(Sticky) How to boost your computer’s performance, physical upgrades.

So your computer is slow and you’ve tried the quick and simple steps in my previous post “Is your Windows based computer or laptop slow? Try a few simple tools to speed it up.” to no avail, and buying a new computer is still an investment that you can’t quite stretch to just yet. There are still some things you can do, and a couple low cost things that will speed it up, however, these are physical things that will require at least some technical knowledge or someone else with the technical skills to do the jobs for you because of the basic requirement to observe static protection when performing any of these upgrades, and the ability to identify which areas you can successfully upgrade.

I won’t be talking about upgrading the Graphics Adaptor because graphics cards rarely have any effect on the overall performance of the computer in day-to-day tasks, and are aimed more towards gaming, so with that said let’s begin.

 

Upgrade the RAM.

SODIMMs

  • Difficulty : Easy
  • Cost : Cheap

Your computer has more than one type of memory in it. In the previous article about speeding up your Windows based computer, I talked about performing some basic maintenance on one type of memory which was the internal hard disk drive (HDD). That was the storage for your operating system (Windows, Linux, OSX or maybe something else) and programs or “Apps” as they’re now more commonly referred to as-well-as your user files such as documents, emails, photos and videos etc.

The other main type of memory is the computer’s thinking space, the Random Access Memory (RAM) which is where things are placed while your computer processes them. In most cases when you buy a computer it isn’t built with the highest specification memory installed when it leaves the factory, and this can be a bit of a bottleneck when it comes to your computer’s ability to do anything quickly. Replacing the RAM is relatively cheap and easy to do, but there are some important things that need to be taken into consideration in order to unlock your computer’s full potential.

Firstly, static precaution is very important because these memory modules are so sensitive to static electricity that you could damage the individual chips just by touching them if you don’t observe static protection. So if you aren’t proficient with swapping out bits inside your computer then you should probably get someone else to do it for you.

Secondly, simply adding more memory won’t necessarily speed it up because you could be replacing or adding a slower type, you can’t just buy any memory modules to replace the currently installed ones, you need to know the specifications of your system in order to know what type of memory you need to choose from, and you also need to know the differences between the correct type of memory, the cheapest memory is most certainly not the best. There are many important factors to consider when choosing memory like the frequency which it operates at and the latency timings. The higher the frequency and the lower the timings then the better the performance of the memory, the cheaper the ram is then it’s most probable that the worst these figures are going to be.

 

Upgrade your CPU

CPU

  • Difficulty : Moderate-Extremely (depending on type of computer)
  • Cost : Cheap-Moderate (dependant on architecture)

Upgrading your Central Processing Unit (CPU) is another relatively cheap way of increasing your computer’s performance, but depending on what is currently installed and what your motherboard’s maximum processor support is, you may not notice a great deal of improvement if you are even able to upgrade. You should certainly check the latest information on the manufacturer’s website because they may also have released a BIOS update that further unlocks the potential of your motherboard. You may be able to install a higher spec processor than the documentation that came with your machine states by doing a BIOS update. The manufacturer will have the most up to date information of what hardware is supported on their website so check there first, and make sure you read all the notes on upgrading your BIOS because if you do something incorrectly you could brick your machine, (render your machine useless).

As with memory, these devices are so sensitive to static electricity and can just as easily be damaged if handled incorrectly. I don’t recommend doing this if you’ve never done it before so get someone who can do it to do this for you as there is also the thermal conductive compound that needs to be replaced upon installation.

 

Upgrade your Hard Disk Drive

SSD

  • Difficulty : Moderate-Extremely
  • Cost : Reasonable

Replacing your hard disk drive is not something to be taken lightly. As I mentioned before, everything from the actual OS to user files are stored on this device and replacing it will mean that the new drive will indeed be empty and therefore your computer won’t start. The data from your old HDD will need to be transferred across to the new one before you can even switch on your computer. This process is called imaging and this in itself requires a lot of skill or knowhow.

As difficult as it is though, I do recommend doing this. Your old hard disk may be of a low performing type and therefor your computer will be slow because of the lack of data being delivered to the processor in time for things to happen.

If you are considering replacing your HDD then consider a Solid State Drive (SSD). These drives can outperform any conventional HDD because they have no moving parts and they are usually more energy efficient, meaning if you use it in a notebook or laptop you could possibly extend your battery operating time.

If you can’t quite afford an SSD then look for a high performance HDD, although you aren’t really going to gain a great deal of performance by staying with the conventional type. I would recommend going for an SSD even if it means buying a small one and having to put the rest of your data onto a USB storage device of some kind (or if it’s a desktop computer use a conventional HDD to store your user files on with an SSD as the main drive) as the investment of an SSD can achieve speed improvements of unimaginable levels.

 

Upgrade your Host Controller

HostController

  • Difficulty : Easy-Moderate
  • Cost : Cheap

This does require some technical skill as you will have to poke around in your CMOS Setup (BIOS) to configure your computer to boot on the new controller. It’s also mainly for Desktop computers rather than Laptops and Notebooks but in some cases on certain Laptops and Notebooks you can add a Host Controller Card as an ExpressCard which would give huge performance boosts but it may not be practical.

Whether your computer is using an IDE interface (although in this day and age that’s probably very unlikely), SATA (aka SATA150 (1.5Gb/s)) or SATA2 (aka SATA300 (3Gb/s)) you can replace the current HDD Host Controller with a more up to date SATA3 (6Gb/s) controller depending on whether you have a free PCI Express x4 (PCIe x4) slot, otherwise just upgrading to a SATA2 controller may be your only option. In any case, SATA3 is better than SATA2, which is better than SATA which is better than IDE so definitely consider replacing the Host Controller Card whatever it is you currently have. You may have to disable an onboard controller through CMOS setup to free up resources in doing so though.

 

Summary

In all of these exercises there is some minimum level of technical expertise required, mainly because an understanding of how to protect your machine from you inadvertently damaging it, and second to that the ability to identify what, if any upgrades are available for your specific machine.

Upgrading the BIOS is not always an easy thing to do because some machines require the update be applied from the good old fashioned MS-DOS environment.

In the case of Hard Disk Drive or Host Controller upgrades it’s most likely that something will need configuring in order to take advantage of the upgrade as-well-as the technical expertise for performing disk imaging (for example, cloning your old one to a new one) which should be done by someone who knows what they’re doing or else you could lose everything.

That said, there are usually lots of support groups out there (on the internet) where people have asked the questions on how and what can be done, so just google it, but don’t mess with things you’re not sure about.

At the end of the day, if you’re not sure then you should probably get someone who IS sure and qualified to identify and do the jobs for you. In other words, You wouldn’t mess with the internals of your household gas boiler without at least being “Gas Safe Certified” now, would you?


About Francis

Francis is a Systems Integrator for the BBC with decades of experience in the IT sector and multiple qualifications extending from City & Guilds Electronic Servicing, Microprocessors & Operating Environments to Networks & Communications Systems. More about Francis...
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