When do you really need to upgrade your PC? – Geek Review
Upgrading a PC or laptop can be an expensive affair. Although inexpensive options are sometimes available, you could spend several hundred dollars or even a few thousand dollars for a new device. Wanting to avoid an expensive upgrade is understandable, but when do you need a new machine?
The answer is: it depends. Everyone has different circumstances, both financial and practical. But there are some general rules for people like gamers and PC builders, and some red lines that should apply to everyone. The following article should give you an idea of when it might be time to retire an old computer and treat yourself to something new.
Safety is the most important consideration
Regardless of the operating system, hackers and malicious actors are constantly probing its code for parts to exploit. Companies like Microsoft then work to fix these exploits as quickly as possible, so their customers aren’t vulnerable to threats. However, technology companies tend to drop support for their older operating systems. Windows 7 was Microsoft’s last operating system to drop support in 2020, and Windows 8 will soon follow.
If your PC can’t run a newer operating system, you should consider upgrading. A security breach means sensitive files, personal data, bank accounts and credit cards could all be at risk. You don’t need to have the latest operating system available to stay secure – Windows 10 users should receive support and security updates until 2025 at the earliest. But when the time is right and the most advanced operating system your machine can run is no longer supported, get an upgrade. Chances are something with similar specs to your old rig won’t cost that much by then.
Gamers should keep an eye on the console market
Console games are more popular than PC games, which may be suitable for gamers. Most mainstream games have a console version alongside a PC version. So, theoretically, the hardware requirements to run said games at medium settings will remain pretty much the same throughout this generation.
Five to six years typically pass between console generations, but just releasing a new Playstation or Xbox shouldn’t have you rushing for a computer upgrade. Aside from a few “exclusives”, game studios usually take a few years to move away from an older console and start producing games exclusively for the newer ones. This is because it takes console gamers a while to upgrade to the latest machine. There are several reasons for this, including a lack of initial availability and a small next-gen exclusive library in the early days. We’ve even reached the point where there are diminishing returns to the capabilities of each new console.
So ultimately, if your rig can comfortably play every new release at the start of the current generation of consoles, it should be able to handle anything that comes out during that generation and even a few years later. The exception is if you want to maximize the graphics settings of each new release or try out new technologies as they emerge. Ray tracing is a good example. The first GPU capable of handling ray tracing came out in 2018 – it was also state-of-the-art and quite expensive. If you had spent your budget on a console that could exceed the capabilities of a PlayStation 4, you would need an expensive upgrade to try this new technology. Even if your PC meets the specs of a current high-end console, you still won’t be able to play at 120Hz with ray tracing enabled. Features like true 4K and HDR may also be beyond your machine’s capabilities.
Upgrading individual parts is cheaper
Desktop computers tend to be modular, so you have the flexibility to increase your rig’s specs by simply replacing one or two of the parts with a newer, more powerful version. A new processor or graphics card can dramatically improve the performance of your PC and may be enough to put it on par with a current machine. Some upgrades are also simple. Additional RAM must be inserted into empty motherboard channels or replace old sticks with larger ones. Something like an SSD requires cabling to a SATA port and a spare power supply.
However, PC parts have to be compatible, and there will be a time when something like a motherboard will no longer be compatible with the latest RAM, processors, or graphics cards. At this point, it’s time to buy something new or build yourself a new rig.
Still, with a desktop computer, you can save some money here. Some parts such as SSDs, HDDs, enclosures, and power supplies will likely work just as well with future releases as they did in a previous release. So even if a total overhaul is needed, you may be able to salvage enough parts from your old rig to save a significant amount of money.
Desktops live longer
In addition to their expandability, the design of a desktop computer adds to its lifespan. Heat can kill or drastically reduce the life of electronic components. If a PC is not kept clean, a thick layer of dust will also insulate these components, affecting performance and further reducing their lifespan.
A desktop computer is much easier to cool. Along with options like air and water cooling, PC builders can also play around with fan configurations and airflow. There’s more room in the case for heat to radiate, and desktops are also much easier to clean. If you have a desktop PC and you notice that your GPU is forming a layer of dirt, a quick blast with compressed air or a deep pass with a PC vacuum cleaner will quickly resolve this problem. Laptops also restrict airflow due to their size and shape. I’m currently typing this while lying down, and the notebook I’m typing on is on my chest. My gut is blocking one of the laptop’s air vents, so if the fans need to start, they’ll have a harder job cooling the machine. I’ve never blocked my desktop’s intake fan with my stomach.
Beyond cleaning and cooling, you need to consider components like displays, batteries, and charging cables. Batteries have a more limited lifespan than most components, and when a laptop battery loses its ability to hold a charge, the laptop loses most of its functionality. After a few years of twisting, bending and winding, a laptop charging cable can become damaged. This will require repair with a soldering gun or a fairly expensive replacement. As mentioned, a desktop PC can last an entire console generation or even as long as its operating system is supported. The average laptop, on the other hand, lasts three to five years.
Your computer will start letting you know when it’s time
I have a fairly old ASUS, it’s at least five years old and 100% showing its age. The keys are falling off, there are lots of blue screens, it has issues with Wi-Fi, and the battery is almost fried. To compound the battery issue, it only lets me know it needs to be plugged in on very rare occasions – preferring to just die on me if I accidentally drop the charger for more than two minutes. Speaking of the charger, the one I’m using is charger #2, and it’s currently being kept alive by a combination of bread links and my shoddy solder work.
None of these problems are recent; the laptop ran for at least three and a half years before it started to develop problems. These problems have gradually gotten worse and I’m getting to the point where I have to buy a new one. When buying the old ASUS, I opted for something in the upper midrange, which means the specs are still good enough to cope with the things I need for a laptop. But the unreliability and lack of portability are too much, and it’s time to pull the old beast into a closet.
So when is it time to buy a new PC or laptop? If you’re like me, that’s when your old one gets so unstable you can barely use it.