Computers don’t run perfectly forever. When it comes time to do a replacement or upgrade
, do you know which parts you can replace yourself? Not all component upgrades are practical for just anyone to handle, some are best done by a qualified repair person. But many are simple enough
for anyone to install. From simple fixes for broken hardware to performance-based gaming enhancements, here is a list of common PC parts you can DIY.
Laptop vs PC parts upgrade
Before you start searching for new parts to install, remember that it’s far easier to do upgrades with a desktop PC than a laptop. They are manufactured with the understanding that customers may want to switch out low-performing or outdated components with new ones.
The tower or case, for example, has accessible areas for switching out the major parts. Gaming computers
go one step further and market themselves as having easy-to-access panels. They also sometimes have additional empty expansion slots just waiting for your customization.
Laptops, on the other hand, are generally made to be what they are. While some laptops do have easier cases to open
, it can be extremely cumbersome. You also risk damaging your laptop each time you get into its body. All of the laptop components are in one compartment as well, so doing a graphics upgrade exposes all of the other parts of the laptop, from the display wires to the cooling fan. If you’re not careful, you can jeopardize pieces of your laptop that aren’t cheap or easy to replace, making your upgrade attempt futile.
Desktops are designed to be customized by consumers, so their parts are usually sold directly to consumers. On the other hand, you may have a difficult time finding just the right laptop part for the installation you have planned. Sites that do sell the parts are usually targeted to computer professionals, builders, and repair shops.
The easiest desktop PC parts to install
Assuming you're doing the work on a desktop, here are the parts most commonly replaced by consumers. You can always let your PC tech pro do the job, but for DIY-enthusiasts who want to have full control and save a bit of cash, these are generally accepted as parts you can replace on your own with a little guidance and the documentation from a manufacturer.
1. RAM (Random Access Memory)
If you’ve seen the specs for your computer mention “memory,” they’re referring to RAM
. Many of today’s computers don’t come standard with as much memory as they could support. If you order a basic model and want increased performance, this is a common first fix. Moving a computer from just 8GB to 16GB, for example, can have a major impact on your overall computing experience. It’s a reasonably-priced upgrade as well.
Your computer should have specs in the motherboard documentation that tells you which memory product is compatible. DDR3 and DDR4
are the most common types. You'll also need to know the speed, which is expressed in MHz. Finally, knowing how many DIMMS, or sticks of memory, is essential. Most computers have two to eight slots available. From here, you can choose the product that matches your system but is significantly more than the memory you already have.
Swapping out memory on a desktop is simple. With many accessible gaming PCs, it takes just a minute or two to complete.
2. Video card
Some of the lag issues you see when gaming
or using graphics-intensive programs can be caused by an inadequate graphics or video card. This is especially common if your graphics card is integrated into the processor. To see a significant improvement, many people upgrade to a standalone GPU (graphics processing unit)
, where the video card has its own dedicated memory to work from.
The best cards for your situation aren’t always the most expensive
. For many gamers, it’s not necessary to spend a ton of money. You can find graphics cards available for purchase all over the web, and they are one of the most common upgrades for gamers. Just keep in mind, though, no matter what product you choose, you’ve got to make sure your computer can handle the power requirements and cooling needs of the new graphics card.
If your hard drive is on the fritz, why not consider a solid-state drive
(SSD)? This updated version of storage gives you a reliable format for your data, and the price is becoming increasingly affordable. Most SSD replacements can be done by computer-savvy consumers and novices alike.
Hardest desktop PC parts to install
While desktops are generally more conducive to DIY repairs, there are some parts that won’t likely give you the results you want. What parts are a bad idea for consumers to upgrade or replace?
While doing a significant swap from a modest processor to one with many cores will give you the potential for more speed and reliability, this will only help if your graphics card and memory are also upgraded. In other words, do it as a last resort or as part of a rebuild
Make sure it works with your motherboard as well. Not all sockets are the same, and swapping out a CPU requires you to know that all of the pieces you already own or plan to buy are compatible. Check your computer documentation for details of what's required.
These aren’t usually the easiest repairs to do on your own, but if you’re handy, this upgrade can improve your PC experience. The catch is that like the processor, your motherboard is held back by what your graphics card and memory can do. Also, if you have a lackluster processor and inadequate cooling
, don’t expect this swap to produce favorable results.
Hardest laptop parts to install
As mentioned, laptop upgrades
are generally very difficult for the average consumer. You’ll need special tools just to open the case and you may need to solder metal parts in some cases. Of laptop part replacements, the following are well-known for causing headaches:
- Displays and touch screens
- Power port, USB ports, and HDMI ports
- Wireless and Bluetooth adapters
It’s worth noting that as laptops get thinner and lighter, there is less room for error. If it’s possible to upgrade your laptop part through an external component, this may be the better option. You can currently get some items such as the wireless adapters and keyboards as external accessories. A broken or outdated display may be resolved by using a second external monitor
Parts needed to build a gaming PC
While external accessories will vary, depending on the games you play and the experience you want to create, there is a generally-recognized list of gaming PC parts that all computer builds
should contain. They are:
- A gaming PC case that lets you access the inside for repairs and upgrades
- A motherboard
- Processor (CPU) with at least two cores and a 4.0 GHz clock speed
- 16GB of RAM, at least
- Dedicated graphics card (GPU)
- Adequate storage, preferably SSD
- Cooling system, such as a fan or fan and liquid
- A power supply that can handle your components
Don’t forget a display
that works with your build. If you want to show off your graphics, get a higher-end monitor. You should also shop for accessories
, such as virtual reality gear, a keyboard, a mouse, external drives, and a router when you’re choosing the parts for your PC. Making a list of everything you need at one time can be useful.
If you don’t want to build a new desktop
, you could start with one you have. Often, the difference between a powerful gaming PC and one that’s just average is the upgrade of one or two of these components. Before swapping out gaming PC parts, you need to know that they are compatible with your existing desktop.
How do I know if PC parts are compatible?
The only way to know if a part is going to work with your existing system is to know the specs for both your computer and the new part. This is why it’s essential to order items that come with the full product description and documentation. It’s not a good idea to guess if a part will work or not.
The best PC gaming parts can often be ordered directly from the manufacturer of your computer, and they may have tools on the site to help you look for a “match.” Customer service agents can also provide insight if you’re truly unsure.
Another way is to look at pre-built computers and see what parts they’ve paired together. Sometimes, looking at the components of an expensive, pre-made bundle can give you ideas for what will work.
Is it cheaper to build your own computer?
The cost of building a computer from scratch will depend, because computer parts and pre-built models fluctuate in price all the time. While you may save hundreds of dollars building your own computer over buying a pre-built at the original MSRP, getting a computer on sale
, with bonus accessories or promotional items, can make it the better buy.
However, price is usually not the main consideration with comparing a DIY build to one from the manufacturer. While it can be easy to make your own build, some cheap PC parts won’t have the same warranty or coverage. You also have the dilemma of having to isolate and contact the manufacturer for each individual part if something goes wrong.
For ultimate convenience, many prefer pre-built PCs
, where the warranty covers the entire unit and the manufacturer will handle any component failure. For the best of both worlds, you may want to consider a pre-built. Then, you can choose to upgrade parts as needed once the manufacturer's warranty or care plan coverage has ended.
Where can I find computer parts?
Finding a PC parts store, online or in-person, is easy. You may also find parts at your computer manufacturer's website or the website of the component maker for direct order. Be careful to read those specs and ensure a perfect match before you buy.
You should also be wary of buying used PC parts. Used parts rarely have the same guarantee that new ones do. In select instances, a refurbished or “refreshed” part can have the same warranty. Whatever you buy, make sure it’s from a reputable parts store or dealer and that it comes with the assurance of the manufacturer.
About the Author
Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.