5 Affordable Hardware Upgrades for a More Efficient New Year

Jazz up your system's storage, memory, networking and display without breaking the bank with CIO.com’s desktop PC upgrade guide.

hardware upgrades
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s the start of a new year, and what better way to kick it off than to upgrade your business PC to work faster and more efficiently?

Granted, in the era of BYOD, workstations are not as popular as they once were. However, it remains a fact that desktops deliver more oomph for the same dollars, even as they offer significantly more options than laptops for upgrading. Moreover, they make excellent companions to laptops for users who work across multiple devices.

[Related: Why Your Workers Hate BYOD ]

For businesses looking to bolster the performance of their desktop PCs without having to pony up for new devices, below are some relatively straightforward options to jazz up your workstations without breaking the bank.

upgrade desktop insideview

An inside view of a desktop system with an Asus micro ATX motherboard installed.

SSD Your Storage

If you are still on a hard disk drive (HDD), do yourself a favor and upgrade to a solid-state drive (SSD) for a noticeable speed-up in practically every aspect of your computing experience. These days, even an entry-level SSD can deliver a sequential read and sequential write performance that is significantly better than the fastest HDD.

One common complaint on this front is that the higher price of an SSD makes it an impractical option for those who require a large amount of storage capacity. A simple solution would be to install a smaller 128GB or 256GB SSD drive as the primary drive, and use a high-capacity HDD as a secondary drive. Indeed, you can even retain your existing HDD for this purpose.

One recent development on the storage front is the M.2 SSD format, which was designed to replace the mSATA standard. Aside from the promise of even faster transfer speed in the future, an advantage of the M.2 format is that it eliminates additional data and power cables by plugging directly into a dedicated slot on the motherboard.

[Related: A Visual History of OS Desktop Environments ]

Of course, it may be that your old motherboard does not offer support for the M.2 standard, but moving forward, the feature is certainly something you should keep your eye out for.

upgrade ssd m2

The new M.2 form factor such as this one from Micron is tiny and plugs directly into the motherboard, eliminating clutter.

Upsize Your System Memory

You know what they say: There is never enough memory, also known as RAM. And with a 4GB DDR3 RAM stick from Crucial costing less than $40 (including shipping) on Newegg, a RAM upgrade is something to seriously consider.

Even for those who use their PCs for nothing more than basic word processing and Excel spreadsheets, a RAM upgrade from 2GB to 4GB should deliver a noticeable boast in performance; an increase from 4GB to 8GB should relegate most “out of memory” messages into a thing of the past.

[Related: The Future of the Desktop is a Tabletop ]

Of course, those who would benefit the most from a RAM upgrade would probably be professionals in industries that call for such demanding tasks as video editing and computer-aided design (CAD) work. Developers, too, would find the additional memory useful in supporting more virtual machines for testing purpose.

Before rushing out to order additional RAM, though, be sure to quickly open up the chassis of your desktop machine to check out the number of available RAM slots. Most desktops have between two and four slots, and you will need to swap out lower-capacity RAM modules for higher-capacity ones if there are no empty slots available. And while most PCs should be using DDR3 RAM by now, do keep an eye out for older machines that still use DDR2 RAM, which tend to be more expensive to upgrade.

Going to Multiple-Monitor

Over the years, both independent research studies and anecdotal feedback from users of multi-monitor systems have shown that multitasking is easier with two or more monitors. While laptops can run multiple monitors as well, it is much easier to set up desktop systems to do it. Indeed, many desktops can probably support at least two monitors without any external upgrades.

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