The best upgrades for your PC to make it run faster

Give your PC a new lease on life by upgrading its core components

1302130 autosave v1 3 pc buildout 2016 guide
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends

If your PC is feeling sluggish you may be concerned that the time will soon come when you’ll need to buy a whole new system and that can be expensive. But you don’t have to take such a drastic route if you don’t want to. Many PCs from recent years can gain a new lease on life if you upgrade some specific components, and some of them are easy to install at home too.

To help get your system feeling fresh and fast again, here are the best upgrades you can make to your PC.

The best upgrades for your desktop

Desktop PCs may not be as portable as their laptop cousins, but they are far easier to upgrade with plenty to choose from and larger cases to make the process of swapping in or adding hardware much easier. If you know what you’re doing (or want to learn how) you can technically upgrade everything in your PC, from the motherboard, to the processor, and beyond. But in this guide we’re going to focus on the upgrades that offer quick, simple performance enhancements.

Upgrade your RAM

RAM, or memory as it’s often called, is one of the easiest ways to speed up your system as the sticks of it can be popped in and out of the relevant sockets with little effort. Adding more RAM, or even replacing the DIMMs (the technical term for a stick of memory) takes seconds, and if your system doesn’t have enough for what you’re trying to do, or it’s particularly slow and you upgrade to something faster, you’ll notice a dramatic increase in system performance.

how to install ram pc buildout 2016 720x480 02

When buying RAM, be sure to match the standard (DDR3, DDR4), speed (usually expressed in megahertz), and number of DIMMs (anywhere between two and eight) to your PC or motherboard’s requirements. If you’re not sure, check your manual, or just have a look what’s already in your computer. If you’re not sure how much you should buy, check out our guide on how much RAM you really need. We also have a guide to the best RAM you can buy.

RAM prices have come down considerably in recent months too, so you needn’t spend a lot to upgrade to 8GB or even 16GB of memory. If you’re not sure how to install it, we have step by step instructions to help you along the way.

Add an SSD

Arguably the most noticeable upgrade anyone can make to any PC is to use a solid state drive (SSD) for the main drive. They are considerably faster than traditional hard drives and can make your system feel snappy and responsive, as well as booting up and loading games far faster.

Like memory, prices have come down considerably in recent years, so you can pick up a fast 500GB drive for not much more than $100. Installing them is as easy as plugging in the requisite power and data cables if it’s a SATA drive, or connecting it to the relevant slot on your motherboard if it’s an M.2 or NVMe drive.


If you’re replacing your boot drive, you will need to transfer your operating system to the new drive, or install it from scratch. It’s an excellent idea to back up your crucial files to an external drive, or a cloud storage service like Dropbox, before starting the installation process.

If you don’t want to do that, you can still benefit from an SSD by adding it as a secondary drive and installing your games on there. That way they’ll load much faster, but you won’t see much benefit in overall system performance.

If you want some extra help getting set up, we have a guide on how to install a SATA drive, too.

Add or upgrade your video card

If you don’t have a graphics card and like to play games, adding a dedicated GPU can make a world of difference to your frame rates and gaming visuals. Don’t be intimidated by the price of the world’s most powerful cards, though. You don’t need to spend upwards of $1,000 to get great performance. In fact, most of the entry-level cards cost well under $200, like the AMD Radeon RX 580, and can deliver fantastic performance in any game at 1080p.

If your PC already has a graphics card but it’s a few generations old or just doesn’t quite manage the FPS that you want, there are some bigger and badder options to consider, but make sure to use a site like RealHardTechX to check that your power supply can handle it.

AMD RX 590

Installing a graphics card is a little more hands-on than some components, but it’s still mostly a question of plugging it into the right socket and connecting the power cables. Here’s a quick guide on how to do it.

The best upgrades for your laptop

Upgrading a laptop is both easier and more difficult than a desktop. Many modern laptops don’t give you much of an option for upgrades or severely limit them — you won’t be swapping in a new graphics chip. But the upgrades you can make to some notebooks tend to be rather quick and easy. All you need is a screwdriver and a steady pair of hands.

Note: If your laptop doesn’t have a simple path to upgrade a component, such as a removable cover, we would caution against attempting to upgrade it. Chances are your warranty will be void if you try to take the laptop apart and they can be very fiddly once inside. The risk of damage is also much higher than on a desktop.

Lenovo P50
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Upgrade your RAM

Just like a desktop computer, adding additional or faster RAM can have a dramatic effect on a laptop that doesn’t have enough. You’ll need to make sure that your laptop can not only take the upgrade through an easy-access panel on its underside, but can support the higher capacity/speed modules you want to put in it. Make sure you do that before buying anything and double check that you’re buying the right size sticks for your machine.

To install it, consult your laptop’s manual for instructions on how to access the RAM slots (or check the manufacturer website), then either add in your new modules to the empty slots, or remove the original sticks first before doing so.

Add an SSD

Before getting started with any storage upgrade, we always recommend you back up your most important files and folders to a different platform. That can be an external drive or a great cloud backup service.

Adding in an SSD to a laptop is a little more fiddly than a desktop PC as there are usually no wires involved, so you’ll need to line it up right before slotting it in. It still offers a huge performance increase over traditional hard drives though, so is well worth considering if you can do it.

As with memory upgrades, consult your laptop manual or the manufacturer website on how to access the storage compartment. If there’s space for a second drive, add the SSD into that (or put the original drive in that slot so that the SSD can act as the main drive) and copy over or install your operating system to the new drive.


Powerful upgrades turn 4th-gen Raspberry Pi into a more capable $35 desktop

The Raspberry Pi 4 is the most powerful Raspberry Pi incarnation to date, making it an even more capable alternative to your desktop PC. Equipped with a more powerful processor, this desktop could be yours starting at $35.

Our favorite gaming desktops make the latest consoles look pathetic

PC gaming doesn't always come cheap, but it doesn't have to be extortionate either. In this guide we've put together a list of the best gaming PCs you can buy, with everything from the big and flashy, to the super compact.

Want a PC you can reach out and touch? These are the best touchscreen laptops

The best touchscreen laptops aren't locked to 2-in-1s and convertibles, but include clamshell designs too. We pick the best touchscreen clamshells you can find in 2018, ranging from Windows 10 PCs to Chromebooks.

Microsoft teams up with Kano to create a DIY Windows 10 PC for kids

Microsoft and Kano have unveiled a build-it-yourself Windows 10 PC aimed at making computing fun for kids. The Kano PC features an 11.6-inch touchscreen and attachable keyboard, and comes bundled with a range of software.

Apple-refurbished MacBooks and Mac Minis get big price cuts for grads

Deals on Mac computers are hard to come by outside of seasonal sales, so your best bet might be to buy refurbished. These professionally renewed Mac deals are a sure way to save big on Apple computers that look, feel, and work like new.

The best 4th of July sales 2019: Best Buy, Home Depot, and REI

Whether you're looking for price cuts on mattresses, major appliances, kitchen gadgets, outdoor gear, and just about anything you can think of for summer, there's bound to be a sale with your name on it.
Product Review

The Asus ProArt PA90's steam-engine design speeds past the trash can Mac Pro

It may try to fill the void left by Apple’s aging Mac Pro, but don’t call Asus’ compact ProArt PA90 workstation a trash can. Though this desktop takes inspiration from the Mac Pro’s minimalist design, it brings its own steam…

Microsoft reportedly releasing foldable Surface with 9-inch screens next year

Microsoft is reportedly planning to roll out a foldable Surface as early as the first quarter of 2020. The device, code-named Centaurus, is said to feature two 9-inch screens, Windows Lite, and Android support, according to IHS Markit.

The guy who invented USB finally admits it’s annoying to plug in

The man behind the team that created USB has finally acknowledged that the design has caused plenty of frustration over the years. But he insists there was a good reason for building it in the way that he did.

An all-new, redesigned 16-inch MacBook Pro could launch in September

More news has surfaced that Apple’s redesigned 16-inch MacBook Pro could arrive this year at the company’s September event, featuring an all-new design and high-resolution display.

The MacOS Catalina public beta is live. Here’s how to download it

Apple's latest MacOS update, known as Catalina, is finally available for developer preview, which means if you're willing to pay a little for the privilege, you can be one of the first to try it out.

MacOS Catalina has arrived. Here are the 5 best features you can use right now

As of Monday, June 24, Apple has released the public beta of its newest MacOS, Catalina. Here are the five best features to expect from MacOS Catalina, including the trio of apps expected to replace iTunes.

Apple has a plan to save Mac gaming, but it’s not the one you want

The Mac isn’t known for being a game-friendly platform, but Apple hopes to change that in the coming months and years. The thing is, its plan may not be quite what you were hoping for if you’re a Mac gamer.

Apple iPad with Wi-Fi and cellular gets $80 price cut on Amazon ahead of Prime Day

Apple iPads are getting a piece of the Amazon Prime Day action in the weeks leading up to July 15. Now on Amazon ahead of Prime Day, score your 32GB Apple iPad (Wi-Fi + cellular) for just $379, down from $459.