How to Upgrade Your Household Computer Into a Gaming PC




About: James Boddie (software engineer at IBM) and Nick Seemann (service desk analyst at McGladrey)

Currently, most Windows-based personal computers, found at such stores as your local Best Buy or  Wal-Mart, are not capable of running newer video games. Many of the gaming capable computers they do have available will cost several hundreds more than the latest gaming console systems; however, games released for computers often have more settings, more customization for gameplay, and more user-made content.  An alternative to spending outrageous retail prices for a gaming computer is the possibility of upgrading your current home computer. With this option you gain the additional benefits of running games from your computer at a lower cost. Before reading on, you should determine a budget of how much money you are willing to spend on this project, and you should have a basic understanding of installing/uninstalling programs and basic computer operations. Throughout this instructable, we will discuss:

 - Terminology
 - What does your game require of your computer?
 - What does your computer need upgraded to run the game?
 - Finding out your motherboard model
 - Finding specifications of your motherboard
 - Is it practical to upgrade your computer?

Step 1: Terminology

CPU: The CPU (central processing unit) is an electrical component that acts as the "brain" for your computer. Most video games require certain speeds for the processor to run at in GHz (gigahertz). The games may also specify different speeds for different brands and types of processors. (Tutorial on how to replace your CPU)

RAM:  Your RAM (random access memory)  is your computer's "short-term" memory. It stores the current information your game may need to use or manipulate while the game is running. Game specifications normally require an amount of memory in GB (gigabytes). (Tutorial on how to replace your RAM)

Video Card: Your video card (otherwise called a graphics card or GPU) processes and stores graphics information for your game.  Most games specifications require models of video cards and video memory required for the game. This is often the most needed upgrade for computers to be able to run higher end games. More-than-likely if you must replace the video card, you will have to replace the PSU as well to meet the new power demands. (Tutorial on how to replace your GPU)

Hard Drive: Your computers hard drive is the "long-term" storage for the computer. It is where all the program data is stored when the game is running and not running. Most games will notify you in its specifications how much free hard drive space the game will need for an install. (Tutorial on how to replace your HDD)

PSU: The PSU (power supply) is the component that supplies the power to the entire computer. This will not be labeled on a game specification, but it may still be necessary to upgrade if much of the computer needs to be changed to accommodate the new power requirements. Here is a great website that allows you to plug in all your computer components and will calculate your power needs. (Tutorial on how to replace your PSU)

Sound Card: The sound card is the device the computer uses to output the sound to your speakers. It is often unnecessary  to upgrade this, but does reduce a small margin of processing stress on the CPU. (Tutorial on how to replace your Sound Card)

Motherboard: The motherboard (aka mainboard) is what all the other components are plugged into and connects everything together. For the purpose of this tutorial we won't be covering replacing the motherboard. This guide is meant to showcase easy upgrades to existing prebuilt computers.

Step 2: What Do Your Games Require of Your Computer?

You can find the requirements needed by your computer to run certain games on the website where you plan to purchase the games, on the physical game's box or pamphlet, or use a resource such as the Can You Run It? website. The simplest and most informative of these options is referring to the resourceful website linked in the previous sentence. After opening the link, you will see the image tagged as "Can You Run It Search." You can type the name of any popular game in the "Search a product by typing its name" textbox, or you can browse the games in the dropdown box below the textbox. After you have decided a game to search for, you select the "CAN YOU RUN IT?" button at the bottom-right of that image. Depending on your browser, it may prompt you to install and run a temporary application that searches your computer for the necessary components needed to run the game(s).

Step 3: What Does Your Computer Need Upgraded to Run the Game?

After running the test from the site, it will display information similar to the "Requirement Comparison" image. This will display the minimum and recommended components the game requires to run. It will also give you upgrade options from in each category listed that the game requires. The upgrade options link sends you to TigerDirect and lists off the possible upgrades and their prices. You should select the links for recommended upgrades and note the upgrade options with its corresponding price. This will help us determine if upgrading our computer is a practical idea later on.

Step 4: Finding Out Your Motherboard Model

Before you can find out what components to buy, you must make sure they are right for your motherboard. Generally the recommended program used to find your system components is CPU-Z. Once you have downloaded, installed,  and opened the program you select the "Mainboard" tab and can now see the model number and manufacturer (Shown in the picture tagged as "CPU-Z Mainboard Tab").

Step 5: Finding Specifications of Your Motherboard

After discovering your motherboard model, you can then search on the internet for your motherboard and look at the specifications to see what speed/type of RAM you can use, what socket your Processor is, what slots you have available for video cards or sound cards, and what connections you have available for hard drives. An example of a limited specs page is tagged as "Specifications Example." If your motherboard does not support any of the options we noted for upgrades in the previous section, upgrading this computer is no longer an option. In most cases, the cost of upgrading the motherboard is more than buying a new computer or gaming console when considering all the new components and amounts of time dedication this requires.

Step 6: Is It Practical to Upgrade Your Computer?

You now should have a collection of upgrade components and their corresponding prices, but what does this tell you about the practicality of upgrading your computer? If you made a budget and noted component prices, than you will quickly be able to tell if upgrading your computer is in the price range you are willing to spend. If you are only slightly over your budget you can check other websites such as Newegg or Amazon for lower prices than we have noted from TigerDirect. If your motherboard allows you to upgrade your components to meet your game requirements, you are within your budget, and feel comfortable with modifying your computer than you are ready to start purchasing and upgrading. Enjoy your newly upgraded computer!



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    9 Discussions


    2 years ago


    I have and old pc...kinda 10 years ago i bought it and i don't remember it's procesor but i had a 256 ram and 128 video card and 80 gb hdd.

    I updated it to 768 rams and could run aion, fifa 2006-2007, twelve sky 2, shayia and some others (most of MMO at that time) and most of games until 2006.

    I am wondering if is possible to give him an intel g4400 dual core, an nvidia gt 710 or gt 210 (pls tell me which is better for gaming) and to add a second hdd on that one (1tb+dvd-rw) and this one (2tb) that i use and love it :)

    P.S. I kinda don't know if ati would be ok cuz when i had it as my first gtaphic card, a window popped up all the time 3-4 years since i bought it and would get me out of any movie or game :D (ati x1550 512 mb).

    P.S.2, my pc is 2 gb ram ddr3, cpu core 2 duo e4600 (and will stay like this), gpu nvidia quadro nvs 290-ddr2 and 256 mb and hdd 300 gb (i hope to be possible to put a second one of 2tb and everything to work just fine), with windows 7 ultimate on x86 aka 32 bits (if possible to upgrade it to 64 without deleting everything that is installed cus i don't want to install everything again, is hard to find all cd's and dvd's everywhere i put them) and i want to change rams, 1x4 gb ddr3-4 (8gb if i can upgrade to 64) and an nvidia gt 730 gddr5 2 gb :D

    I will get a highend with gtx 990 gddr5 strix 4 gb or so (1080 8-16 gb if possible), an i5 or i7 4 cores if it will be possible, 2 tb hdd (4 if possible), 16 gb rams ddr4-ddr5 (64 if possible next year if i find a job this winter cuz in July i just finished master in economy and now i get serious and try my best to find a job. (if anyone can help me find the job in UK or USA, it will be awesome because these days i will perfect my english (grammar,spelling and writing), (i am romanian but i try to find a job here for start, preferable with an apartment for me, and to have bills payd by the company or bank few months till i get a hold on my career because once i learn how to do a thing, i do it better than average after a while :D)

    My final question is if i can ask someone who run a pc repair department to pverclock or upgrade my cpu and gpu...gpu if is possible, without changing it (i mean the gt730 if can be upgraded to gtx 900+) xD.

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    i'm in your shoes right now and i'm gonna ask: what did you do to help yourself?? i'm very new at computers! i only found an intrest in them last night so i was wondering..... my computer is as old as i am (like, twelve years i think...?) so im trying to get it to run a game called just cause 3 so i dont want to start a new computer for scratch because im 11 i dont have that type of money... so what should i do? or rather what did you do???

    harmless mattCrocxrz

    Reply 2 years ago


    I'm not expert, but I've been in your shoes with an older computer before. In your case, you're far better off building a new computer from scratch.

    If you want to keep your current rig, you'll need to change out your motherboard/cpu/ram and probably power supply. For better performance, you'll probably want a newer/bigger/faster hard drive (I recommend a solid state drive, or at least a 7200 rpm hard drive). You'll probably need a new PSU to power a more powerful graphics card (several gigabites).

    With all this, the only thing that you have stock is your case--which would probably be better replaced, since cases gave gotten much better than 10 years ago.

    If you really wanted to keep as much things stock as possible, I'd recommend only using your hard drive and porting it to a new system. If you want to be relatively less spendy, try buying a used PC off craigslist with parts from the last few years.

    Good luck!

    Angel DavidR

    3 years ago

    Hey i was wondering if you can take laptop parts like wlan card and modem card and put them to work fumctionaly on a desktop i didnt do the build but i have something in mind of what i want ... im learning at college at puerto rico buildings and networking and i have a few outdated pc's

    3 replies
    Dirt roadgAngel DavidR

    Reply 3 years ago

    No you cannot use laptop parts in a desktop. But you can get a wlan card for pci slots. Or you can get a usb dongle for wireless capabilities.

    BrantS1Dirt roadg

    Reply 3 years ago

    Yes you can, i used the hard drive from my hp laptop and put it in my dell desktop because the laptop had windows 10


    Reply 3 years ago

    The hard drive would be the one exception, but other than that, you can't because the rest of the parts tend to be soldered on to the board.


    3 years ago

    Hi I have a dell Optiplex 9010, and I'm thinking about getting a gtx 750
    (2gb) gpu for it but don't know if it will work like a decent gaming system
    should I get it or not?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Often times, it's worth the price to just go up to 4gb. It's not a huge price gap and it makes a huge difference.