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When Should I Upgrade My PC? The Complete Guide


Every year new PC parts are coming out that will make every gamer consider the idea of upgrading once again, regardless of the cost. Today, we will dive into when you NEED to upgrade and when you may be getting ahead of yourself.

When should I upgrade my PC? You should upgrade all the components in your system every four years to maintain good settings in the newest games.

Each part can get upgraded at different times, though, and if you have the funds, you may be able to upgrade much more frequently. Now, we’ll break down part by part when the best time is to upgrade each of them.

When Should I Upgrade My PC?

Although upgrades will happen year-by-year as you need them, having all-new parts about every 4-5 years is ideal for the best performance.

This excludes the case, though, as in most cases, it can last for a very long time as long as it has plenty of airflow to keep your components cool.

If you have a gaming laptop, it depends on your components, but around every 3-4 years for laptops is relatively typical.

If you have a better laptop, it can be longer, but it’s on the lower end of that range if you have a budget model.

Before moving on, you don’t need to upgrade because this guide tells you to.

PCs last a lot longer than you might think, and you should only upgrade when it makes sense financially, and of course, when you NEED to due to performance or other important issues.

Now we will go part by part for a desktop PC, telling you when you should upgrade and why.

When Should I Upgrade My CPU?

Shockingly, CPUs don’t go bad that quickly, which is a good thing for Intel users, especially since that would mean rebuilding your PC frequently.

If you don’t know, Intel changes the Chipset every generation, unlike AMD. This forces Intel users upgrading their CPU to get a new motherboard that is compatible and leads to unplugging everything and reinstalling it all back into the new motherboard.

CPUs only need to be replaced about every four years, but I would say you could even stretch that to 6 if your clock speeds were fast enough.

Since, at the moment, games may only use one or two cores, having 128 threads and 64 cores won’t make all that much of a difference in FPS when playing games.

Instead, higher base, boost, and max clock speeds can be much more impactful and haven’t changed all that much in the past few years.

Looking at the 7700k in comparison to the 10900k, the 10900k does perform better, but for tech that is four years old as of writing this article, the performance difference isn’t that big in many games.

If you plan on doing more than gaming, like productivity tasks such as video editing, it may be more useful to get a CPU with higher threads and cores because you will see a noticeable difference.

Here’s a benchmarking video showing the FPS difference between several CPUs while gaming:

Another factor contributing to the smaller difference is that games don’t rely on the CPU as much as they do on the GPU.

The CPU does play a pivotal role in receiving and delivering instructions to your PC’s various parts, but the graphics card has the most intensive task of creating the world.

This leads us to our next topic.

How Often Should You Upgrade Your Graphics Card?

About every 2-3 years is ideal for upgrading graphics cards since they tend to get outdated quickly. However, you could probably go up to 5 years without upgrading the graphics card.

Graphics cards carry the heavy-duty of drawing up the entire world, so as new games become more detailed, it is more for your graphics card to do.

The faster your graphics card can output frames, the more FPS you can have, and the smoother the game will run, barring any latency issues if you are playing an online game on lackluster wifi.

When you upgrade every three years, you will see a big difference, unlike CPUs. To demonstrate this point, see this video comparing the 1070 ti (2017) to the 3070 (2020), both were chosen because they were sold at the same price.

This is a two-generational leap, but you can expect leaps like this if you plan to update every 3-4 years.

Nonetheless, it’s incredible how far we have come in terms of performance!

The graphics cards these days are much more capable and increasing vastly in performance with every generation.

Before we continue, I will mention people playing on 1080p might avoid the upgrade for even longer as gaming won’t be as demanding.

You may have to dial back some settings over the years, but if your target is a consistent 60FPS at 1080p, that can be something a decent graphics card should be able to achieve for a long time.

Whereas, with 1440p and 4k, running these resolutions at high graphical settings will likely require an upgrade every two years.

How Often Should You Replace Your PSU?

Your PSU should be replaced if you are significantly increasing the wattage and start to measure too close to your current maximum.

For example, if you only had a 500 watt PSU and decided to get a 3090, your power draw would increase significantly, and it would be in your best interest to upgrade your PSU to avoid a bad situation.

If your PSU was to get overdrawn, it would likely just heat up a lot and shut off entirely if everything goes well. However, it could also break, create sparks, and ultimately die as well.

If you plan on upgrading one or multiple components to a more powerful variety, I would recommend plugging them into PCPARTPICKER first to get an estimated wattage.

What’s not taken into account is overclocking and how many more watts get used while overclocking. If you plan on going all out with your overclocking, the increase in wattage will be steep and will require a higher capacity PSU.

Since this varies so much, I would recommend looking up the benchmarks for your GPU and CPU on YouTube and finding a video by Gamers Nexus. 

They cover performance primarily in all their benchmarks, but they also have a power consumption section that tells you the base voltage and the overclocked voltage they got.

PSUs have an efficiency rating based on a metal system called the 80-plus rating. Even if you don’t overdraw your PSU, if you are running at a very high load it can hurt the performance of your PSU and create more heat.

Ideally, you want to run your PSU at around 50% load not going too high or too low. Getting way more wattage than you need and running your PSU at low load will also make your PSU run worse.

Another situation that would also warrant a replacement to your PSU is if you have an unreliable brand that you question its stability.

Some prebuilt PCs have been known to use cheap components to save cost, and that can also lead to issues with the PSU that can hurt the functionality of the build.

If you are in this situation, then replacing the PSU can be a good option. Still, you must use the cables that come with the new PSU as PSU cables are not universal, and if you were to use incompatible cables with another PSU, it could lead to more sinister things.

If you plan on buying a new PSU, Corsair and EVGA PSUs have high customer ratings and have treated my builds well over the last several years of PC building.

When Should You Replace A PC Case?

PC cases seldomly need to be replaced. For the most part, a case with good airflow will be good enough for any build, and the replacement of a case is usually for aesthetic purposes.

Another good reason to change cases is if the current case isn’t large enough to fit a new component such as a graphics card.

The 30 series has some giant cards in its lineup, especially the 3090, which has plenty of jokes made at its expense.

Many cases have clearance issues, and some may not be long enough to fit a 3090 in it due to something in the case blocking its way like a drive bay.

The final reason you may want to replace a PC tower is if you are planning on upgrading or downgrading the size of your motherboard.

mATX, ATX, and eATX are the current sizes for motherboards. mATX is the mini, ATX is the regular, and eATX is the enormous variation with features that support more RAM, GPUs, etc.

If you were downscaling from ATX to mATX, then you could see the benefit of a smaller board by using a smaller case that takes up less space either on your desk or the ground beneath you.

If you are upgrading, either from mATX to ATX or ATX to eATX, you may have to upgrade if your current case doesn’t support all sizes.

I have a Fractal case, and it has standoffs and support for all three sizes, so I wouldn’t have the need to replace the case either if I went bigger or smaller.

When Should I Replace My CPU Cooling?

Typically, you should replace your CPU cooling system when you upgrade to a much more powerful CPU that cannot be cooled by your current system.

Other than that, there aren’t many other reasons to buy a new CPU fan unless your current one breaks or is malfunctioning.

An excellent way to check if you need to upgrade your current cooling solution for your new CPU is to check the reviews for the CPU and the cooler and look for any reviews that may include system specs.

For example, when I was looking at getting the 9900k, I knew the current cooling solution I had wasn’t going to be enough, so I looked at what other people who bought the 9900k used, and I found the Noctua DH-15.

This method hasn’t failed me thus far; of course, if the customer reviews aren’t giving you sufficient information on how well the CPU is being cooled, you can always go to channels like Gamers Nexus for CPU cooler benchmarks.

When Should I Upgrade My Storage?

If you currently are using an HDD as your boot drive, then this should be a high priority upgrade that you do very soon.

The time spent loading into Windows 10 is significantly shorter when it is on an SSD instead of a traditional HDD.

You can also get a 250GB SSD for pretty cheap, and that should be enough for a boot drive to fit all of its files.

Other than that, it comes down to personal usage. HDD is good for games not from speed but from a cost to storage ratio.

Games are getting larger and larger, some titles going as large as 200GB. It’s getting difficult to justify storing them on an SSD where that can be very expensive.

There is a noticeable loading time decrease on offline games when they are being played on an SSD, but if you are on a budget, HDD is still the king and will likely continue to be.

Here’s a video comparing the different storage types and their loading times:

When Should I Upgrade My Motherboard?

First, establish if there will be a need to upgrade your motherboard.

If you are an Intel CPU user, unfortunately, that has been decided for you. You will have to upgrade your motherboard every time you move to a new generation of Intel CPUs.

If you are an AMD user, you likely won’t have this issue often, so it comes down to if you need any new features in your motherboard.

A few upgrades some people make are more M.2 slots, faster RAM support in the motherboard, and more or faster PCI-E slots, although right now, PCI-e 3.0 or 4.0 are ubiquitous.

I think M.2 SSD storage is fantastic! If you are using one M.2 already and are happy with its performance, some people even consider getting a new motherboard for another M.2 slot for more super speedy storage.

There isn’t a timeframe that can be given for upgrading a motherboard, but if I were to recommend a time, I would say to do it with the upgrade of your CPU, which may be every four years.

When Should You Upgrade Your RAM?

If you already have 16GB of RAM, there isn’t a need for any more when the most extensive performance boost happens when going from 8GB to 16GB.

Speed can play a significant factor in performance, especially if you are using an AMD CPU, so if you had a slower RAM like 2133mhz or even 2666mhz, you might see a benefit from upgrading to 3200mhz or 3600mhz.

A piece of advice on this, make sure you don’t buy more than your CPU or motherboard can handle. Otherwise, it will go to waste.

4200mhz is cool, but if your CPU can only handle 3200mhz, you could be wasting $100 that could potentially be used for another upgrade.

If you wanted to future proof your RAM, you could go for 32GB and 3200mhz, and you should be good for many years to come.

For a long time, 8GB was the standard, but with games becoming more demanding, they are quickly reaching much higher RAM usage that is closer to 16GB.

One other situation where it would make sense to upgrade RAM is on large generational switches like from DDR3 to DDR4, or in the current day example, from DDR4 to DDR5.

This will happen very infrequently, though, as it not only requires technological advancement but it relies on companies that make all the other hardware in a PC to modify their hardware to work with the new RAM architecture.

For example, DDR3 RAM was released in 2007, and DDR4 RAM was released in 2014. DDR4 had been in development since 2005, being worked on by many companies, but it wasn’t until 2014 that Intel CPUs began using DDR4, and in 2017 that Ryzen CPUs began using it.

The transition from DDR3 to DDR4 was longer than the switch from DDR2 to DDR3, each taking several years for the new-gen to become that standard after releasing.

With that being said, DDR5 was officially released in 2020, and the first consumer-releasing DDR5 RAM is set to release at various points in 2021. But it will likely be several years until DDR5 becomes the new standard.

So, when should you upgrade your RAM? When your current speed becomes outdated, when the standard RAM generation changes, or when your RAM begins to bottleneck your build, and you need a higher capacity.

What Is Bottlenecking And Why Is It Important?

Bottnecking can happen to a system with several fast components and one slow component that prevents your PC from reaching its maximum potential.

Let’s show an example of a highly exaggerated situation where a bottleneck occurs.

If you were to use an Intel Pentium processor with a 3090, 64GB of RAM, an M.2 SSD, and a 4k monitor with a 144hz refresh rate, you would not get the most of all these costly parts because your CPU is bottlenecking your build.

In reality, this often looks a lot more like getting a 5950x and using a 1070 or having an Intel 6700k but using a 3090. RAM is also an overlooked bottleneck where people have a great system but only 8GB of RAM.

This can vastly reduce your performance and is one of the cheapest upgrades you can make to get one of the most considerable boosts in performance.

Bottlenecks exist because all the parts in a computer rely on each other either directly or indirectly. If you removed any of them, you would likely stop your whole computer from functioning.

Even without missing anything, if one component can only do its job at a 10th of the next component’s speed in line, your whole computer is held up by the slowest part that isn’t as fast as the rest.

The CPU and GPU often can bottleneck each other because they work hand-in-hand to create the world in games.

The CPU tells the GPU what to draw, and the GPU does it. If the CPU is super slow to tell the GPU, but the GPU is lightning fast, the GPU must wait much longer for every instruction.

On the flip side, if the CPU quickly makes a demand and the GPU slowly draws it up, even if the CPU can process an infinite amount of requests, they can only be completed as fast as the GPU can create.

Bottlenecking may limit what your PC can do, but it isn’t going to hurt your PC in a way that destroys it.

It’s a technical term representing when one part will limit the rest of your computer because it is much less powerful than the other component(s).

How To Avoid Bottlenecking Your Build While Upgrading

A decent idea to avoid bottlenecking your build while upgrading is to do it in batches. This would mean saving up the money to do two upgrades or many, depending on what you’re upgrading.

You will only need to do this if you plan on getting a much more powerful component than another component in your build.

If you have a CPU from only a generation or two ago with a decent clock speed, this may not be necessary if you upgrade to a more powerful GPU.

But if you had an i3-7100 and you were planning on upgrading to a 3090, you would notice your CPU usage is at 100%, and your GPU might be lower than 50%, meaning most of your GPU’s power is going to waste.

So using this situation, you should probably save up for a newer AMD or Intel CPU of your choosing so you can adequately balance the power between parts.

If you feel impatient, you may still need to wait longer to save, but you can instead balance out the upgrade by getting a less powerful GPU and using the extra money on the CPU.

Wrap Up

There you have it, make sure that you only upgrade when you need to and when you can financially.

But as far as when you should upgrade, it varies from part to part, but typically every 4-5 years, it is good to make changes for the best performance in the latest titles.

Tom

I've been a PC gamer and builder for around 3 years now but my love for gaming spans many years all the way back to the Nintendo 64! Getting into PC gaming there was a lot of information that was hard to understand so I made it my mission to make PC gaming easy!

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