The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

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The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

The simple beauty of building a PC is having a constant gaming platform. While new generations of consoles appear every few years, resetting entire game libraries in the upgrade process, your PC will by-and-large continue to play every game you’ve ever bought. Consoles need an entire hardware overhaul every few years. As PC gamers, we have the luxury of making simpler, easier upgrades whenever we see fit. 

But how do you know when it’s time to make those upgrades? And here’s the trickier question: how do you know which parts of your rig need the most urgent attention?

Upgrading your PC can help turn a 12-frame-per-second chug-fest into a sublime 60 fps gaming masterpiece. But reaching that point isn’t always as simple as plopping in a new graphics card, and it can be tough to identify what parts are due for an upgrade. We’ve broken down everything you need to know about upgrading your PC: when you need a new graphics card vs. a new CPU, when your old hard drive or RAM are holding you back, how proper cooling can affect your performance.

Each of the following pages addresses a part of your gaming PC that affects performance. First we’ll tell you how to identify that a part needs an upgrade. Then we’ll tell you how to pick a new part to get your PC back into fighting shape. And if you do an entire system upgrade, check out our guide on what to do with your old PC.

On the next page: How you know it’s time for a new graphics card.


Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Graphics card
Page 3: CPU and motherboard
Page 4: Memory
Page 5: Storage
Page 6: Cooling

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Graphics Card

Ah, the GPU. The pixel-pusher. El graphico capitano. When PC gamers talk about upgrading our machines, this is largely where we focus. The graphics card is the part of our PC most responsible for helping deliver a great gaming experience to our eyeballs.

So, when’s the right time to upgrade your graphics card?

GPU testing

FRAPS is a great free tool to determine a game’s framerate, and you can also use it to run a benchmark to get an average framerate. Install it and run it from your desktop. On the FPS tab at the top check the box marked ‘MinMaxAvg’ and the box marked ‘Stop benchmark after…’ Leave the benchmark at 60 seconds. This will set FRAPS up to run for a minute in your chosen game, creating a report on the minimum, maximum and average frame rates over that time.

Now launch your chosen game while running FRAPS in the background, making sure the frame rate counter is displayed in one of the corners of the screen in-game. Once you’re into the game proper hit the F11 key and go about your in-game business. The counter will vanish then return after a minute, benchmark completed.

The report will be available in FRAPS’ benchmarks folder and can be viewed in Notepad.

If you ask anyone at Nvidia or AMD the answer will likely be: “Right now! Always!” But that’s not the case: a timely graphics card update stems from your own gaming preferences.

Having a great gaming experience is a very subjective thing. Some people are quite happy running higher graphics settings at 30FPS, whereas others simply have to have their games running at 60FPS and will dial down whatever settings necessary to hit that benchmark. Some people don’t give a pair of dingo’s kidneys for jagged lines permeating their game worlds, while others simply cannot live without the post-processed smoothness of anti-aliasing.

Here’s our rule of thumb: When you’re unable to strike an acceptable balance between visual fidelity and frame rate, that’s the time to start thinking about a new graphics card. Simple, right?

This decision will likely be driven by a new, hardware-punishing game. If you fiddle and fiddle with graphical settings in-game and can’t get over 30FPS, then it’s probably time to upgrade. One thing you can do first: overclock your graphics card. We already wrote a beginner-friendly guide to overclocking, which you can read here.

If overclocking doesn’t give you enough of a performance bump, don’t throw away your existing graphics card. It can still serve a purpose. If you’ve got a standard ATX motherboard, you’ll likely have spare PCIe slots available for you to drop a second graphics card into.

There are two primary routes to take when upgrading your graphics card: going multi-GPU, or swapping for a single brand new card.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Graphics card upgrade: going multi-GPU

Pros and cons

Advantages: Cheaper
Disadvantages: Smaller performance boost than a new-generation card, more power consumption, limited support.
Choose this option: If you’re on a budget, and your graphics card is less than 3 years old.

Going multi-GPU is a cheaper way of upgrading and getting high-end performance, because you’re building on what you’ve already got. This only really works if the graphics card you’re trying to run—in either Nvidia’s SLI or AMD’s CrossFire mode—is relatively modern. Otherwise it can be tricky or needlessly expensive tracking down a second card that’s become rare as hen’s teeth.

For a multi-GPU setup, you’ll need to properly match a second card to your current one. They don’t have to be from the same manufacturer, but they must have the same actual GPU inside, and the same amount of memory, to be fully compatible. In other words, you can pair an Asus GTX 780 with an EVGA GTX 780 as long as they both have the same 3GB of VRAM. 

To find out what GPU is inside your graphics card, download the free app GPU-Z. This will tell you all the information you need to know about your current card to help you match the specs of a second one.

There are a few other things to be aware of, however.

SLI limitations

Some lower-end GPUs are deliberately hobbled to stop people doubling up, such as the GTX 750 Ti. And not all motherboards are capable of supporting multiple graphics cards—even if they have spare PCIe slots they may not have the license to support Nvidia’s SLI tech. That isn’t a problem with AMD, as all boards with multiple PCIe graphics slots are CrossFire compatible—they loves their open standards.

Check your motherboard or graphics card’s website to see if they feature multi-GPU support.

Power supply headroom

You’ll also need to make sure your power supply can support another graphics card. That means another 100-300 watts of power headroom (Google your card “+ TDP” to figure out the wattage you need) and the power cables to support another card. If you have to upgrade to a new PSU, adding that to the price of a second GPU, you’re going to significantly bump up the cost of this dual-GPU upgrade path. At that point, it’s not worth it.

Cost-effectiveness is a big factor in deciding whether to add another GPU or simply go for a wholesale upgrade to a single new graphics card.

Adding a second card is only going to boost gaming performance by around 60-70% on average. A quick FRAPS benchmark, and a little mathematics, will tell you if that’s going to be enough extra performance for your gaming needs.

Some compatibility issues

If it’s hard to find a duplicate of your card on Amazon or Ebay resellers, you’ll likely end up paying more than it’s worth. There are also some cases where SLI and CrossFire simply aren’t supported by a game—such as Total War: Rome 2 and Company of Heroes 2—rendering that second GPU redundant.

With all that in mind, it’s often easier and better to upgrade to a single new card.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Graphics card upgrade: a shiny new single GPU

pros and cons

Advantages: Lower power consumption, more efficient performance
Disadvantages: Usually more expensive
Choose this option if…: Your existing card is too old, power supply is limited, you want new GPU features

Luckily there are fewer problems to avoid if you’re just doing a straight GPU swap. If you have a motherboard from 2011 or newer, you’ll likely already have a PCI Express 3.0 slot on your board, which is what the latest graphics cards are based on. Even if you’ve got an older motherboard with only PCIe 2.0 connections, a new card will work—PCIe is backwards compatible. You probably won’t even notice a performance hit using a PCIe 3.0 card in a PCIe 2.0 slot, though there will likely be some CPU and motherboard bottlenecks to check out. More on that later.

6-pin or 8-pin power connectors?

Thanks to improvements in GPU efficiency you shouldn’t need a new power supply. Currently a 500-600W PSU should be sufficient for almost any graphics card. You should check the available power connections to plug the power supply into your graphics card. The ideal is to have a pair of 6-pin PCIe power connectors with optional extra pins to turn them into 8-pin if needed. Lower spec cards may only need one connector, but more powerful cards will need at least a pair of 6-pin connections.

Make sure to check what connections your PSU supports, and what your upgrade card of choice requires, before purchasing.

What size card will fit in your case?

The physical side of your new card is also a consideration. Width is rarely an issue, as most cards are dual-slot (taking up two expansion slots in your case) but there are some triple-slot cards if you’re looking at high-end overclocked cards with hefty third-party coolers attached to them.

Length is the real issue—depending on the size of your case, a new card may not fit. AMD cards are generally longer than their Nvidia counterparts, so it’s probably worth having a quick look online at the dimensions of the card you’re chasing for your upgrade and comparing it to your current GPU and the space available in your PC. There are few things so sad as excitedly pulling your new graphics card from its box, only to discover you can’t even install it in your rig.

Get it right, and the moment you boot up that demanding new game, with your brand new GPU purring inside your PC, will be an immensely satisfying one. On top of the lower power consumption of a newer, more efficient card, new graphics cards typically support features that older ones don’t. Nvidia’s newer cards support its ShadowPlay recording software. Some types of graphics and lighting effects and post-processing won’t work on older cards.

Now, one last recommendation if you’re upgrading to a new GPU: sell your old card. Someone else out there may want it for their own multi-GPU setup, and you can probably put $50 – $100 towards the price of your upgrade.

On the next page: When to upgrade your CPU and motherboard.


Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Graphics card
Page 3: CPU and motherboard
Page 4: Memory
Page 5: Storage
Page 6: Cooling

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

CPU and Motherboard

These two vital parts of your PC are inextricably linked and form the basis for your gaming rig. They provide the brains of your machine and the interconnects to allow everything else—from GPU to SSD to memory—to actually talk to each other.

But how do you know when one or the other needs upgrading? Chances are if your CPU isn’t the problem then your motherboard won’t be either. That goes both ways; if your processor does need upgrading, there’s a pretty high possibility you’re going to need to replace your motherboard too.

So, does your processor need upgrading? For a lot of modern games, your CPU won’t be the bottleneck. Unless you’re running at a very low resolution or have an ancient CPU, it’s going to be the graphics card that’s putting up roadblocks. AI-intensive strategy games, however, can put some serious demands on your processor.

The best way to check your CPU is to test your system running something from your favorite genre, or a new, demanding game you can use to push your system to its limits.

Identifying a CPU bottleneck

To get a bead on the usage of both GPU and CPU, download and install an application called  HWMonitor. It might look a little complicated with all the expanded sections, but click on the minus icon to minimise each of the unwanted data sets until you’re left with the Utilizations for both your GPU and CPU.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

With HWMonitor running, launch your chosen game and get past the menus. Now hit ALT+ENTER and this should drop you into windowed mode and allow you to see the HWMonitor window (depending on the game, you may need to switch to windowed mode in the graphics settings). If either your CPU or GPU are running at their 100% maximums, or dangerously close to, then you know you’ve found your bottleneck.

The likely scenario for a modern 3D game is that your GPU will be the one doing the heavy-lifting. If both are running at close to their respective peak load then you’ve arguably got a finely balanced system. But if it’s not running fast enough for your wants and needs, then it looks like you’ll need to upgrade both your graphics card and processor. Expensive…

Time for a new CPU

Let’s assume for the moment you’ve found your CPU is holding back the performance of your GPU. So, what do you do now? Well, you need to know what specifically is holding back your chip—is it simply too slow, or does it not have the required multi-threading performance?

With the previous game still running you can have a quick check. If you bring up Task Manager (right-click on the Taskbar and select it) you can navigate to the ‘Performance’ tab and right-click on the CPU graph to ‘Display logical processors.’ This will show the load levels across your processor’s multiple cores and threads. The Windows 7 task manager looks a bit different than the Windows 8 one below, but shows you the same information.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

This will allow you to see which core/thread is running at the ragged edge. If only a single thread is being pushed then you simply need a speedier chip. If all the cores are being pushed to their limits, you might need both a faster and a more heavily multi-threaded processor.

What the hell’s in my PC?

Another handy application for your upgrade quest is  CPU-Z. The free download will give you a full run-down of the main components of your machine.

Once downloaded, run the application to see the details of your processor laid bare. This first tab tells you the exact designation of your CPU as well as the important details about its socket compatibility. This is handy to know when looking for the right upgrade.

The Mainboard tab gives some basic details about your motherboard, including the chipset and your BIOS version.

Figuring out your next move will depend on your motherboard.

Identify your motherboard socket

A CPU will only work with certain motherboards. This can make upgrading tricky as a given motherboard will be compatible with a range of different processors. The key indicator is the CPU socket your current processor uses. That will guide you as to what processors you can then drop into your existing motherboard. 

Check out CPU-Z to find out what socket your current CPU is using. Pay particular care to note it down exactly; there is a world of difference between an AM3 and an AM3+ socket and the same goes for LGA 1150 and LGA 1155. Processors fitting one socket might physically fit another but certainly won’t function.

Once you’re sure of the motherboard socket you’re looking to fill, go and take a look at  Newegg (or Scan in the UK). They both allow you to view their choices of CPU by socket so you won’t be distracted by incompatible shinies you sadly can’t use.

Find your current chip in the list and check out the compatible chips listed above it. With a CPU upgrade you’re looking for either a major speed-hike in frequency or a boost in the core/thread count. There’s little benefit to shifting from a 2.6GHz dual-core to a 2.8GHz dual-core CPU—the money you’re spending simply wont garner enough extra performance to make it worthwhile.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

If after your research you find you’re already running the top CPU for your board, then I’m afraid your upgrade is a much bigger job—you need a new socket for a new processor and that means a whole new motherboard.

Rule of thumb: if your system is more than two years old, you’ll probably have to upgrade both CPU and motherboard.

Time for a new CPU and motherboard

Replacing your motherboard essentially equates to an almost entirely new build; everything has to be removed from your rig, and you’re also likely to have to go through some activation shenanigans with your existing OS when it comes to booting the whole thing back up again. It’s often easiest to back up and start with a fresh installation of Windows.

It’s also a much more expensive process. Having to pick up a CPU and motherboard can sometimes double the cost of the upgrade. There’s also the chance you’re going to need to pick up some new memory to fit in the new board—memory tech hasn’t changed much in the past few years, but we are starting to see DDR4 coming in.

DDR4 will be slow to replace DDR3 in the more mainstream motherboards we’re thinking about, but if you’re upgrading a machine that’s more than five years old you could be looking at the switch from DDR2 to DDR3 memory.

But we’ll get to memory upgrades on the next page.

Time for a new case?

If you’re at the stage where it’s looking like a new motherboard is going to be a vital part of your next upgrade then you’ve got some serious thinking to do. If you’re shifting to a whole new motherboard platform it could be time to think about simply picking up a whole new system.

If that sounds a little like chucking the baby out with the bathwater, remember there will be parts of your existing system you can port over such as GPU, hard drive and OS—potentially saving you some cash on a new rig. Bundling can help cut costs, too. In places like Newegg in the US and Scan in the UK you can take all the compatibility woes out of the equation and buy upgrade kits which include motherboard, CPU, cooler and memory. It’s all tested together and you can be sure such kits will be fully compatible, work out of the box and come with a welcome warranty.

That’s not necessarily the most cost-effective way of doing such a big upgrade task – you wont have such a wide choice of board and chip combos – but it could well be the simplest.

On the next page: more memory, or new memory?


Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Graphics card
Page 3: CPU and motherboard
Page 4: Memory
Page 5: Storage
Page 6: Cooling

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Memory

How much difference does memory make for gaming? Well, capacity is king and once you get up to a certain amount everything else is just frosting. The inherent hardware stagnation in the last generation of consoles (360 and PS3) meant devs learned to do an awful lot with the meager memory at their disposal. That translated through to their work on the PC.

The memory industry hasn’t found itself progressing much, either. The current DDR3 standard was introduced way back in 2007, and not a lot has changed in the meantime. Only at the end of 2014 have we started to see DDR4 making its way to desktops in the seriously high-end X99 platform, and only then because of its server heritage.

Even though we’ve seen triple- and quad-channel memory configurations arrive in high-end platforms, our mainstream machines have been happily running on dual-channel RAM without a performance problem. For the vast majority of PC games we can be very comfortable with a 4GB DDR3 memory quota, ideally split between at least two individual sticks to take advantage of the extra bandwidth of dual-channel mode. And, because DDR3 starts out at 1,333MHz, speed really isn’t a problem—quicker memory isn’t necessarily going to garner any extra FPS in-game.

How much RAM you actually need

We’d say 4GB is the bare minimum for a gaming PC these days, so if your current rig is a little shy of that we’d recommend buying another 4GB.

If you’ve already got 4GB of DDR3 in your rig then it’s probably happy days for you. Memory upgrades are the simplest and usually cheapest of the upgrades you can perform on your gaming rig. With 8GB resting in your rig you’re going to be sitting pretty in terms of system memory for a long while yet.

Most current games are looking at 4GB as the minimum system requirement, but we are seeing games like Call of Duty: Advanced Lt. Worf and Dead Rising 3 turn up with 6GB as their minimums.

There’s also the fact that at 4GB you might be getting a little stretched in today’s seamless, open-world playing areas. We hate loading screens, so games tend to jam as much as they can into RAM so they don’t have to keep going back to the hard drive every few seconds. If you don’t have much excess memory then you could be maxing it out, leading to the dreaded open-world chug. If you’re noticing intermittent frame rate problems in open-world games then it could be your memory needs some attention.

With the rise of the Let’s Play, and the ease of streaming your gaming experience to friends and/or the world, you might also want to start recording and playing back the most exultant and exciting bits of your gaming sessions. And to be able to keep doing multiple things with your machine, without dropping valuable frame rates, that’s also going to need some extra memory.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Identifying a RAM bottleneck

The easiest way is to check out what your system is doing in-game. Start by right-clicking on your taskbar and opening up Task Manager. On Windows 8.1 (yes, I know, ‘boo hiss’) the improved ‘Performance’ tab makes an excellent system monitor, but Windows 7’s Task Manager is useful too.

If you’re rocking a dual-monitor setup have it open up on your secondary screen, but if not don’t worry, just leave it running in the background while you boot your favourite, or most demanding, game. Get into the game proper and start playing as you normally would.

If you’re testing to see if you need a boost for simultaneous streaming, then you’ll also need to start your streaming/recording software too.

Now either look over at your secondary screen (you lucky dualie) or Alt+Tab back into Windows and check out the amount of memory in use and how much is currently free. If there isn’t any and your RAM is getting towards 100% usage, then you know you’re RAM-bottlenecking.

To be honest, you’ll probably spot this before you even get to see what Task Manager says as the very act of Alt+Tab’ing could well bring your system to a grinding, disk-accessing halt. Your OS will be fighting the game for system resources.

The intricacies of upgrading RAM

The need for RAM speed

You may actually be sitting on extra memory speed without even knowing it, and I’m not talking about complicated overclocking. Intel motherboards (and some AMD) will have support for Extreme Memory Profiles (XMP) which allow you to flick a software switch in your BIOS to get the full rated speed out of your RAM.

If you don’t do anything when installing memory, the motherboard will default to its standard speed—for DDR3 that’s 1,333MHz. In the BIOS you can select the XMP for your specific installed memory and get a speed bump.

To get into your BIOS hit F2 or Del when you first start your rig, before the Windows loading screen. They differ between motherboards, but find the memory settings and you will also find the option to select a memory profile. Save and exit and your rig should boot without trouble. Load up CPU-Z, hit the ‘Memory’ tab and check the speed. Just don’t be too disappointed if you don’t notice any obvious performance boost.

You may find the specific XMP you’ve selected does some sneaky CPU overclocking to get to its new frequency. If your system gets unstable afterwards, simply boot back into the BIOS and set your memory back to default.

If you’ve identified that you have a RAM bottleneck, you can use the super-useful CPU-Z app to check on your current memory setup. Click on the Memory tab at the top and you’ll see what type of RAM you already have, its capacity, and how many channels it’s running. You’ll also see its speed below, but remember because it’s double data rate (DDR y’see) memory you’ll need to double the displayed frequency in your head to figure out what speed your system is actually running at.

If you see a big blue ‘DDR2’ in the ‘Type’ box then I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you. There’s probably a big system upgrade in the wings. Your aging rig will be hoping to retire soon and is probably already looking for a nice place down in Florida (don’t spoil its dreams with talk of humidity, please).

In a system old enough to be running DDR2, I’d argue that memory isn’t going to be your bottleneck right now—your CPU is likely to be holding things back, no matter how good your graphics card is. My advice would be to think of a full system upgrade or one of those CPU, motherboard and memory bundles I mentioned earlier.

With DDR3 RAM, speed likely isn’t an issue. You just need more.

Note: If CPU-Z said you’re currently running a dual-channel setup then you will need to spread a subsequent RAM upgrade across two spare motherboard memory (DIMM) slots to keep the welcome extra bandwidth performance of dual-channel mode.

In that situation you’ll need to pick up a 4GB upgrade kit split across two modules – just check there are a couple of spare DIMM slots in your motherboard ready to receive your new memory. And the best way to do that? Pull the side panel off your rig and nose around inside.

What about memory frequency? You can, after all, hit crazy-high speeds these days, up to 3GHz and beyond. Does that matter for gaming? For my money, no. If you’re a professional video-editor, 3D renderer or heavy Photoshopper then speedy memory can help out. In gamed? Not so much. Dual-channel DDR3 running at 1,333MHz will deliver all the bandwidth you really need for PC gaming.

On the next page: How to easily upgrade from one HDD/SSD to a newer, faster one.


Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Graphics card
Page 3: CPU and motherboard
Page 4: Memory
Page 5: Storage
Page 6: Cooling

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Storage

SSDs are now affordable enough, robust enough and, importantly, big enough for all of us. You should absolutely have one in your PC.

There aren’t that many games which are necessarily going to perform better if you upgrade to an SSD, but load times will be far shorter and the overall experience of using your PC will definitely improve. In some cases quite dramatically.

And there are a few games that will simply run better on an SSD. World of Warcraft, for instance, plays a lot better running from an SSD as opposed to the spinning platters of a hard drive. On the whole, software and game developers do their utmost to keep storage from having any impact on performance by keeping data mostly moving between the memory and your processor, only dragging things off your hard drive in the background. This is why something like Samsung’s RAPID tech, found in its EVO SSDs, doesn’t actually do anything in-game, or for most applications, despite posting hugely inflated synthetic performance scores.

An SSD will make your general PC experience far slicker. From the first boot, to waking up from sleeping, to loading your favourite games, to Alt+Tabbing out to look up how to get past that utter bastard in Dark Souls 2. Everything will be faster.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

How much SSD storage do you need?

The size SSD you buy entirely depends on the ready cash you have at your disposal. SSDs are much smaller than hard drives, and a good deal more expensive. For spinning platters think 5c/GB (3p/GB) but with SSDs you’re looking more at around 42c/GB (2p/GB) AT BEST.

That’s a big difference in price, but it’s worth it.

To have a usable SSD with enough space for your operating system and a decent number of your most oft-played games, you need to be looking at a 250/256GB drive as a minimum. You’re otherwise going to find yourself constantly managing which games and applications are housed on your SSD and which are relegated to your old hard drive. And that’s a pain.

It’s also worth noting that, on the whole, performance degrades as you go down the capacity stack. A 500GB/1TB SSD is usually going to outperform a 120GB/250GB drive. Be careful, for instance, about assuming the awesome performance of the 512GB Crucial MX100 is going to translate to the cheaper MX100 drives. It doesn’t.

That’s slowly changing, though. Samsung’s latest SSD, the 850 EVO, is specifically designed with their new MGX memory controller to keep performance up in all capacity flavours. They’re probably the best bet for a value SSD under the 500GB mark.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Making the SSD upgrade

Do you install fresh, or risk an OS copy? That’s the perennial question when upgrading your storage. Installing an operating system from fresh can be a cathartic experience. You can ditch all the old software you couldn’t be bothered to uninstall before and lose the bloat that inevitably follows an old Windows installation.

And, personally, I love the crisp, clean, empty desktop of a fresh OS. But a fresh install also means you ditch your settings and old programs you’ve lost the activation codes or installation disks for. And it also means you have to install that raft of essential apps you always end up sticking on a new machine.

Making a perfect copy of your current system can be the simplest way when upgrading your storage.

Clone your existing Windows drive

The first thing to do is trim the fat. Your current OS drive is likely bigger than the SSD you’re moving to, so take the time to do some housekeeping and trim the used portion of your current drive down to fit the capacity of the SSD you’re moving to. You don’t need to change the size of the actual partition. The software we’ll use is able to sort that out itself.

My favourite imaging software, and one that has never let me down, is Macrium Reflect. You can download it for free from here. If your German isn’t too hot Google Translate should reassure you of the download’s veracity.

Download and install the software and you’re almost ready to go. The next step is to physically install your SSD. Shut down your system and plug the new drive into a free SATA slot (ideally a SATA 6Gbps / SATA3 connection for top speeds) and make sure it’s connected to the PSU too.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Now boot your system again, open Macrium Reflect, and it will start analysing. Pick the drive you want to clone from the list and beneath it you’ll see the option to ‘clone this disk’ appear. Click on it and you’ll see a new dialog where you can select the disk to clone to. Select your SSD and click ‘Next’ to confirm. Ensure the following summary is a-okay and hit ‘Finish’ to get the ball rolling.

The cloning will now do its thing. Depending on the amount of data you’re copying over it will take a fair amount of time to effect this clone, so leave your rig to it and go find something else to do for a little while.

Once the clone has been created, restart your rig and hit Del/F2 before the Windows boot screen to get into your BIOS. Navigate to the boot tab and make sure the primary boot drive is your new SSD. Save and exit and, all being well, your rig will boot as normal, except this time probably a good deal quicker than from the ol’ hard drive.

On the next page: When it’s time for more cooling.


Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Graphics card
Page 3: CPU and motherboard
Page 4: Memory
Page 5: Storage
Page 6: Cooling

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Cooling

If you bought your gaming PC as a full system, but didn’t go for an overclocked one, chances are you’ve simply got the stock reference cooler installed. This is fine for general use and will do an adequate job of keeping your CPU running without melting it down into a T1000-at-the-steel-works analogue. But if your head has been turned by the potential speed hikes offered by overclocking, you may want to consider improving your processor cooling.

Overclocking isn’t the only reason to improve the cooling of your system—making an upgrade over a stock CPU cooler will also improve the aural experience of your machine. Reference coolers normally use relatively little fans, often 80mm or smaller in diameter, and that means they have to spin faster to achieve the sort of cooling a third-party option can offer.

And that means more noise.

A decent cooler doesn’t have to cost a fortune. One of my favourite air-coolers is Enermax’s superb ETS-T40. It’s only $45 (£27) and is impressively quiet for an active air-cooler, but still manages top-quality levels of chip-chilling.

If you want to go a little further with your cooling, and like the sci-fi idea of sloshing some liquid around inside your rig, you can opt for a closed-loop water-cooler. If you’re comfortable spending the extra money on a liquid chip-chiller, they are the best option for overclocking.

They wont necessarily offer better peak temperatures than an air-cooler, but they are far quicker at returning a hot CPU to its idle temperature and that can really extend an overclocked chip’s operating life.

I’m still a big fan—pun totally intended—of Zalman’s bargain-priced LQ310. This wee water-cooler is just $67 (£55) and is a very effective budget water-cooler. For the full effect, Cooler Master’s new Nepton 240M is a great option. It is more expensive, but worth the extra if you’ve got space for its 240mm cooling radiator.

Space though is always an issue for a cooling upgrade.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

Fitting a new cooler into an old case

If you’re rocking a smaller chassis, whether that’s a mini-tower or a mini-ITX case, then you’re going to have to do some measuring to make sure there’s enough clearance above your CPU for a tall active air-cooler. For water-coolers that’s not a problem, though you will need to know if there are enough fan-mounts to be able to bolt a large cooling radiator into your PC.

Fitting a new cooler can be another source of strife, however, and it’s all about that big ol’ motherboard. Whether or not you’re going to have to remove your board from your case to fit a new cooler is entirely dependent on your chassis and whether there’s a generous cut-out behind the CPU socket to give you access to the cooler mounting points. Remove both the side-panels from your PC and have a look behind your motherboard, crossing your fingers as you go.

If you can see the rear of the CPU socket, happy days. If not, then it’s a much bigger job…you’re going to have to remove the whole motherboard – and essentially the whole PC – to get your new cooler attached.

A couple of things to remember: clean your processor after you take the old cooler off and squeeze some fresh thermal paste onto it before you fit your new cooler. This will ensure there is full contact between the chip and cooler with no air bubbles getting in the way. You only really need a blob the size of a couple of grains of rice.

The easy PC upgrade guide: everything you need to know

And make sure to remove any clear plastic covers that might be protecting the contact plate of your new cooler—I’ve been stung by that before, left struggling to figure out why my super new cooler was superheating my CPU…


Page 1: Introduction
Page 2: Graphics card
Page 3: CPU and motherboard
Page 4: Memory
Page 5: Storage
Page 6: Cooling