The best upgrades for your PC to make it run faster

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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