When should you upgrade an old gaming computer?

Updated: February 5th, 2019Author: BrantonCategory: Guides27 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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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?

Greg
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Greg

Hey Branton,

Thanks for the guidance here.

I have a ASUS M5A97 r.20 motherboard, AMD FX(tm) 6300 Six-Core Processor 3.5Mhz, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, 2TB drive, and Corsair AX860.

All I am really aiming for is Total War titles on ultra settings. If I can get by with just upgrading the GPU, that would be great but willing to start a new build if needed. Thanks for the help.

Paul
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Paul

Greetings Branton,
It was timely that I came across your excellent article as my graphics card is causing my five year old computer to crash and needs replacing.
My specs are:
ASUS Z87-C Intel Z78 ATX Haswell LGA1150 Motherboard
Intel Haswell Core i5 4670K 3.40GHz 6MB LGA1150
Gigabyte GV-N780WF3-3GD GeForce GTX780 3GB GDDR5 PCI-E3.0
650W power
Windows 7
One 120 GB SSD
One 2TB drive
and I have added another drive and upgraded to 16 GB ram.
The games I am currently playing are: The Division 2, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Far Cry 5, Assetto Corsa, Project Cars, Euro Truck Simulator etc.
I am looking for a card which I can just swap over.
You seem to favour the GTX 1660, would this be a good swap?
And there seem to be a lot of 1660s out there, is there any particular one I should be looking for?
Thanks in advance.

Nat
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Nat

Hiya, I have an Intel core i5-4670K @ 3.40GHz, Geforce GTX 660 and 16GB RAM. I only play games such as DOTA, CSGO and Overwatch, ive never really “struggled for fps or worried about graphics” however i know my PC is outdated as i bought it in 2013 and havent changed it since, i also have a 60Hz monitor which i was thinking of upgrading, i am a student and very short for money, i aim to “rebuild” or completely upgrade this pc at some point when i have the money, however for now i would like to know the best course of action to get the most out of my pc! cheers for any help.

Jamal
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Jamal

I have a GTX 750 TI, AMD FX-4300, 8GB DDR3 and a Gigabyte AM3 GA-970A-D3P Motherboard. Built it in 2016. I’ve got some money to upgrade now, but im not sure on what would be the smartest move for me. Any tips or advice would really be appreciated!

Cody
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Cody

Hey so my computer is a Gigabyte Z97X-7 MB with a 4790K, 32 GB RAM, MSI R9 290 4GB OC, 1TB HDD, 240GB SSD, and I was debating on what upgrades to make. I built my computer in 2014. I know I need a new graphics card because I’m falling behind. But I remember paying $200 for it and now I would need to fork out $400 for anything to beat it significantly. Or should I upgrade the HDD to a SSD, would that increase performance st all? What graphics card would be a significant improvement without breaking the bank? Or should I wait and just replace the entire PC?

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Btw, I struggle at about 20-30 FPS with cities skylines, and Witcher 3. Total war titles recently are unplayable at 20FPS now. I’m hoping to play CyberPunk when it come outs ,but not with the r9 290 haha.

Tim
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Tim

Branton, my gaming PC is 5 years old, and I struggle with FPS playing Pubg. I have: Intel i7-4770, AMD Radeon R9 270X (with 2gb GDDR5), 8gb dual channel DDR3, and a 330 watt power supply. I was hoping I could pick your brain on any upgrades, or to start fresh. Thanks for your help!