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I have an older computer and it is struggling to keep up, especially now that I am starting to turn to PC games through Steam, but I know how much you can get ripped off buying a box computer from a retailer, so I wanted to upgrade my processor and RAM to make the computer run faster.

My PC currently has a celeron in it, so I was planning on buying a 3rd-gen i3 along with a motherboard that supports it and some more RAM (probably 16GB DDR3 1333 MHz), but I need to know if I can in fact do this. In other words, can I install this new motherboard and CPU into my old machine and improve it this way?

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You have to check if your old PSU does supply enough power for your new setup. A new CPU fan is probably needed too. And you should consider an SSD since no CPU/MB upgrade can give you more performance than an SSD. –  nixda Aug 16 '13 at 22:37
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If you're going to upgrade the MB, CPU and RAM, you might as well throw down the few extra bones on a cheap case/psu combo, in my opinion. –  Josh R Aug 16 '13 at 22:47
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You might want to check your assumption about getting "ripped off" - the retail market is pretty tight these days, and buying particular components is often more expensive than buying a whole system. –  ernie Aug 17 '13 at 0:07
    
You generally do better buying a new box, vs spending anything substantial for upgrades. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 20 '13 at 11:58
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3 Answers

Yes, you can upgrade. Here are some things that need to be looked at first.

  • Is your current hard drive SATA or PATA? A lot of new motherboards do not have PATA connectors anymore. The hard drive is the slowest part of a computer, so it makes sense to upgrade that first. I'd recommend an SATA III SSD.

  • Is your current computer using an ATX formfacter? If you are using a dell, it may be BTX and thus a new motherboard wouldn't fit.

  • Is your video card PCI Express? If your video card is AGP it is incompatible. A new video card will drastically improve your video game experience.

  • How big is your power supply? Newegg has a powersupply calculator that will help you know if your current PS will power your new parts.

  • Is your Windows license a Retail or OEM copy? Microsoft allows Retail license to be moved to new computers, OEM license are tied to the motherboard that it was first activated against, and can not be transferred.

Windows Upgrade Procedure

To change your motherboard, you will need to prepare your operating system.

  1. Backup all your data to a different hard drive before doing anything else
  2. Download the drivers for your new motherboard, save them to a flash drive (The ones on the CD are usually outdated).
  3. Download Microsoft's sysprep utility (If you have Vista or newer, the sysprep tool is in C:\Windows\System32)
  4. Uninstall your current drivers from the Control Panel -> Add remove Programs
    • Chipset
    • Video Card
    • Sound
    • Ethernet
  5. Reboot
  6. Use the Sysprep utility to 'reseal' the installation.
  7. At the next boot, you will be presented with the first time windows setup. Follow the steps.
  8. Install your new drivers
  9. Activate Windows. You will likely need to do this over the phone.
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I find it hard to believe that you'll be able to reboot after uninstalling some of the drivers in step 4 of the upgrade procedure. –  martineau Aug 17 '13 at 8:30
    
@martineau I understand your concern. Uninstalling the drivers from the control panel will cause windows to fail back to the generic drivers that windows uses when you first installed the OS. –  spuder Aug 17 '13 at 19:41
    
Also, the version of ATX matters, older versions have more current on the 5V rails, now they have moved more of the current to the 12V rails. –  Damon Aug 20 '13 at 9:20
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Yes you can do that. You may find problems with your OS, if it does not support the new hardware. Also you may have to upgrade drivers. If you have any boards ( Video, sound, etc.) they may or may not work at the new bus speed. Be sure that the new motherboard has disk hardware the support the type of disk you have. I do this every few years, but you can run into problems if you don't know what your doing. Good luck Cliff

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If you need an OS and a monitor, a budget dell on sale or a craigslist deal would be your biggest bang for your buck. Used non proprietary would be better than a new or used Dell proprietary though. But if you OS is new enough (Windows XP or newer, Windows 7 preferably) and oyu have a monitor you are happy with, put a new MB, CPU, and RAM in that old box and enjoy!

CPU: Get a Dual Core CPU, you want the fastest per core speed you can get. i3 is a great choice!

RAM: 16GB is overkill for most. Even 8GB isn't used by most and would prove PLENTY sufficient. We run a desktop (in a VM) with photoshop, and autocad architecture, virtual servers and a host server all in one box at the same time with 8GB RAM.

MB: Get an ATX board, NOT micro ATX If will have more room to upgrade when prices for memory and such come down. 4 RAM slots, more PCIe slots, etc.

Other parts you might want

Hard Drive: search HLHX or HLFS on ebay and get a fast 10,000 PRM drive for like $35.

Video: Just make sure you get a MB and CPU that have graphics on the CPU.

Power Supply: If it has a 24 pin connector, an extra 2x2 pin connector for the CPU, and ANY SATA connectors you are probably good. If you are missing several of these things, you might want a ANTEC or seasonic 350W + power supply due to the current balance being incorrect for todays setups. This is important because it would power on and could still be a bad balance causing possible errors under load or even damage.

As for OS, the recommended thing to do would be to install your OS from scratch. But, if you can't or don't want to, find an article on how to replace a motherboard. It should run you through prepping windows for an upgrade like you are talking by removing device drivers and such.

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