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Tested: Which PC upgrades offer the biggest performance boost for your buck?

Marco Chiappetta | March 24, 2014
Upgrading an aging PC is a bit of a crapshoot. Sure, a faster processor or GPU, more memory, or a solid state drive can significantly speed up a system. But figuring out which upgrade will yield the biggest performance increase depends on your particular use case and other bottlenecks in the rig.

Many of today's better solid state drives, however, have no trouble saturating the SATA interface and offering transfer speeds in excess of 520MB/s, along with sub-1ms access times. In other words, SSDs can find and move more data more quickly than any hard drive. Solid state drives also have the benefit of not having any moving parts, so they're more resistant to vibrations and shock as well.

We upgraded our system with a 240GB Corsair Force GT SSD ($190). It uses a SandForce controller and offers up to 555MB/s sequential read speeds and 525 MB/s sequential writes. It's a bit of an older model, but still plenty fast.

Like the GTX 750 Ti, the SSD upgrade increased overall system performance by a little over 7 percent in PCMark 7, but transfer speeds in CrystalDiskMark were exponentially improved, especially in random performance.

What the benchmarks don't show, however, is just how much snappier and smoother the system performs with the SSD. Upgrading delivers the most perceptible performance gains across the widest variety of workloads. Everything from boot times to web browsing is faster with an SSD.

Bringing it all together

To top it off, we rebuilt the system using all of the individual upgrades together. As you'd expect, we saw massive improvements across the board.

Overall, our findings drove home our original point: The "best" upgrade depends on how you use your system. Gamers are likely to benefit most from a GPU upgrade, while an SSD would be a better choice for a general PC user or heavy Office buff. If you're a heavy multi-tasker or use multi-threaded applications, you'll get better performance from additional CPU resources or memory.

Whatever the case may be, we hope our data sheds some light on kind of performance gains that can be expected from some common upgrades — and that it helps you make a more informed buying decision.


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