What should I upgrade on an old computer?


Like many of you, I have old computers in my office as well that are still running Windows 7.

All those old computers have a problem though: their hardware is out of date and no longer supported by Microsoft. In my previous post we addressed the worthiness of upgrading a computer.

First of all, what qualifies as an ‘old’ computer?

In my case, any computer that’s been made within the last 5 years or an age of 5 years old would qualify for a hardware upgrade.

After all, the software is still working and usable on these machines so why fix what isn’t broken?

When deciding which parts you need to replace I have a few general rules:

  • If it works with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 then most modern hardware and software will work on your machine.
  • My general concept is that I want all components at or above 2013 specifications even if they’re not running at those speeds.

If you’re running Windows 7 then chances are high that your computer is obsolete enough that none of the hardware will be recognized by the operating system without installing additional drivers from somewhere online. If possible try to find those drivers in a safe way, or keep your old Windows installation disk with the drivers needed to make it work.

How to find out your computer’s hardware?

If you need help finding out what hardware is inside your machine I recommend using Speccy which is an excellent third-party software that will identify everything from CPU type and speed, RAM modules and quantity, hard drive model and size to graphics cards, audio interfaces and more.

There are generally two different types of upgrades that can be performed on old computer systems. One option is to upgrade the individual components, while another is to replace the system board with a new one entirely. Upgrading individual components requires purchasing compatible replacements for each component and swapping them in; this allows you to reuse all your existing hardware (e.g., CPU, RAM, storage). The drawback is that you may not get as much performance out of the expensive replacement parts. An alternative solution involves buying or building a whole new PC by replacing or adding an entire case and installing a new motherboard, power supply, and CPU/motherboard chipset. This route provides more substantial gains in performance but may cost significantly more than simply upgrading individual components over time.

Can I upgrade an old computer for running games?

To put it simply, there isn’t really much you can do with older systems since they lack the power of modern computers which means that most modern games will be unplayable.

There are exceptions for games like Minecraft which even a hand-me-down laptop from 5 years ago can run at max settings but aside from that most games will need some form of upgrade to run smoothly. For most, the best option is to just replace the whole system for something newer and stronger rather than try to upgrade it piece by piece.

The one exception would be if you’re trying to get into PC gaming but don’t have much money or desire to build a new computer.

To get into PC gaming, or to do anything else with an old computer that requires modern hardware, you should probably just buy a new one.

If your are not wanting to upgrade the entire system, you can physically replace individual parts if they are detachable and if your particular model allows the newer part to physically fit in its place (i.e., form factor). Any remaining components would need external power ports which may require the purchase of additional adapters or cables. The other option is to replace the entire computer case at once instead of piece by piece; simply purchase an entirely new case compatible with your motherboard and power supply form factor (e.g., ATX or Micro-ATX, in order to use the same model of parts). Once the case is replaced, you can upgrade what you already had installed in addition to adding new components such as a better graphics card.

As you have likely concluded by now, no computer lasts forever. However, there are some systems that hold up better than others against the test of time. If you’re on a tight budget and seeking an upgrade for your old system, try improving its RAM first , then upgrading either its CPU or GPU(s) depending on which component is the bottleneck in your current configuration.

If you’re on a tighter budget: Upgrade one component at a time

This is a general rule of thumb when it comes to upgrading a computer. I have seen people buy new computers only to have the speakers not work, or an old mouse start acting up and so on. In my opinion, if you upgrade one thing at a time you’ll never run into problems.

1. Hard Drive

Hard Drive is first on the list for me as it’s starting to show any signs of HDD failure which will cause your computer not to boot up or worse! Hard drive prices at the moment aren’t too bad so buying a new one should be pretty simple. Another option is to upgrade to a Solid-state Disk (SSD) instead of as they’re more reliable and give a lot faster read/write speeds if you really want to feel the difference. In one of our older posts. we had listed the benefits of an SSD upgrade.


Upgrading hard drives is always a safe bet for older machines. You can either buy a brand new hard drive that suits your needs or do what I do and keep your old one as a backup drive in case anything goes wrong.

2. CPU (Central Processing Unit)

If you need to upgrade your CPU I recommend getting an Intel i3 or higher, the Sandy bridge architecture P Series processors are also good options if overclocking is required.

Of course, this all depends on what you’ll be using the computer for, if it’s only used for word processing every single CPU will work but if you want to run advanced applications like Photoshop, editing video with Premiere Pro or playing games then I suggest spending a little more money and picking up an Intel i5 or better yet an AMD FX 6300 which offers six cores at a very nice price point of around 100 dollars.

The CPU is probably the most important part of any computer and an older model will quickly feel slow if it lacks a decent performance boost. Due to the vast amount of different models out there I’ll try to keep my advice as simple as possible: For gaming, look for a quad-core i5 or i7; workstations should be based around Xeon CPUs; for productivity, AMD’s octo-core models offer great value but aren’t quite as fast as Intel’s best offerings.

3. RAM (Random Access Memory)

RAM is next on my list as computers start to fail when they can no longer handle the tasks that are thrown at them. With computers having more power-hungry apps these days it’s quite surprising when they come with only 4GB let alone even 2GB like my old laptop! You can pick up 8GB (2 x 4GB) of Kingston RAM, for example for $44 which isn’t bad at all.

These days computers often come with about 4GB of RAM but even that is starting to show its age these days so bumping it up to 8GB which you can get for under $50 will give your computer a fresh new breath. I’d also recommend buying another stick if your motherboard supports it so you have 16GB in total because more memory never hurts!


While speed isn’t quite as important here anymore it can cause issues when you’re trying to open up several applications at once and need just a bit more than 4GB of RAM can provide. 8GB is generally pretty standard these days but some budget builds only include 4-6GB which may prove limiting in the future.

4. GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

Of course, having a powerful processor is great but it’s almost pointless if you don’t have a decent graphics card. The best cards for gaming are Nvidia but I suggest staying away from the Geforce 700 series, their Fermi architecture was simply inferior to AMD’s offerings on the HD 7000 series.


The above is for people who want to fix their older computer by making small purchases. This approach is better for gamers, artists/musicians, and engineers – anyone who requires more performance from their computer. On the other hand, people who just need a laptop or desktop for checking email and surfing the web should upgrade specific components listed above instead if they don’t want to invest too much money.

5. External Storage

For external storage needs, solid-state drives are still considered top-of-the-line options by the majority of tech enthusiasts. These SSDs will offer much faster load times than even most modern-day hard disks, though they’re quite expensive per gigabyte of storage capacity. As an alternative, make sure the computer in question has USB ports, which you can buy relatively inexpensive flash drives for to store whatever files you want.

What if your budget is high?

If your budget is high, it’s usually a better idea to replace all of a system’s major hardware at once with newer and more powerful alternatives. Three main components need to be replaced: graphics card, RAM, and hard drive. A new graphics card will give a computer’s ‘display quality’ a big boost in many cases while adding more random access memory (or RAM) increases the speed at which programs run. Replacing an old hard drive with a newer model is also one of the best ways to boost performance across the board. Of course, there are other factors besides these three which could affect how fast a computer runs, but in general, these are all big wins.

For high-budget gamers, another component may take priority over the others: the CPU. Although, the graphics card is responsible for detailed game visuals, while the CPU’s main task is to interpret input from devices like keyboards and controllers. If games aren’t running at their ideal speed despite every other aspect of performance having been improved (e.g. giving an old machine more RAM), then switching out its CPU will probably solve the problem. However, this may mean that other system resources suffer; this is because CPUs are responsible for ‘multitasking’ — meaning they can handle multiple tasks at once. As such, if you use your computer less frequently for tasks like photo editing than you do for playing games, then replacing the GPU is probably a more suitable solution.

No matter what your computer’s specs are, upgrading all components simultaneously should always be preferred over upgrading them individually, if your budget is high. This is because each upgrade will demand resources from other hardware; installing all upgrades at once prevents this inevitable conflict of demands.

For Gamers

There are undoubtedly many different opinions on whether or not an old computer can be upgraded to play new games. The truth is that it largely depends on how much money you’re willing to invest in this pursuit — computers lose their value exponentially according to age, and by now ‘old’ means anything over seven years. you want great performance for mid-high range games.

1. CPU

Your best bet is to go with an Intel Core i5 processor and 8 GB RAM, which will play most modern titles on mid-high settings at half to two-thirds of max graphics settings depending on the title. These parts aren’t the newest generation, but they’ll still offer great performance for a reasonable price (roughly $200 combined). Some games utilize multiple threads/cores better than others, so check out what games you intend to play and research how well they utilize more than one CPU thread/core.

2. RAM

8GB is typically sufficient for gaming purposes but more can’t hurt if you multitask heavily. I recommend using only DDR3L (1.35V) 1600 MHz memory to ensure stability with older motherboards. In addition to a high-end GPU, a great number of modern games will benefit from having at least 8GB of RAM. If you plan to play AAA titles with lots of mods or do heavy multitasking, I recommend going one step further with 16GB. In case your motherboard only has two memory slots, can always purchase an additional stick later down the road (if your motherboard allows it).

3. GPU

If you are seeking increased rendering power, try investing in an Nvidia GTX 1050 or 1060 GPU with 3 GB memory. These cards are newer than their AMD equivalents and will deliver better gaming performance overall when compared against other GPUs in this range.

As far as graphical capabilities are concerned, almost any modern GPU can handle 1080p resolution without performance problems. If you want to go all out with the highest possible framerate at 1440p or 4K resolutions, I recommend choosing a high-end GPU from either the Nvidia GeForce 900 series (GTX 960 and above) or AMD RX 400 series (R9 380 and above).

If you’re playing eSports titles such as Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota 2, Path of Exile, etc., consider purchasing older models instead of newer ones due to their low prices and impressive performance relative to cost. For instance: GTX 770  and GTX 960, R9 380 and RX 470, and so on.

For Graphic designers

If you’re a professional content creator focusing mainly on video production, your most important concern will be the speed of the computer’s CPU. Assign all available funds to max out this component as its benefits are tremendous in terms of workflow acceleration, especially when editing high-resolution videos with hundreds of layers and filters.

I would give preference to a powerful CPU that has a high GHz value but focuses on either Intel or AMD, while largely ignoring anything in between. For operating systems, you should only consider Windows 10 and Linux Mint (Ubuntu), and choose what’s best for you. Though I prefer not to use Apple products, they are known to be very good with development purposes.

Portable upgrade?

For convenience purposes, you might like to consider buying a laptop instead of a desktop. Laptops are known to be more portable and flexible than their stationary counterparts, though they still lack the upgrade options that desktops have; within reason, of course (there’s no way your laptop will ever be able to accept multiple graphics cards). If portability is not an issue and/or the price difference between the two computers isn’t too great, then by all means purchase a desktop.

Desktop upgrade vs Laptop upgrade

Better view

The main exceptions here maybe when it comes to gaming and watching videos. Desktops with multiple monitors offer much better real estate space for gaming, and the ability to add multiple graphics cards gives you a much better chance of owning a high-powered gaming rig than you would with a laptop. Many gamers also argue that desktop sound cards produce better sound than their mobile counterparts. When it comes to watching videos, laptops – mainly because of their smaller size – limit screen resolution and image quality. If your main purpose is playing games and/or watching videos, then purchase a desktop.

Basic needs

If you’re looking for an all-purpose computer that can do everything from browsing the web to intense gaming and video editing, then purchase a desktop. The customizable options will allow you to get more bang for your buck when it comes to what components are included in your build (CPU + motherboard combos for the same price as a laptop that only comes with an i5).


If you’re planning on using your computer for school (research, writing papers), then purchase a desktop. A tower is easily upgradeable which means more future-proofing than laptops or all-in-one computers. You can get more storage space and RAM, both of which are essential when it comes to tackling homework assignments. All this for the same price as an entry-level laptop (if you plan on using it for gaming) or around $100 – $300 more (if you don’t care about gaming at all).


I hope that this article has given you some insight into updating your old PC and shed some light on what specs would benefit various usages best. However, I must stress again that upgrading an old computer is a job best left to professionals as it can be difficult and requires a lot of knowledge. This article only touches the surface of what’s involved so, if you plan to upgrade your PC or have any computer-related questions in general, just give us a call anytime.

To summarize the key points here: Replace HDD with SSD to speed up boot times and apps(games too) Install GPU for better gaming performance. Add more RAM for multitasking. Upgrade CPU as the last step as it’ll affect other components which need re-adjusting the CPU change. Newer parts may fit old cases, but need external power sources/ports which aren’t available with older systems. Upgrade CPU after other components in order of importance; each change affects all others that follow it. Replace the entire PC instead of upgrading individual parts unless intending on getting into PC gaming later on when wanting an upgrade.

We upgrade computers in Melbourne, so if you have performance issues with your PC, get in touch with us!



I am a computer engineer holding a bachelor's degree in Computer Science, complemented by a Master's in Business Administration from University of Strathclyde, Scotland. I currently work as a Senior IT Consultant in Melbourne, Australia. With over 15 years of...