Introduction: How to Upgrade Your Household Computer Into a Gaming PC
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:
- 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?
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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!