The complete guide to upgrading your PC

Time to upgrade
Alan Dexter explains why you don't need to replace you whole machine for a big performance boost

Everyone knows the feeling. Your PC has become slow and unresponsive, and it's getting rather noisy too. All around you are adverts for fast new machines – PCs groaning with cutting-edge components and fancy new features; machines untouched and factory fresh.

It's easy to wilt under this kind of pressure and give into the new PC dream – but luckily we're here to help you to renew your willpower and stand firm against such temptations!

We have happy news: a few well-targeted and cost-effective upgrades can transform your flagging PC into the machine of your dreams. So why has your machine got so slow?

Well, just as time can be particularly punishing to Windows' boot time, so it can ravage the hardware in your system. Dust can clog fans and obstruct airflow, overheating your components and bringing their efficiency down.

Add to this physical consequence of time's passing the fact that in the years your PC has been sitting in your home, clever-clogs developers have continued to plug away at their work, creating faster components than those in your machine were even when they were factory-fresh. We're sure you can see how the problem has arisen.

Refresh your system

This means the best way to speed up your PC is to give it a spring clean and identify the components worth upgrading. In general terms, a PC will last you for a couple of years before you either have to do a major upgrade or piece together enough smaller ones to make the system continue to be fast enough for everyday use.

Which upgrades are best for you is ultimately defined by what you use your machine for. If you're into video editing and production then a healthy amount of memory will make moving clips around that much smoother, while a faster processor will render your effects and final edits quicker. An SSD will boost program loading times as well as your OS's boot time.

Audiophiles have similar needs, but they should also keep an eye on how much noise the system is making. Designers benefit from an overall system refit that focuses on an SSD and embraces the current low in memory pricing.

The programmers among you will be hankering after more memory as well, along with access to newer motherboard technologies such as USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s – purely for research, of course.

Gamers will see the biggest boost from a graphics card upgrade, because while the promise of multithreaded gaming is closer than ever, the graphics card is still the biggest bottleneck in most systems. And two years is a long time in the graphics card business – we've seen the release of not only affordable DirectX 10 cards in that time, but a new breed of cutting-edge DirectX 11 hardware as well.

Over the page we'll explain how to work out which components you need to upgrade, talk you through how to do it, and reveal how a tissue can help speed up existing hardware.