Upgrade Your CPU

Category: Hardware

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.
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...

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Most recent comments on "Upgrade Your CPU"

Posted by:

Matthew Swisher
26 Oct 2011

Ahhh yes, speed. I've subscribed to several, free newsletters, Ask Bob Rankin is one of the best of them. I don't know how many times I've read where Google Chrome is faster than IE8 (I wouldn't use IE9, if they paid me).

I have both browsers and Apple Safari, which is a bit faster, too. Both of them may be a few seconds faster that IE8. Big deal. To me IE8 is the best and easiest to use browser I've seen among the three browsers I use. I'm not going to lose any sleep over a few seconds. Maybe it's because I'm pushing 70?

I would feel somewhat foolish over-clocking my HP Vista PC just to gain a few seconds in speed. Over-clocking can damage your PC, especially a laptop. The airflow is weak compared to a desktop PC, and over-clocking the CPU can increase the heat significantly.

I'm not a power user - not many users are - but I do like the idea of purchasing a new computer if gaining a few seconds speed is your bag of tea. My advice would be to slow down. Before you know it you will be pushing 70 and wishing you had. ;o)

Posted by:

27 Oct 2011

One alternative to upgrading which is in affect an upgrade of your computer resources is to buy a used computer. I bought an identical used PC to one that I already have for less than 300GBP when the same model cost me over 1300GBP in 2006! So I have bought a Dell workstation with twin xeon dual processors for about 350BGP - I was lucky! That PC has my video editing software installed. The 2006 PC still works fast ans my 2001 PC with replaced hard drives still handles MS Office. How long will these PCs last? Instead of replacing my aging PCs I have extended my gigabyte network to four PCs.

Posted by:

27 Oct 2011

One other thing that can give a boost to performance is multiple drives in Raid0.
I find with video editing there is a lot of drive access. I took two small (160gb)sata drives and made a raid0 array, it nearly halved the time on drive intensive work.

Posted by:

27 Oct 2011

Pull up msconfig and turn off all programs that run on start up except your anti-virus firewall will increase boot up speed and overall performance. Programs will still run when you call them up, they just won't be running in the background all the time. Also, try deleting unused programs and files and keep up on defragmenting. You might be surprised at the increase in speed. And Matthew above is right. Heat is your enemy. I've noticed that some HP laptops run incredibly hot, and over clocking them would fry them in no time. Good luck.

Posted by:

27 Oct 2011

Very informative NewEgg tutorial. I wish it was available before I made my first build more than 8 years ago.

One thing Bob forgot to mention is to make sure the FSB (Front Side BUS) speed matches both the RAM and the CPU. I made a RAM upgrade in my mother's PC recently and while researching the motherboard's specs I found out that the FSB of the RAM and CPU did not match, therefore causing a bottleneck of data flow and slowing down her PC.
After the upgrade the boot time was cut in half and the entire machine ran much smoother and faster.
NOTE: PC2700 RAM is rated at 333 MHZ FSB while PC3200 RAM is rated at 400 MHZ FSB. The FSB is the data transfer rate between the CPU and the RAM.

Posted by:

27 Oct 2011

I must say this is the best article so far, since it's clean and it goes to the point, very easy to understand, I guess I'll start to do some research about my computer's speed.

Posted by:

Chris Perry
29 Oct 2011

I have the opportunity to customize the new HP laptop I'm ordering. Should I go with the AMD A8-3530MX processor and 6GB DDR3 RAM; or the AMD A6-3400M processor and 8 or 12GB DDR3 RAM? I guess what I'm really asking is this: If I can only afford one or the other and not both, should I spend my money on the best processor offered, or should I stick with the slightly lower processor and buy more RAM?

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