Learn how to Upgrade your computer for improve performance, reliability, and more features!
Upgrading your computer is the task of replacing computer parts, or your Windows operating system with better and faster computer parts or a newer operating system which can do more tasks faster.
Amazon computer department is one of the best stores to buy your new computer upgrades since Amazon has great prices and free shipping in many cases if the part cost more then 25 dollars and you live in the US.
I recommend you buy a copy of CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, Seventh Edition (Exams 220-701 & 220-702) to learn how to upgrade, repair, troubleshoot, maintain, and use Windows. This book will teach you everything you should know about owning a Windows based computer.
By upgrading your computer, your computer will run faster, be more reliable, and can do more tasks which your current computer can't do without the upgrades. The reason that upgrades will make your computer better is the upgraded parts or operating system can run faster, and is optimized for newer operating systems like Windows 7.
Things to do before Upgrading
Before you upgrade your operating system, software, or replace any computer part, you should backup all your important files which you did not back up yet to an external hard drive to prevent data lost if you broke your computer while upgrading it. Also, make sure your operating system, software or computer part is compatible or meets the minimum system requirements for your PC, and your old software will work on your new operating system.
You also need to wear an anti-static wrist strap and connect it to a bare metal part before you upgrade your computer.
Make sure your computer is unplugged from your walls power outlet before you begin your upgrades if you are upgrading computer parts.
Most computer parts, and Windows Operating System comes with instruction manuals make sure to read them all before you install your new computer parts or operating systems.
Operating Systems (Windows 7)
If you are using Windows Vista or XP, I highly recommend you buy a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium and do a clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium. In my experience, Windows 7 Home Premium starts up faster, is more reliable, and has better overall performance then Vista or XP on newer hard ware. Windows 7 is also more safer to use then Windows XP, and more user friendly then Vista. Windows 7 Home Premium should be good enough for most home users which just need a computer for gaming, e-mail, and other basic tasks. The more expensive Proffessional and Ultimate version are more suitable for corporate and hig end computers.
To run Windows 7 smothly, I recommend that your computer has a 2GHz or faster CPU, 2GBs of RAM, 20GBs or more of free hard drive space, and a newer video card made by Intel, Nvidia or ATI.
If you just want to meet the minimum requirements for Windows 7, all you need is a 1Ghz CPU, 1GB of RAM, 16 GBs of free space on your hard drive for the 32 bit version of Windows 7. A video capable of displaying DirectX9 graphics for Aero animation.
The 64bit version needs a 1GHz 64bit CPU, 2GBs of RAM, 20 GBs of free space, and a newer video card which can display Directx 9 graphics for Aero.
I use the 32Bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, and it works great. If you plan on installing more then 4GBs of RAM on your computer you should get the 64 bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate. However, the 32bit version of Windows 7 can run older software made for 32bit operating systems better then the 64 bit version in some cases. If you use a lot of older software, or software made for a 32bit OS then the 32bit versions of Windows 7 would be a better choice.
To save money on buying Windows 7, you can buy the student editions of Windows 7 Home Premium or Professional if your college or university is part of the Windows 7 Student discount program, or offer student discounts for Windows 7 to students.
You can also buy the OEM version of Windows 7 Home Premium which is cheaper then the Full version of Windows 7 Home Premium which you buy from a retail store. However, you do not get any technical support from Microsoft like the Full retail version.
There are also upgrade versions of Windows 7 for XP and Vista users, but you need to pick the right version if you use Vista like Vista Home Premium OS will need the 7 Home Premium upgrade package while Vista Ultimate will need the 7 Ultimate Upgrade OS . For users upgrading from Windows XP to 7, you need to do a clean install of Windows 7, and reinstall all your programs and copy all your files manually to Windows 7, or you could create a dual boot system with both Windows 7, and Windows XP on the same computer if you have enough space on your hard drive.
I also do not recommend upgrade installs of Windows 7. It is best to backup all your important files to a USB external hard drive, and do a clean install of Windows 7. A clean install of Windows 7 means you start your computer from the Windows 7 drive, and tell Windows 7 install disk to delete all your files off your hard drive to install a fresh copy of Windows 7. After you are done reinstalling Windows 7, you can copy all your important files back onto your hard drive, and reinstall all your software from your install CDs, installers you download from the internet. It is best to download and install an Antivirus program like Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast, Avira, Norton, Mcafee, etc after you are finishing installing Windows 7 to keep your newly installed version of Windows 7 safe from virus and spyware programs.
If you plan to upgrade your computer hardware, you need to make sure that your computer power supply has enough wattage to handle your newer hardware like video card, memory, hard drive, or CPU which will use more power then your current hardware. You can usually find out how much power your power supply has by opening up your computer case, and reading what is the wattage of the power supply. Most Power Supplies in full sized computers are ATX 20 pin or 24pin power supplies.
Also, make sure that your new parts will fit in to your PC case since some computers are smaller then others, so you need to buy smaller expansion cards like PCI, AGP, PCI-Express cards which can fit into your smaller computer, and there is an available power cable from the power supply to supply your new drive or video card with power if needed.
In many cases, when replacing a CPU, video card, adding more memory/RAM, extra hard drives, more expansion cards, and other upgrades, you need to also upgrade your power supply. Many store bought computers only come with a 200W to 300W power supply which can't handle the power requirements for new video cards, CPU, or more memory. I recommend at least getting a 400W or better power supply from a reputable power supply brand like Antec, Cooler Master, Thermaltake, Sparkle, Seasonic, etc.
If you plan to upgrade your CPU, video card, or add a lot of new parts to your computer, you need to make sure your current computer fans will be good enough to cool down your computer. If you do not want to buy noisy higher speed fans, you may need to upgrade your computer case to a bigger computer case with better air flow, and bigger fans which spin slower, but blows and suck the same amount of air into and out of your computer case.
Also, if you notice that your computer overheats a lot after the upgrades, you may need to buy faster cooling fans which can push more air for your computer to better cool your PC, or upgrade your computer case to one which is bigger with better air flow and fans.
Switching computer cases can be a difficult tasks for newbies and average computer users since you need to unscrew all your parts from your old computer, and re-assemble them into your new case. You would be essentially rebuilding your computer into a new case. It is best to hire someone who is knowledgeable in building computers to upgrade your PC case.
Moving your computer parts to a new computer case which has bigger fans which spin slower, but push the same amount of air can also cool down your new computer parts, but reduce the noise of your computer fans.
Now that you upgraded your computer power supply, I recommend you install more RAM/memory into your computer for faster performance. Make sure to buy the right type of RAM for your computer. You can usually find out what type of RAM your computer uses by looking in your computer manuals or the product page for your computer website maker.
RAM modules/sticks are not interchangeable. DDR RAM will only fit in DDR slots, and DDR2 will only fit in DDR2 slots. You also can't use SDRAM or RD RAM in computers which do not have the slots needed for the RAM. When buying RAM, make sure to buy the right speed of RAM which your computer uses. You can find the speed of the RAM by opening up your computer case, and reading the RAM stick's stickers. The speed of the RAM is sometimes listed in your computer manuals. Buying faster RAM which your motherboard, and CPU can't support will not be worth the money, and may cause problems.
Also, make sure you know how much RAM can each RAM slot can support since some RAM is 2GB, and won't be recognize by a RAM slot which only accepts up to 1GB of RAM per slot.
If you use a 32bit operating system like Windows 7 32bit, your computer can only recognize up to 4GBs of RAM, so installing more then 4GBs of RAM is not a good idea until you upgrade to a 64bit operating system.
When Upgrading RAM, you need to line up the notches on the bottom of the RAM stick with the RAM slot. RAM can only be installed one way. gently push it in until the two clips on the end of the slot clips into your RAM and hold it.
Windows Vista and 7 ReadyBoostIf you own Windows Vista or 7, you can also use Readyboost which uses a USB flash drive or flash memory card to act as additional RAM which will give your computer a small, but noticeable performance boost, but it won't be as fast as real RAM. It is best to buy a faster, or newer USB flash drive which saids it is Readyboost approved for use for Windows Readyboost. It is also a good idea to buy a USB flash drive which uses a retractable/built-in cap, so you can't lose the cap.
Video card/Graphics cardThe next upgrade you want to make is buying a faster video card if you play a lot of newer computer games or use a lot of graphic intensive software like 3D photo or video editing programs. But, make sure you pick the right type of video card since there are AGP and PCI-Express video cards, so you need to pick the right kind for your motherboard. If your computer does not has a AGP or PCI-Express video card slot, and only uses PCI expansion slots then it is not worth it to buy a PCI video card since PCI video cards are slow and you won't see much of a performance increase when using a PCI graphics card.
Removing and adding PCI, AGP, PCI Express cards are easy in many cases. All you do is unscrew the old card from the case and "gently" pull it out. Some cards have a clip or latch at the end of the card which you need to release to pull out the card. To install a card, just gently push the new card in, and rescrew it into the case. PCI cards can only go into PCI slots. PCI-Express cards can only go into PCI Express cards, and AGP cards can only go into AGP video card slots. When you are done installing your expansion cards, you may need to install the software for your new expansion card from a CD which came with your computer parts, but these days Windows, and Windows Update can be set to install the latest stable version of your expansion card software.
For the ultimate in speed increase, you can upgrade your CPU/Processor to a faster one with a higher GHz number like 3 GHz or more cores like 2 cores. However, you need to pick the right processor for your motherboard, and make sure your computer CPU heatsink is good enough for cooling down your faster CPU. If you never changed a CPU before, it is best to hire a qualified computer technician to upgrade your CPU since CPUs are very fragile meaning they can break very easily if you do not know how to install them.
You may also need to upgrade your motherboard if you want to upgrade to the latest and fastest since an AMD CPU won't fit onto a Intel motherboard, and a Intel CPU can't fit into a AMD motherboard. The same goes for different models of the same brand of CPU. An Intel Pentium 3 CPU can't fit into a Intel Pentium 4 motherboard. Changing a motherboard is also a very difficult tasks for newbies and average computer users. It is best to hire a PC technician if you never installed a CPU or changed a motherboard before.
For improve sound, you can upgrade your computer's sound card to a 5.1 surround sound card, and buy better speakers.
Wired and Wireless Networking cards, and devices
By upgrading to a Gigabit network card you can have faster network performance if you also have a Gigabit router, and Gigabit rated networking cable. 802.11N is currently the fastest wireless networking standard having a theoritical speed of 300 Mbps. But, you also need a 802.11N wireless router for connecting to your 802.11N wireless network card. 802.11N also have improved security then 802.11b which uses WEP wireless encryption for the wiresless signal which is less secure then WPA2 encryption which 802.11N uses.
DVD-Writer or Blu-Ray DrivesA DVD-Writer is also a great upgrade for a computer which only have a CD-ROM drive since you can burn and watch DVD movies on your computer. Plus, you can burn a lot more files onto a DVD disk compared to a CD-R disc. If you want to spend more money on a new drives, you can buy a Blu-Ray Writer to burn and watch Blu-ray movies on your PC.
Computer Storage Drives
Be sure to backup your important files, before you upgrade your hard drives.
For faster startup times on your computer, upgrading to a Solid State Drive which uses flash memory instead of a mechanical drive can speed up your computer start up and shutdown times.
If you just want more space, you can just upgrade to a new hard drive with more storage space, but make sure to buy the right kind of hard drive since older computers use IDE Ribbon cables while new computers use SATA Cables which are red and thinner. SATA drives are also faster then IDE.
Installing a hard drive involves sliding it into the hard drive container in your computer case, and screwing it in. Lastly, connecting the power and data cables. In older hard drives like IDE hard drives, you need to set the hard drive to slave or master by setting a jumper on the back of the hard drive. When you are done installing your hard drive, you need to partition and format it within Windows by using Computer Management's Disk Management tools unless you are reinstalling Windows on your new drive since Windows will automatically partition and format your drive for you during the install. Upgrading to a new hard drive may make your computer load faster since newer hard drives may spin faster and more cache memory on it to make it faster. But, Mechanical hard drives will never be faster then SSD in most cases, but they are a lot cheaper for greater amount of storage space for the same price.
Now you can reinstall your operating system on your new hard drive. You can also image your hard drive with Norton Ghost or other imaging software, and reimage your new hard drive with your operating system, files, software, and important files.
If you just need more space, but do not want to open your PC, a USB external hard drive will be a better choice for you.
Recommended upgrades for a very old computer.
If your computer is very old like over 10+ years old, and you still want to upgrade it. I recommend you upgrade your motherboard, video card, CPU, CPU heatsink, RAM/Memory, power supply, fan and operating system. You might be able to reuse your case, hard drives, dvd drives, cd drives, sound card, and other parts. However, replacing so many parts can be very costly, so buying a new computer may be more worth it unless you can buy all the parts I mention above for a great deal.
There are also inexpensive barebones PC upgrade kits which bundle a motherboard, compatible CPU, RAM, power supply, case, fans, and other components for you to use to rebuild your PC. However, you need to reuse your video card, sound card, DVD drives, Hard drives, monitor, keyboard, and mouse from your old computer to build your new PC. The main advantage of picking a barebones PC upgrade kit is all the parts in the kit are compatible with each other, and the kits are usually only a few hundred dollars. The main disadvantage, is you have to build the PC yourself, or hire someone. Plus, your video card may not be compatible with the new motherboard if the video card is an AGP video card. Also, if your operating system is very old like Windows 2000 or ME, it may not be compatible with your new barebones PC kit.
Optional Fun upgrades for your PC experience
Sound card and speakers.
If you enjoy listening to music, and watching movies in surround sound, and your computer does not have a 5.1 surround sound PC speaker system, upgrading to a 5.1 or better surround sound card and 5.1 or better speaker system will make your music, movies, games, and sounds from your computer sound a lot more realistic and clear since suround sound cards and 5.1 PC speakers are clearer and more realistic aounding in most cases.
There are also USB sound cards available, so you can upgrade your sound without opening up your computer case to install a new sound card.
AccessoriesA bigger monitor, better keyboard, and mouse can also make your computer more comfortable to use since bigger monitors are easier to view, and better mice and keyboards are more comfortable, feature rich, and easier to use in many cases.
Flash Memory Card Reader
I also recommend you install a Flash memory card reader in your computer if you do not have one since they can be very useful for transfering photos, videos from your digital camcorders' or cameras' memory card to your computer hard drive. There are both internal and external USB memory card readers. If you have multiple computers with no card reader, a USB flash memory card reader will be a better choice.
TV Tuner Card
One of the coolest upgrades you can get is a TV Tuner card or USB TV tuner since it will allow you to record, schedule recordings, and watch live TV on your home computer. Plus, TV tuners are a lot cheaper then Tivos, Digital Video recorders, etc.
A USB webcam be a good upgrade if you already do not own one since most webcams also have a built-in microphone and camera for you to video chat with friends on Skype, Aim, MSN, and other chat programs. It also can be used to record video and sound from your computer.
Using a headset with headphones and a Microphone on it can be good for users who live in noisy places since the mic and headphones are closer to your mouth and ear, so both you and the person you are chatting with can hear yourself and themselves more loudly.
I just cover most of the basic information about computer upgrades, but I still recommend that you buy a good book on computer repair since you need a book to walk you through on how to take out parts, and install parts on your computer if you are a newbie or average PC user.
For learning more about upgrading your own computer hardware, I recommend you buy a copy of CompTIA A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide, Seventh Edition (Exams 220-701 & 220-702) .
Upgrading a computer can be very difficult since a computer has so many parts and standards which you need to learn about and how to upgrade.