes are inevitable, and they have many reasons, from driver conflicts to software bugs and overheating.
Hardware malfunction is also a common reason.
Nevertheless, a more prevalent cause is trying to run modern software on older hardware that lacks the necessary optimization features.
Software developers only test their programs on the most common hardware in the market without worrying about niche users.
There’s no telling how the software could behave on an ancient machine.
How can you be sure, though?
By ruling out other causes!
Windows has a utility called Event Viewer that lets you see descriptions of crashes along with their error codes.
Follow these steps to pinpoint what’s causing your computer to crash:
- Open Control Panel.
- (optional) If Windows shows you categories of settings, click the “View By” dropdown menu and select Large icons.
- Click Administrative Tools > Event Viewer.
- Expand Windows Logs > Application.
- Sift through the red and yellow icons by reading the error descriptions and paying attention to when the error was logged.
- Google the Error ID to find the issue that’s causing your crashes.
If you find that old hardware is making your computer freeze and crash, repair or upgrade the component accordingly.
5. Your FPS Is Always Below 30
Games become hard to play if the frame rate drops below 40.
They become insufferable below 30 FPS.
If your frame rate hovers around 30 or less in multiple games, you probably have a system-wide issue, which could be caused by hardware.
The fastest solution is to update or reinstall your graphics card driver.
If the issue persists, consider lowering your graphics card settings.
Many games become GPU-bound at higher resolutions, such as 1080p or 4K, meaning the GPU can’t produce high-quality frames quickly enough.
If that doesn’t solve your problem either, search online for the specific reasons you get poor FPS.
Only consider replacing your GPU if it’s a few years old and you’re sure that it’s the reason your computer can’t run modern titles at sufficient FPS.
6. You Have Less Than 8 GB Of RAM
With your browser, games, and Windows consuming so much RAM, it seems like you can never have enough of it on your system.
These days, if you have eight or fewer gigabytes of RAM installed, you can only use your computer for simple tasks like word processing and online browsing.
Even then, you can’t expect to have more than a few windows and tabs open simultaneously.
What if you don’t know how much RAM your system has?
Right-click on the Start menu or press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open the Task Manager.
Then check your memory under the Performance tab.
If it’s below 7.8, you’ll need to install more RAM, which we’ll discuss later.
7. Your Fans Are Too Loud
When your fans become so loud that it feels like you’re at an airport every time you turn on your computer, there could be two reasons:
- Your fans have lived out their lives.
- Your computer is overheating.
All fans have an effective lifespan.
Sleeve-bearing fans are the weakest and work between two and four years.
They’re especially susceptible to wear and tear if you install them horizontally because the fluid in the motor leaks more quickly.
On the other hand, ball-bearing fans are the strongest but tend to be louder.
If your fans have gradually become noisier and they’re noisy immediately after starting your computer, the issue is most likely with the fan.
Overheating is the most likely reason if the noise starts after a few minutes.
Best Ways To Upgrade Your PC
Upgrading your PC doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
A few reasonable upgrades can significantly boost your performance without putting a dent in your pocket.
Below, you’ll see our top recommendations.
1. Buy An SSD
Unlike hard drives, SSDs don’t have any mechanical components.
They can directly access any sector without having to read data sequentially.
They come in two varieties: 2.5-inch and M.2 NVME.
NVME drives are the size of a stick of gum and go directly on the motherboard.
If your motherboard is older than five years, it might not support the standard, or it may only support the first generations.
Check your motherboard’s manual to make sure before making a purchase.
When buying an SSD, pay attention to how many terabytes of data can be written on the disk.
The value is an estimation of the drive’s reliability.
Don’t buy anything below 300 TBW, and if you pay a bit extra, you can buy a 600 TBW drive.
Also, make sure the SSD comes with a DRAM.
Although DRAMless drives are cheaper, they don’t usually offer the performance benefits of a true SSD.
2. Install More RAM
Installing new RAM modules is fairly easy, and you’ll see an instant improvement in your performance.
Your motherboard comes with two or four slots for RAM, and two of them are probably already full.
It’s a common practice to install two smaller RAM sticks instead of a higher-capacity one to increase reliability.
If you have 8 GB of RAM, you’ll most probably encounter two 4 GB modules once you open your case.
If you have four slots, you can populate the other two with two new sticks and run your computer in quad-channel mode.
Alternatively, you can replace the two current modules with two new modules with at least twice the capacity.
Before buying new RAM, see which DDR generation your RAM supports as different generations aren’t compatible.
Moreover, pay attention to the frequency the sticks operate at.
It should be at least 2,133 MHz for DDR4.
3. Improve Your Cooling
We talked about how excessive noise can indicate failing fans or overheating.
If your computer doesn’t get enough air, the fans must work longer at higher RPM, making them louder.
As a first step, clean your case thoroughly to remove all dust.
Also, clean or replace your dust filters.
Inspect your fans for leakage.
If you find any, replace the fan.
If you’re using the stock cooler on your CPU, replace it with a more effective cooler with a larger heatsink.
Make sure your case is in a position where it gets enough airflow.
For example, having it in a closed cabinet prevents heat dissipation and forces your fans to run all the time.
Finally, if you’re buying a new case, make sure it comes with magnetic dust filters and two to four fans.
4. Enhance Your I/O
You probably don’t have USB 3.0 ports if you have an old motherboard.
You definitely don’t have USB 3.2 ports, as the technology was announced in the second half of 2017.
You can easily convert one of the PCIe slots on your motherboard to a USB 3.2 hub with an expansion card.
Gen 3 PCIe slots can transfer 3.2 gigabits of data per second, while gen 4 gives you double that amount.
These numbers are enough to support the 600 MB/s transfer rate of USB 3.0, although you won’t get near the 2.5 GB/s rate of USB 3.2.
You can find PCIe expansion cards for anything you want, from WiFi to thunderbolt and audio.
5. Replace Your Graphics Card
This is probably the most expensive upgrade you can make these days since GPUs are hard to find.
No one can deny that a high-end GPU can significantly boost your game performance.
Here’s a checklist to consider before finalizing your graphics card purchase:
- Your power supply can provide the extra juice without exceeding its buffer zone.
- You have compatible PCIe slots on your motherboard.
- You have enough room in your case and on the motherboard to accommodate the dimensions of the graphics card.
- Your CPU is powerful enough to support the extra GPU power. Otherwise, your games will become CPU-bound.
6. Replace Your CPU
Getting a new CPU is usually the last option when upgrading your PC since you most likely have to replace the motherboard, too.
Plus, even older CPUs operate at fast enough clock speeds to handle most tasks.
However, if you can find a more powerful CPU that matches your motherboard, give it a try!
You can also look into overclocking your current processor instead of buying a new one.
However, make sure that:
- Your CPU is overclockable. Intel K and KF series and most AMD chips can be overclocked.
- Your motherboard (and RAM) can handle the extra voltage. Check the manuals and search online for your exact models.
- You have adequate cooling as overclocking generates significantly more heat.
Also, note that overclocking can reduce your hardware’s lifespan, which can be dangerous for older parts near the end of their life.
Proceed with caution!
How To Extend Your PC’s Lifespan
You’ll eventually have to replace your hardware, but you can do a few things to delay the inevitable.
- Clean your case regularly. Dust and debris prevent heat exchange, making your parts run at higher speeds.
- Use a surge protector. Electric grid accidents can send huge voltage spikes to your PC and fry the circuits.
- Apply new thermal paste. Thermal paste enhances the heat connectivity between your CPU and heatsink. It deteriorates after a few years and loses its efficiency.
- Avoid frequent shutdowns. Every time you power off your computer, you put a bit of strain on your hard drive and fans, which can add up and cause malfunctions in the long run.
- Avoid extended periods of heavy use. Resource-intensive tasks such as gaming and video editing generate lots of heat. Let that heat dissipate by turning off your computer for a few hours after heavy use.
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