If there's one thing that keeps people loyal to desktop PCs over laptops, it's their sheer upgradeability. A judicious upgrade can give your ageing system a big enough boost to keep it going for a year or more, and what's more it takes no great technical expertise to do so. In fact, all you need is this guide.
We've split it into four sections. We start with the biggest and most satisfying upgrade of them all – the motherboard at the heart of your system. Next up is upgrading your processor. Our step-by-step guide not only covers the physical steps, but also shows how to choose the right CPU.
Although motherboard and processor upgrades usually go together, it's often possible to add a newer, faster and cheaper processor into an old motherboard.
An even quicker way to speed up a nslow system is to install extra memory. You can instantly invigorate your system by doubling or even quadrupling the RAM. This has never been easier – sites such as cruical.com
make it as straightforward as following a wizard to guide you to the right upgrade.
Finally, we'll show you how to increase your storage space and boost your speed at the same time with a hard disk upgrade. It can be more complicated that it first appears, but we explain how standards have evolved over time and help you select thr right disk.
No matter what component – or components – you upgrade, the rewards can be stunning. Even if you've never opened the side of your PC's case before, our comprehensive step-by-step guides should give you a clear explanation of what to do with your system. But lets not overstate the simplicity.
If you're unaware of the jargon, it's easy to buy tech that won't conveniently slide into your system. That's why each section includes a compatibility checklist to identify the key potential slip-ups.
Upgrade your motherboard How long does it take?
Replacing your motherboard is an evening's work. How Hard is it?
Replacing your motherboard requires a decent amount of tech savvy Moving your PC to a new motherboard can revolutionise its capabilities - and open the door to a host of useful money-saving features.
Fitting a new motherboard could give your PC a new lease of life. At a stroke, a new motherboard can add support for cutting-edge technologies such as quad-core processors, DDR3 memory, and multiple graphics cards.
Installing a new motherboard brings your PC right up to date, allowing you to install all the latest components. Upgrade to a new processor at the same time and your PC could enjoy a major speed boost, allowing you to do things that your system previously struggled with, such as video and audio editing.
Most modern boards also come with lots of useful extras, such as surround sound, an integrated ethernet connection and even built-in antivirus capabilities. And upgrading your motherboard is a great way to improve your understanding of PC hardware – once you’ve done it you’ll literally know your PC inside and out.
In this step-by-step guide we show you how to choose the right motherboard, how to install it and how to deal with any problems you might encounter.Choosing a motherboard
Most people combine a motherboard upgrade with a processor upgrade – keeping an older processor will severely restrict your choice of motherboards, and upgrading the motherboard alone won’t visibly improve system performance.
Whichever processor you go for, there will be a wide range of motherboards that can support it, so pick your processor first, then focus on motherboards with the appropriate CPU socket. There are two main socket types currently in use – Socket 775, used by Intel processors, and Socket AM2/AM2+ used by AMD. See page 26 for more on CPU sockets. Checking compatibility
Picking a motherboard with the right socket means your chosen CPU will physically fit, but before settling on a motherboard it’s worth double-checking that it supports the specific model of CPU you’re planning to buy. Download the motherboard’s technical specifications or manuals from the manufacturer’s website for a full list of supported processors.
The next thing to consider is whether your case, power supply, graphics card memory and drives will work with your new motherboard. If your existing PC is more than a few years old, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to bring all of these components across onto a modern motherboard.
The case (or chassis) is the part you’re most likely to be able to keep. Unless your PC is extraordinarily old, it will probably conform to the ATX form factor, which governs the size of the motherboard and the placement of its connectors and screw-holes. You can find out by looking up the form factor of your old motherboard: if it’s an ATX board, you’ve got an ATX case.
ATX remains by far the most common form factor today, so it should be easy to find a board to fit your existing case. Even models built to the smaller microATX standard can still be fitted into an ATX chassis, though you’ll waste some space inside the case.
You may well be able to keep your existing power supply too. Check that the main power plug is of the newer 24-pin design, as the older 20-pin connector is now obsolete. Some power supplies have a 20-pin connector with a supplementary 4-pin connector, so they can be used with either. Also check that there’s a free 4-pin 12V connector, as modern CPUs need this as a dedicated power line. And, naturally, you need to be sure your power supply has sufficient wattage for any new components.
Your old graphics card is likely to be a problem. Unless you bought it within the past two years, it’ll probably use the old AGP connector, which is all but extinct. Sad to say, your card is almost certainly a write-off. However, many current motherboards have integrated graphics processors, which are perfectly powerful enough for everyday tasks and older games.
Memory is another common casualty of a motherboard upgrade. The vast majority of today’s boards use DDR2, with a significant minority using the faster (but far more expensive) DDR3. If your motherboard is more than a few years old, it’s likely to use an older memory technology, and you’ll just have to ditch your RAM.
Even if your old system did use DDR2, it may run too slowly for a new motherboard. But don’t despair – memory is now so affordable that you can buy two fast 1GB DDR2 DIMMs for under $80.
Finally, consider your drives. Older systems use the IDE interface (also called PATA) to communicate with hard disks and optical drives. Current motherboards still support IDE, but where in the past it was normal to offer two IDE connectors, modern boards now offer only one. Each connector supports two drives, so you’re limited to bringing a maximum of two IDE drives across from your old system – typically a hard disk and an optical drive.
It’s sometimes claimed that running an optical drive and a hard disk on the same IDE channel will slow the hard disk down; but so long as both devices support UDMA addressing, they’ll happily work together at full speed. You can check that UDMA is in use in the Windows Device Manager, or often in your PC’s BIOS.
Once you’ve worked out which components you’ll need to update, you can set a realistic budget for your planned upgrade – or abandon it if it turns out to be uneconomical. - Continued next page - ** For more information on how to upgrade your computer, including the ultimate guide to upgrading your processor, memory, hard disk, graphics and power supply - make sure you check out the Febuary 2009 issue of PC Authority. It's out now! **