How To Upgrade Your Gaming PC To Improve Performance

September 20, 2021

Jeff Yabumoto

If the latest games, or even older ones, are not running well on your PC, it may be time to upgrade your gaming PC to improve its performance. But where do you start?

It’s a complicated question to answer that depends largely on what you are trying to play, your current configuration, and the budget you’re working with. In order to help you out and get you back to gaming at peak physical form, we’re going to break down the potential PC upgrades that will help improve your gaming PC performance with the most impactful upgrades first.

GPU Upgrade

The most obvious upgrade one can make to their gaming PC to improve performance is to upgrade their graphics card. Based on the monthly Steam Hardware & Software Survey, the majority of users are still using 10 series and 20 series cards.

Steam August 2021 GPU Survey

Upgrading your GPU will give you an immediate and noticeable performance on the current generation of games. In an ideal world, I’d recommend you upgrade at least a full generation of card (10 series to a 20 series, or a 20 series to a 30 series), but supply shortages have made that difficult. A 10 series to a 30 series GPU upgrade will allow you to put the majority of games on High or Ultra High settings and will also enable NVIDIA RTX on select games.

However, with the shortage, acquiring a 20 series card may be easier to do and will still allow you to put the majority of games on High or Ultra High settings and have RTX enabled. If you opt for a GPU upgrade but aren’t sure how to install one, check out our recent article on it that covers both how to select a GPU and how to install one. If you want to learn more about NVIDIA GPUs in general, check out our partner page.

Hard Drive Upgrade

If you’re already got a solid GPU in your system, or it’s out of your budget, a hard drive upgrade to improve your gaming performance can help. Slow hard drives (read: 3.5-inch spinning disc drives) will mean that your games will load slower from start-up to every loading screen. Upgrading to a 2.5-inch SSD or an M.2 NVMe drive will drastically cut down on time to launch your games and the loading screens in it. Just be aware, you probably won’t be able to read those loading screen tips because of how fast your game will load. If you need some help picking out a new hard drive, check out our recent article on it.

RAM Upgrade

Four sticks of TridentZ RAM

For many games, you can get away with 8GB of RAM in your system, but it’s not what is generally recommended. Upgrading from 8GB to 16GB will help improve your gaming PC performance by allowing it do to more short-term tasks. If you both game and stream, you’ll want to bump that up to 32GB of RAM to make sure your PC can handle all the various short-term tasks you’re asking it to do. Unfortunately, you won’t notice as big of a jump with a RAM upgrade as you would with a hard drive or GPU upgrade.

An important note for upgrading RAM, you need to make sure your motherboard can actually use whatever RAM your purchase as there can be compatibility issues depending on what generation of RAM you’re currently on and what you upgrade to. Check your motherboard’s manual for compatibility. It’s also best practice to install ram in pairs so you always have an even number of RAM sticks installed in your PC.

Cooling Upgrade

If everything you can think of has been upgraded and performance isn’t improving, you may have a heat throttling problem. PC parts that run too hot will start to throttle, and their performance will drop. While this is a common problem with M.2 NVMe drives (which is why motherboards come with heat sinks for them), it can also happen to GPUs and CPUs.

For the CPU, replacing the stock fan with a heat sink and fan can alleviate this issue. For the GPU, you’ll need to figure out the airflow of your PC and perhaps change the fan configurations so hot air isn’t blowing over your GPU. Switching to liquid cooling is an option, but that’s quite complicated, more expensive, and better left to when you build a new system entirely (or let us build one for you).

Power Supply Upgrade

If your PC has a power supply that is underpowered it can severely impact your overall PC performance and therefore your gaming performance. If your PSU doesn’t have enough wattage to support everything in your computer, games may fail to load as your GPU draws power. Even if your PSU can support everything, if it’s maxed out the PSU is going to deteriorate faster. Ideally, you want to consume about 70% of the wattage of your PSU and have the remainder as a buffer, idle, and as room so if you upgrade to newer and more power-consuming parts you won’t have to get a new PSU.

CPU Upgrade

Intel i5-8600K CPU

Lastly, a CPU upgrade can help your gaming PC performance, but unless you’re four to five generations behind it probably isn’t your bottleneck. That said, it is something you’ll eventually want to pay attention to if your CPU is closer to the minimum requirement side of specs for the latest games. Many games can take advantage of multi-core CPUs and upgrading a CPU will also help with other tasks while gaming. Unfortunately, a CPU upgrade will often require a motherboard upgrade and consequently a full PC rebuild. If that sounds like something you’re on track to do, check out our Easy PC Builder to get started!

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