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PC Upgrade Guide: Which Components to Upgrade and When

PC Upgrade Guide: Which Components to Upgrade and When

Reading time: 7 minutes
With so many integral hardware components involved in the functionality of a computer, it is important for you to be aware of the most critical of these components if you want to maintain the ongoing health of your PC and support optimal performance long term.
To that end, you should proactively monitor computer performance, including the age and usage of your computer CPU, RAM memory, SSD or HDD storage, and graphics card. If one or more of these computer components shows signs of failure or speed lag, it may be time for a PC upgrade.
For the best computing experience, it’s essential to understand each component’s function, how long they should last, and signs that it’s time to upgrade.
Review our PC upgrade infographic below to learn more about these key components, what they do, how long they typically last, and the common upgrade options to consider when it's time for a performance boost.
PC Upgrade Infographic
The warning signs are there. Your PC is suddenly slow, sputtering to a halt so you have to restart it every hour. Constant alerts inform you that you need more storage. If you notice that your computer is acting up or performance is slowing, it may be time to upgrade one or more components on your PC.
When it comes to making upgrades, there are four components that, when upgraded, tend to solve the most common problems plaguing your computer: CPU, RAM, hard drive, and GPU.


What is the CPU?
The central processing unit (CPU) is the brain of your computer. It receives information (fetches), processes data (decodes), and performs calculations (executes). You can find your Windows computer’s CPU specs by navigating to Settings > System > About. Then, click “Device specifications.”
To see real-time usage of your CPU, you can open up the Task Manager on your computer and click the “Performance” tab.
How long does a CPU last on average?
Your CPU should last between 10 and 20 years in most cases.
What are signs my CPU is failing?
Symptoms of an over-stressed and failing CPU include your operating system not loading despite the fans running. Also if your computer turns on but nothing loads or powers on and then it shuts off suddenly, you may have CPU issues.
Check your CPU usage record if you suspect the CPU is at the heart of your computer issues. If your CPU is maxing out on all cores, you may want to upgrade it.
Note: If you upgrade your CPU, you may also need to upgrade your motherboard and RAM along with it.


What is RAM?
Random access memory (RAM) temporarily stores the data that you’re actively using while on your computer. This is why if you tend to open 40 tabs at once, you’ll notice a decline in overall performance. RAM allows you to more quickly access data than if it was coming straight from your hard drive.
There are two common types of RAM, Dynamic RAM (DRAM) and Static RAM (SRAM). Dynamic RAM (DRAM) is more common than SRAM. It consists of transistors and capacitors and refreshes at a rate of thousands of times per second.
Static RAM (SRAM) has more transistors per memory cell than DRAM and doesn’t need to refresh. Due to its more advanced features, it’s significantly faster - but also more expensive - than DRAM.
How long does RAM last on average?
Typically, you will not need to replace your RAM completely. Rather, you may find that you need to upgrade it depending on what you use your computer for and what types of applications you run.
The amount of RAM you need depends on what you’re using your computer for. 4GB is sufficient for general internet browsing and/or running non-memory-intensive applications. 8GB to 12GB is better for gaming, video streaming, and/or running memory-intensive applications.
16GB and beyond is necessary for running applications related to high-resolution photo editing, video editing, animation, and illustrations.
What are signs my RAM is failing?
If you are experiencing performance issues like lagging or freezing with everyday tasks, you may need to upgrade your RAM.
Note: In some laptop models, the RAM is soldered to the motherboard, meaning that you can’t upgrade the RAM yourself. Check your computer’s service/hardware manual to determine if your RAM is soldered.

Hard drive

What is a hard drive?
A hard drive is where all of the data on your computer is stored. It’s different than RAM because it’s your computer’s long term storage, as opposed to the short term memory RAM delivers. The most common types of hard drives are hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD).
An HDD features a traditional spinning hard drive. While it’s cheaper than SSD, it’s also slower, louder, and can run hot.
Solid-state drives (SSD) are a newer type of hard drive without any moving parts. It’s a much faster hard drive but a pricier option found in high-end computers.
How long does a hard drive last on average?
What are signs my hard drive is failing?
Signs of your hard drive dying can range from overall slower performance to corrupted data.
Note: It’s important to back up your hard drive as soon as you notice signs that your hard drive is close to failure. Common backup solutions include external hard drives and remote cloud storage.


What is a GPU?
A graphics processing unit (GPU), or graphics card, receives information from the CPU and then decides how the pixels on the screen should display that information.
Two common types of graphics cards include video graphics array (VGA) which renders 256 colors. Quantum Extended Graphics Array (QXGA), on the other hand, is more high performance and is capable of rendering millions of colors.
How long does a graphics card last on average?
Typically, you should expect your graphics card to last more than 5 years. With that said, the lifespan may depend on if you have a single GPU or dual GPU configuration. A single GPU is more cost-effective and better for casual users. A dual GPU, in contrast, is more expensive but users who need great graphics will enjoy the increased graphics performance.
What are signs my GPU is failing?
When random lines or dots appear, or incorrect colors appear on your screen, known as artifacting, it might be time to upgrade your graphics card.
Note: Artifacting can also be a sign that your graphics card is overheating, so check the cooling system before you go straight to upgrading. Prevent overheating by regularly cleaning vents and fans to remove dust buildup.

Final thoughts: invest in quality to start

The best way to ensure you can depend on your laptop or desktop PC is by investing in quality technology from the beginning. The lure of cheap deals is strong but while a cheap PC might be lower cost at the outset, you will likely have to replace it faster than you would if you had spent more money in the first place. HP Store holds a variety of quality, capable computers that can suit a variety of purposes.
And if you shop smart and pay attention to deals, like by signing up here for notifications, you may find a top-quality PC at a bargain price.
Learn more about how to upgrade your laptop or PC to get the most out of an existing computer, and how to customize for highest performance when buying a new laptop on HP® Tech Takes.

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