Upgrade Your CPU
Should I upgrade my CPU? I work with photos and videos a lot, and often wish my computer was faster. Will a CPU upgrade really help me, or are there other more important factors I should consider?
Is a CPU Upgrade Right For You?
Upgrading to a faster CPU can be a good way to boost your system's performance. But there are several factors to research before committing to this relatively expensive upgrade. The actual process of swapping one CPU for another is deceptively simple but prone to costly errors.
A CPU upgrade will not give you a dramatic performance boost in all cases. A modest clock speed increase, say from 2.0 to 2.4 Ghz, will have a barely noticeable effect. Applications which did not use the old CPU's full power won't show any improvement with a faster CPU. But CPU-intensive applications, such as video editing, number crunching, and online games, may benefit from a CPU upgrade.
Before you consider an upgrade to your CPU, the first thing to do is determine how large of an upgrade you can perform. Your existing motherboard can accept only a certain range of CPUs, depending on the type of CPU socket that it has. You will need to find the specs of your motherboard to determine what your CPU options are. If you already have the most powerful CPU that your motherboard will support, then you will have to buy and install a new motherboard as well as a new CPU.
One rule of thumb is that a CPU upgrade makes sense if you can move up two or three speed grades in an existing socket without overclocking the CPU. For example, upgrading from 1.8 to 2.0 Ghz probably is not worth the trouble. Jumping another speed grade to 2.4 Ghz might be worthwhile.
Cost is another factor in a CPU upgrade. Fortunately, CPUs become obsolete and inexpensive fairly fast. Today's $500 CPU will probably cost less than $300 a year from now, and under $100 after two years. Look for deals on used CPUs on Craigslist, eBay, and at used computer stores.
Other Important Factors
I'm not trying to discourage anyone from turning their clunker into a hotrod, but the CPU is not the only factor in overall system performance. The speed and size of other components can all make a big difference as well. Maybe you'd be better off buying a new computer, or even building your own from scratch. Check out my related articles on these topics to help you decide:
- How Fast Is Your PC? - Try these free benchmark tests, and see how your system stacks up in various performance categories.
- How to Upgrade Your Memory - Sometimes adding memory (RAM) can make a big difference. It's also an easy and inexpensive upgrade.
- Should I Upgrade My Computer? - Should you upgrade your hard drive, graphics card, RAM or CPU -- or is it time for a new computer?
- Should I Build My Own PC? - If you know how to use a screwdriver, and you're willing to do a little research, a home-brew PC might be the perfect solution!
Okay Already... I Want to Upgrade My CPU!
If you're convinced that a CPU upgrade is the right choice for you, then I suggest you see my article Which CPU is Best? to get some general advice on clock speeds, cores and caches before you go CPU shopping. The procedure for replacing a CPU varies slightly depending on the socket and cooling system involved. So you should read your motherboard's manual before attempting a CPU replacement. You can also get good advice from computer parts vendors, such as Tiger Direct.
The following is a general description of the procedure, and is not intended as a step-by-step instructional guide.
- Disconnect all power sources.
- Remove the computer's case to expose the motherboard.
- Remove the heat sink and fan assembly that sits atop the CPU. You may have to gently rock it a bit to break the grip of old, dried-out thermal compound. Thermal compound helps heat move between the CPU and the heatsink.
- Unlatch all the latches that secure the CPU in its socket.
- Carefully lift the old CPU out of the socket, being careful not to bend any pins.
- Place the new CPU into the socket. Don't press; all modern CPUs use "zero insertion force" technology. If the CPU does not easily drop into the socket, gently lift it up and try again.
- Secure the CPU latches again.
- Apply a tiny bead of fresh thermal compound to the top of the CPU and spread it thinly with a knife blade.
- Attach the heatsink and fan assembly to the CPU.
- Attach power sources again.
- Close up the case.
- Cross your fingers and power it up!
If you're a visual learner, check out this NewEggTV video which demonstrates the process for one specific model.
Do you have something to say about upgrading a CPU? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 26 Oct 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Upgrade Your CPU (Posted: 26 Oct 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved