At a certain point in every computer’s lifetime, you’ll ask yourself, “Why am I still using this piece of crap?” and you won’t know the answer. In all seriousness, a time will come when your computer just isn’t doing it for you anymore. Either it just isn’t fast enough anymore (even after trying all the “tips and tricks” to make it run faster), you can’t play the newest games, or maybe you want to multitask a bit more and your RAM just can’t handle it (or you want to have multiple tabs open in chrome, AKA the RAM-eater). No matter what the issue is, you need more computer. The big question is: should you upgrade or buy? Here are all the tools and tips you need to choose which is right for you.
Pros of Buying
Less technical expertise needed, “plug and play”
When buying a new computer, there’s usually not much you have to do. The drivers are installed, and all you have to do is “plug and play.” The great thing about this is that most people can do this without any assistance. Even the basic setup should be easy with the prompts (assuming you’re using basic Windows/Mac OS).
New computers usually come with a comprehensive warranty, covering all or most of the parts when used under normal conditions. While you can get warranty coverage on parts when upgrading, the warranty will not cover other parts of the computer that may fail. Also, if you do buy a new computer and more than one part fails, you can get both fixed through the same company. On the other hand, when building or upgrading, you might have to go through multiple manufacturers for warranty service.
When to Buy
Here comes the part you may not be too happy about: you may have to wait. I know you don’t like to wait because I sure as hell don’t! If you want to get the best price, though, you just might have to. As much as it hurts, waiting until the right time to buy could potentially save you hundreds of dollars. Some great times to buy are during Back to School or Black Friday sales. According to Consumer Reports, the best times to buy computers are during April and October.
Money-saving Tips When Buying
As stated above, know when to buy. That’s the best tip to save money on a new computer. Also, look for deals and coupons. Even during non-sale times, many manufacturers and retailers offer tons of deals and coupons on many products. If you’re looking for the best deals and coupons, check out FatWallet’s Computers and Electronics categories. You can also find some great deals by considering last generation pieces or even after a new operating system (OS) comes out. When Windows 10 came out, many manufacturers and retailers had awesome deals on the old Windows 7 and 8 computers. Since Windows 10 is a free upgrade, it’s a win/win!
Pros of Upgrading
Now, this is a pretty big “your results may vary” situation, but usually upgrading will end up costing you less money than purchasing a whole new computer. Unless you’re sitting with a 12-year-old Windows XP computer, you usually won’t have to change out everything in your computer. If you built your current computer, you’re most likely going to just upgrade it anyway, making it way cheaper and easier for you.
Easier to customize
The great thing about upgrading your computer is that you can pick and choose. Remember a few years ago when you could go on a manufacturers website and customize almost every part of the computer you were buying? Unfortunately, many of the manufacturers have restricted or even totally gotten rid of this option. When you upgrade your computer instead of buying a new one, you get to choose what you want and what you need to do it with. This gives you the option of choosing your performance, deals and even your own brands (i.e. Asus, Intel, NVIDEA, etc.).
What to Consider Before Upgrading
Restriction of performance (bottlenecking)
When upgrading only some components of your computer, you could run into a problem called “bottlenecking.” Bottlenecking is when one component is restricting the performance of another component (the component you upgraded). In this case, you have to upgrade both components to get the optimum performance. This often happens when people want to add more RAM, but their OS can only support a certain amount, which is lower than what they installed. To avoid this, make sure your new component will work well with all of your current components.
RAM is one of the easiest and least expensive upgrades you can make to your computer. Adding more RAM will increase your multitasking ability and will allow you to run more memory-intensive programs like Photoshop and other creative suites. Since RAM is actually super cheap, most people end up buying more than they need. To figure out your RAM needs, check out our article on how much RAM you really need.
Difficulty Level: Low
A new motherboard is the equivalent to a complete home-makeover (move that bus!) to your computer. Your motherboard is the foundation to your computer, and changing it usually means you’re making big changes elsewhere. The most common reasons to change a CPU is using a different socket, adding more sticks of RAM or expanding the slots for your computer.
Difficulty Level: High
The main reason for upgrading a CPU is, of course, speed. Usually this is your last resort after upgrading your storage and RAM, but the computer is still not speedy enough for you. The CPU is like the brain of your computer, so a faster CPU helps everything move faster. Remember that unless your new CPU uses the same socket as your old CPU, you will have to also replace the motherboard.
Difficulty Level: Medium-High
Upgrading your storage is another quick and easy upgrade and can have great effects on your computer. Usually upgrading storage will mean getting an SSD (solid state drive). Installing an SSD in your computer can result in one of the biggest upgrades in speed at a very low price point (depending on SSD size). Even with a smaller SSD, putting your OS and a couple of programs on it could make your computer boot and those programs open up more than 10 times faster. Still not convinced? Take a look at our SSD vs. HDD article for an in-depth analysis on the differences and what you can gain by getting an SSD.
Difficulty Level: Easy
One of the main reasons to upgrade your video card is, of course, gaming. Video cards are pretty much what drives the appearance of games and whether you’ll actually be able to play them. While gaming is the main reason most people upgrade their video cards, they also have an effect on, you guessed it, video (plus, pretty much whatever else you see on your computer). This includes 3D video rendering, higher-end gaming and multiple monitor setups (six monitors for “work”?).
Difficulty Level: Medium
What Will You Choose?
With all that being said, the choice is yours. Is it worth it for you to upgrade your computer, or is that piece of junk worth a replacement? The classic time vs. money vs. customization.
Have you done any upgrades to your computer lately? Let us know in the comments!