When should you upgrade an old gaming computer?

Updated: February 5th, 2019BrantonGuides51 Comments

Upgrading hardware is a normal part of owning a gaming computer, but knowing when to do that can be challenging. New hardware releases all the time, but you might not have to upgrade every time something newer comes out.

A GTX 780 might not need an upgrade quite yet, but a GTX 750 would. There’s a similar trend with processors, an older Intel i7 4790K might be completely fine but an i3 4160 could do with an upgrade.

You’ll know by the end of this post whether or not your gaming computer needs an upgrade. If you’re still unsure, just ask in the comments and I’ll answer ASAP!

Your hardware?

First, you want to figure out what kind of hardware you’re running. You can do this in a number of ways so let’s go over 2 easy ones right now.

If you already know what you’re running, feel free to skip over to the next section. The main parts we’re really concerned about right now are CPU, GPU, and RAM.

1.) Bringing up the DirectX Diagnostics Tool is often the easiest way to check your most important specs. Every Windows-based computer has it installed by default so this isn’t a program you have to download. All you have to do is click Start, type “dxdiag” and open the first program that comes up (assuming it’s the tool we’re looking for).

All you have to do is click Start, type “dxdiag” and open the first program that comes up.

Doing that will bring up a useful utility for quickly checking what processor you’re running, the amount of RAM you have and the graphics card you’re running. When it comes to gaming, these are the most important components you want to consider.

2.) Another easy way is opening System Information. This is another utility that’s installed on basically all Windows-based systems by default. Just like with DX Diagnostics, simply click Start and type “System Information”. It should come up first. Open that and you’ll have access to way more than DX Diag can give. Everything we need can be found under “System Summary” and “Components > Display”.

HWMonitor or another third-party program like it would also work if you have anything like that installed.

You want to take a quick note of your processor (CPU), graphics card (GPU), and the amount of system memory (RAM) you have.

You should also take note of your power supply and its specs. Since your PSU doesn’t interact with your motherboard in any way other than supplying power, you need to actually check the physical sticker that’ll be slapped on the side of it.

Without getting too picky or technical, you’re looking for 2 things listed on your PSU; an 80+ rating and the amount of wattage it’ll supply. If your supply does not have a sticker or any kind of specs listed on it, it might not be in your best interest to keep using it.

Is your hardware good enough?

Now that you know what kind of hardware you’re dealing with you can determine if they need upgrades, or not. Knowing how and when to upgrade your desktop effectively boils down to understanding your hardware.

As a general rule, higher-end processors last a lot longer than graphics cards and low-end processors do. Same with graphics cards. That said, without even taking into consideration the age of your hardware we can simply look at data and get a good idea.

The Steam Hardware Survey works as a great way to check what everyone else is running in their gaming rigs. Right now the survey tells us that most people run 4-core CPUs, a GPU with roughly 2-4GB of VRAM, and 8GB of RAM or better. At the time of writing this, 12GB+ of RAM is slowly overtaking 8GB as the norm and 4-6GB of VRAM is quickly replacing 2-4GB.

Working backward, you want no less than 8GB of RAM for the vast majority of games, an absolute minimum of 2GB of VRAM on a newer GPU, and a CPU with at least 4 physical cores.

PC looks like this? Time for an upgrade.

But, let’s pretend your PC doesn’t look anything like that.

Let’s pretend you’re running an old dual-core i3 3320 processor on a locked motherboard, a 1GB HD 5500 graphics card, and 4GB of RAM. Not an ideal setup for gaming in 2018 by any means. Modern games struggle to run at even 30fps and even your old favorite CS:GO puts some serious stress on the system. On top of all that, your PSU is equally old and does not have an 80+ rating of any kind.

What do you upgrade first?

In this situation, you’re not looking at an easy or a cheap decision. The processor is dated and fairly weak, the amount of RAM is subpar for gaming and the GPU is very lacking. This desktop would basically need upgrades all around.

Not ideal. But, it might be the only good option for a build like this; well, short of starting fresh with a new build. Upgrading to a stronger 3rd gen CPU like the i7 3770 would practically be a waste of money and buying more DDR3 RAM is getting to be kind of pointless as well.

A build like this is better off being retired and replaced in a lot of cases. It might be a little more expensive right away, but it’ll ultimately be cheaper in the long term. Even my $500 budget gaming PC build would work as a huge upgrade in comparison.

On the other hand, say you have a desktop you picked up a few years ago that’s running an i7 4790, 8GB of RAM and a GTX 760 with 2GB of VRAM. The higher-end i7 4790 processor is still relevant to this day and packs more than enough power to handle modern AAA games. But, the GTX 760, on the other hand, is quickly falling behind; upgrading it to a newer 10-series GPU like the GTX 1060 with 6GB of VRAM would be a great choice without spending an insane amount of money. That upgrade would nearly double your gaming performance without changing anything else.

A good upgrade?

By now you’ve checked out your specs, compared them to the average, and determined you’re probably due for an upgrade.

It’s finally time to pick out good upgrades, ones that actually make sense. Sure, you could simply go through and pick the best of everything, there’s no harm in that. But if you’re looking to burn as little money as possible then you’re going to have to make smart choices.

Generally speaking, you almost always want to stick with the current generations of components. Sometimes you can find a good deal on an older high-end graphics card or processor and that’s fine, but for the most part, you want to buy the newest parts possible. This will ensure you get the most out of your money and the longest hardware lifespan possible at the same time.

With that in mind, actually finding good parts to upgrade to is pretty simple. Just make sure you’re doing research beforehand because “sideways upgrades” are a real thing and sometimes you won’t need to upgrade at all like we’ve covered.

Say for instance you have a GTX 760, upgrading it to a GTX 1050 would actually give you almost the same amount of power even though it’s a much newer card.

Or maybe you have a GTX 980 but want to spend a little less this time and get a 6GB GTX 1060. Well, there would be almost no point as they’re packing almost the same amount of power. Between those cards there’s really only a 5-8% difference in performance which just isn’t worth spending $300 for – you’d be better off saving up a bit more and getting a more powerful GPU like the GTX 1070.

It’s similar with processors. If you have a good high-end processor that’s a few years old, like an i7 4790K or similar, there’s no point in going any lower than an i7 7700K or an i5 8600K. If you upgraded to say an i7 6700K you probably wouldn’t even notice a difference in gaming performance outside of benchmarks; not ideal. Keep in mind that whenever you upgrade your processor to a new generation you’re probably going to require a new motherboard as well as well as a fresh install of your operating system.

Keep these 2 things in mind and you’ll be good to go:
1.) Always research first. Search around for comparative benchmarks of your parts vs new parts.
2.) Don’t waste your money on pointless upgrades.

Conclusion

By now you should have a good idea whether or not your PC needs an upgrade. Considering you’re looking around the internet to figure out if your computer is obsolete, well, it probably is. Save yourself a headache and just upgrade! You know which parts to get, you know how to install them, there’s only one thing left to do – take action.

It boils down to answering the questions of “how old?” and “what tier?”.  Old and low tier? time for an upgrade. Old and high-end? You might still have some time left depending on exactly how old.

If you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section. Simply post the specs we figured out earlier (CPU, GPU, RAM, and PSU) and I’ll let you know what I think the best course of action is.

About the Author
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Branton

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Hey there! I'm Branton, the founder and lead editor here at PC Game Haven. Since our launch in 2015, we've helped thousands upon thousands of gamers build their dream desktops, find the perfect peripherals, and more. Thanks for stopping by!

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T.D. King
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T.D. King

I have a gaming rig I built I in mid 2014:
Intel i5-4690k
Asus z97 mobo
16 gig DDR 1600 Corsair Vengeance ram
Gigabyte GTX 970 video card

I have already upgraded the old drives to SSDs and I my AX850 Corsair PSU still reads like brand new.

With limited funds in mind:

Benchmarks I’ve seen show an i7-4790k (which my mobo supports) would almost double the numbers of the i5. Also, t the same time, I plan to upgrade my GPU, I have my eyes on a RTX 2070 Super.

All I am trying to do is get another 18-24 months out of this system. That GPU is gonna take almost 2/3s of my rebuild stash so, I was trying to use as much of my old system as I could. That is the reason I am clinging to that older mobo, ram and such…

Thoughts or suggestions?
Thanks,
T

Julian Werner
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Julian Werner

Hi B.

Im wondering what i could do NeXT, to get more out off my build 🙂
Im playing all sorts off games, racing, fps, AAA and early acsess games.

My PC:
Tower: Corsair Carbide Clear 400C Midi Tower
Power Suply: Corsair TX550M, 550W PSU
CPU: Intel Core i7-7700 Kaby Lake Prosessor
Fan: Cooler Master Hyper TX3i Komplett Ed.
Motherboard: ASUS Strix B250F Gaming, Socket-1151
Ram: HyperX Fury DDR4 2666MHz 16 GB (Using 2400mhz bcs motherboard)
GPU: EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC Gaming 8GB
Storage: WD Black 256GB M.2 PCIe SSD
Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5” HDD
Windows 10.

Asus rog, 165hz, 2560x1440p, gsync monitor.

I have had a couple off game crashes and freezes the last couple off months. Not to bad but annoying, and wondering also what to Upgrade, to give me more bang for my buck :p Im also looking for an SSD, as im getting tired off managing my Space all the time :p

Ragemk
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Ragemk

Hey Branton, I don’t think my items are extremely outdated but I would like to move all internals to one brand. I currently have a Asus Prime Z370-A, I believe my i7-8700 Coffee Lake is fine but I’m using the stock fan it came with, so I’m looking to upgrade my cooling, thinking of getting an AIO. the ram is fine, but like I said I want to move to one brand for my externals so whatever my new Mobo and AIO is the Ram will follow suit. I have an MSI 1080 which is respectable but I am transitioning to 1440P UW Gaming, So I am going to need a stronger GPU to get better FPS in future games. The brand I have in mind for all internals is Aorus.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Although now that I say this, Wouldn’t it be better to upgrade my my MOBO and Processor at the same time?

Codrin
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Codrin

Hi, do you think I need an upgrade I currently have R5 1600x, msi B350 board, 16Gb DDR4 3200Mhz, a GTX 1070 from msi , ssd 850 evo and 4Tb WD black, My target is to play cyberpunk 2077 on a average 60FPS on 1080p 120hz VH setings. So what do you think ?

Elliott
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Elliott

Thanks for the guide Branton. I followed a budget build off youtube last fall, but I’m ready to upgrade some components I believe. I’m just not sure what to go with first. Thinking about maybe adding an SSD to reduce load times in certain games, as this is a gaming only pc. This is my current build
-Intel Pentium G4560

-ASROCK B250M-HDV

-G. Skill NT 8GB

-Seagate 1TB HDD

-EVGA GTX 1050ti

-Thermal Lake Versa H17 tower

-EVGA 500W

J Program
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J Program

Hello Branton, been awhile since I did much upgrading so looking for some guidance. Have two computers and was thinking of passing on my video card to the other one and getting myself a new card, but I am concerned that other components may be pushing their life cycle.

Computer 1
Motherboard: ASUS M4N78 PRO
CPU: AMD Phenom X4 Black Edition 9950
PSU: Corsair AX760, 80 Plus Platinum
8GB RAM
GPU: ASUS Nvida GTX 760
Plays Final Fantasy XIV and other similar games. Expansions require GTX750 Minimum.

Computer 2
Motherboard: ASUS TUF SABERTOOTH 990FX R2.0 AM3+
CPU: AMD FX-8350 Black Edition Vishera 8-Core 4.0Ghz
PSU: Corsair AX760, 80 Plus Platinum
32GB RAM
GPU: ASUS Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050Ti 4GB ROG STRIX OC Edition
Gaming across the spectrum (low to high end on requirements) and future thinking for upcoming big releases (Borderlands 3, Elder Scrolls 6, others with big immersive worlds), have a 1080 144MHz gaming monitor. Currently not looking into 4K or VR, but optimizing anything else.

I try not to upgrade too often, but get concerned when I start seeing specs that are very close to minimum requirements. Thank you for your time.

Gabriel
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Gabriel

Hello, i have an i3 4160 and a gtx 750 ti and i want to get an upgrade, the problem is i dont have money for both GPU and CPU, and i need a little help, which one should i upgrade? The GPU or the CPU?