We find out which hardware upgrades do the most cost-effective job of turbocharging your PC.
Upgrading the hard drive
Solid-state-drive (SSD) technology promises a dramatic decrease in hard-drive latency. And in our tests, moving from a 7200-rpm, 500GB traditional hard-disk drive to a 120GB SSD resulted in an 8.0 percent boost on general apps and an 18.4 percent speed jump on gaming.
SSDs aren't cheap, and you lose a large amount (nearly 75 percent, in our case) of your storage capacity in the bargain. Still, presented with prices of $26.58 (£16.28) for each percentage point of general performance improvement and $11.41 (£6.98) for each percentage point of graphics improvement, power users may find the outlay worth their while.
Upgrading the graphics board
No mystery here. Upgrading to newer graphics will do wonders for your gaming. When we upgraded our three-year old machine to an ATI Radeon HD6870 card, gaming performance improved 14.9 percent. With our newer machine, an ATI Radeon HD6850 gave us a 117.2 percent boost in gaming on the machine. But neither improved general application performance.
Mileage varies a bit. The older PC's cost of $15.10 (£9.25) for each percentage point improvement is high, but the newer PC's extremely low $1.54 (£0.94) for each percentage point of gain makes the graphics board upgrade on that PC the most cost-effective upgrade in our roundup.
You're likely to fare even better if you upgrade components in combination. Performing all four of the upgrades on our list - CPU, RAM, hard drive, and graphics board -on our older desktop improved its system speed by 67.1 percent and boosted its gaming performance by 166.3 percent. We also spent more, but the overall improvement was far greater than the sum of the improvements from the individual upgrades. Ultimately we spent $10.21 (£6.25) for each percentage point of general performance improvement, making the four-component upgrade a surprisingly reasonable bargain.
You don't have to upgrade everything to see a boost, of course; your best bet is to focus on performance bottlenecks. To find them, visit the Windows Performance Information and Tools Control Panel. Focus on the lowest numbers listed in the panel's Windows Experience Index, and upgrade accordingly.
Does it make sense to perform a bunch of upgrades when you could simply buy a new PC? Even under the best conditions, upgrading is a hassle, and it gets expensive: Depending on the CPU, we spent about $700 to $800 (£430 to £500) to buy the components for our older upgrade - more than some new PCs cost.
Effort and risks aside, it still makes sense to upgrade in some instances. Graphics are a sore spot here, as new computers with integrated graphics fared extremely poorly in our gaming benchmarks. If you want better game performance than your current system provides, focusing on a new graphics card makes more sense than buying a new rig that uses integrated graphics.
General apps were a different story. We had to spend $850 (£520) on an overclocked 3.3GHz Core i5 PC with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 10,000rpm hard drive to substantially improve on the gains we saw from our CPU upgrades alone. In that case, investing in a new PC would have made more sense, but for almost everything else, selective upgrading would have been the wisest choice.
See also: 14 software speed boosts for your PC
- Turbocharge your PC cost effectively
- Upgrading the hard drive