Best Bang for your Buck Upgrades: Determine the Best Upgrades for your System

How much RAM is my computer actually using?
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With such a massive host of available upgrades, it’s hard to know where to begin. You may have only a vague idea of what you want: “I just want my computer to be faster” or you may have very specific needs: “I want my computer to be able to run Photoshop.” In either case the steps are the same: identify where you’re at, decide where you’d like to be, and then, buy the parts from OutletPC that will get you there!

Identify where you’re at:

With RAM

While there’s no such thing as too much RAM there are diminishing returns on added RAM past a certain point. If, for example, at the times when you’re straining your computer the most, you’re only using 3-4GB of memory, than upgrading to 6-8GB won’t do much good.

How much RAM is my computer actually using?Windows includes an easy to use utility which can quickly tell you how much of your RAM you’re using. It’s called Task Manager, and you can access it by hitting Ctrl+Alt+Delete. At the top of this window you’ll see several tabs; the one we’re looking for is labeled “Performance.” Looking at this tab you’ll see a couple of line graphs. The top graph, which may have several windows, reflects your processor usage, the bottom graph shows your memory usage.

With this window still open, use your computer like you normally do: play games, surf the web, etc., but keep an eye on this graph. How close does the line get to the top? If your usage remains below 70% during the times when you’re stressing your computer the hardest, than you probably won’t get much out of a memory upgrade.

With your CPU

Check how much CPU you're usingMeasuring your CPU is more or less the same process as it is with RAM, just use the line graph from the top window instead of the bottom. One note to make here is that the CPU is broken into several screens, one for each of your processor cores. The task manager monitors the load on each core separately.

Try here what we did on the RAM test; put your computer through its paces. If you’re not consistently reaching at least 70% of your processor’s capacity, then you’re not going to see a big improvement from a processor upgrade.

With your Video Card

First you’ll want to know if you’re currently using a dedicated video card or if you’re using integrated graphics. The easiest way to check this is to look on the back of your computer. If your video ports are vertical, then you’re plugging them into your motherboard, which means integrated graphics. If your video ports are horizontal, then you’re using a video card. Yup, it’s that easy.

How to tell if you have integrated or discrete graphics

As far as knowing how good or bad the video card you’re using is, we can check that using another Windows Utility called Device Manager. Accessing Device Manager is How to check which GPU you've goteasy; just head to your Start Menu, click Control Panel, and then click Device Manager. Here you’ll see a list of all the parts that make up your computer. The one we want to know more about it called “Display Adapters,” so click on the little plus sign next to that and you’ll see the name of your GPU. It’s probably something like: ATI Radeon HD 3200 or nVidia GeForce 8400GS, or something similar.

To see how your GPU ranks you can visit this link to Passmark.com and stick the name of your GPU into the search box. Remember to match your video card to your needs, if you’re playing a game and its running slow, if you’re watching a movie and the playback isn’t smooth, if you’d like a PC to TV connection but you’re missing the port, invest in a graphics card. If not then look elsewhere for your upgrades.

With your Storage:

Checking up on your current storage situation is as easy as it gets. Head to My Computer, right click on the disk you want to check (usually C:), and click Properties. This will show you an easy to ready pie chart detailing how much space you’re currently using vs. how much you’ve got left.

For more detailed information about your data drives, head back to Control Check the model number of your hard drivePanel/Device Manager and click on the plus sign next to Disk Drives. Your hard drive will be listed as either an ATA or IDE device. Newer hard drives are ATA or SATA while older hard drives are called IDE. These two are not compatible, so if you plan on replacing yours, then make sure it’s the right type. The numbers that come before the ATA or IDE are the model number of your hard drive. Pop this into Google to find out everything you’d want to know about your hard drive.

I hope that this series of posts has been informative and helpful to some of you! I started this project off intending it to be around 500 words and ended up with about ten-times that! Computers can be tricky and scary, but with a little patience, daring, and know-how, you can upgrade and replace parts on your own for a great price. If you’ve got questions or comments, be sure to post them below. If not, make your way to OutletPC for all the upgrades you can eat . . . or use . . . or whatever.

If you’re looking for ways to make your computer faster without physical upgrades, check out my post about virus, utilities, and other tweaks. It’s called “Why Your Computer Sucks”

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