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Upgrading Your PC Part 4: Time to Research

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 5/24/2011

Computer hardware is a complex market, and upgrading your PC requires research as a result. Reading hardware reviews may not be exciting, but you'll be rewarded by the fastest PC upgrades possible.

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    Know What You're Buying

    Having decided what you need to upgrade to gain the most performance for your money, it is now time to turn to the details. It isn't enough to simply decide that you need a reasonably faster quad-core processor, or that you need a new video card, because there are many options available. Even if you're looking at a processor, upgrading from a slower LGA 775 Intel processor to a faster dual-core presents you with numerous options, from the value-mined E7200 to the all-out performance of the E8600. With products that are sold through third party vendors, like video cards and sound cards, the situation can become even more confusing, because the vendor might provide their own bundled software or slightly alter the specifications of the production. To make the best purchase, you'll need to research what you're buying.

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    Where To Start

    Bright Hub offers numerous articles, including many articles aimed at making hardware recommendations. These articles are a great place to start, because they give quick, easy recommendations about what products are generally the best in a certain category. With this information, you can start to build a list of hardware you'd like to research further by evaluating multiple reviews from multiple sources. This reduction of possible upgrades to a few selects picks you'd like to thoroughly research is important, due the number of upgrades available. It simply isn't practical to try and research every possible upgrade: the in-depth product reviews that can provide conclusive answers about the performance of upgrades you're considering are often long, time-consuming reads. And, it is best to compare reviews from several sources.

    Below are some of the best Bright Hub articles in the areas of Video Cards, CPUs, and Hard Drives, the parts which you'll most commonly be replacing or adding in the context of this guide.

    Video Cards

    Best Video Cards Under $75 Dollars

    Best Video Cards Under $100 Dollars

    Top 3 Home Theater Graphics Cards

    Best High Performance Video Cards

    Processors

    Best Value-Minded Processors

    Best Gaming Processors

    Best High Performance Processors

    Hard Drives

    Best Value Hard Drives

    Best Terabyte Hard Drives

    Best High Performance Hard Drives

    You may have noticed that despite recommending RAM upgrades throughout this guide, I have not listed any RAM recommendation articles. The reason for this is that when choosing RAM, the type of RAM you buy is far more important than the brand. Two separate RAM sticks made to similar specifications - for example, DDR2 800 - will perform similarly in most situations. As such, discovering which brands of RAM are the most reliable is more important than discovering which provide the best performance.

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    Narrowing The List

    Once you've used the resources above to discover what upgrades you're interested in, you can start searching for reviews of the specific products you want. If you were interested in a high-end video card, for example, you'd probably be deciding between a Radeon 4870 and a Geforce GTX260. There are many reviews available for each card, and if you're looking at a specific card - say, a special over-clocked version - you can search for that as well.

    Use your best judgement when reading any review. There are many websites that don't offer unbiased opinions. If the review you are reading appears to be unprofessional or poorly written, then be wary of the conclusion it makes. Also pay attention to how rigorous the review's testing seems to be. An in-depth product review should include benchmarks that pit the product being reviewed against popular competitors.

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    Public Opinion

    Having read the professional reviews, you should also consider what people who've already purchased the product have to say. Professional reviews are great for understanding how powerful a product is, and what kind of features it offers. But because they only represent a short-term test, their results do not provide solid information about how the product stands up over time.

    To continue our video card example, there are some video cards which have louder fans than normal, or which run hotter due to a poor heatsink design. While these might be picked up in a rigorous professional review, consumers are better at providing information about how these flaws affect their satisfaction with the product over time. A reviewer might be able to write off the high noise of a video card's fan if the performance is outstanding, but the average user trying to use their PC for both business and pleasure might not feel the same way.

    There are two good places to find consumer reviewers. One is on the forums of various tech websites. These forums often have a number of dedicated amateur and professional hardware geeks. Folks who will be happy to share their knowledge about products you're interested in. There is little accountability, of course, so some of their views might be biased or under-informed, but reading the hardware recommendation threads on three or four tech websites can give you just as balanced (if not as knowledgeable) opinion as can be found in most professional reviews.

    The second place to find consumer reviews is on the websites of stores that sell hardware. Newegg is particularly good, and many of its products have a high number of user reviews. These reviews tend to skew towards the positive, probably because people usually do some research before they buy a product, and also because most people aren't quick to admit that they've wasted money. That products with universally bad reviews don't sell as well and may not get reorded is part of it to. However, these user reviews are a great place to find information about common glitches and bugs that aren't found in professional reviews.

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    Making The Final Decision

    We're almost there - now you know what you want to buy, but you also need to know the best places to buy it. The next, and last, article in this series will cover how to find the best values for your dollar. There internet is a wonderful resource for finding bargains, and with just a little bit of time and some market saavy, you can save a lot of money on your upgrades.

The Best Possible Upgrade

Upgrading your PC means more than rooting around in the guts of your digital companion. It also means deciding which upgrades are worthwhile, what hardware to keep, and if upgrading is even possible. This series focuses on the mental work that is required before diving into the bowels of your PC.
  1. Re-Discovering Your Computer
  2. Upgrading Your PC Part 2: Worth the Effort?
  3. Upgrading Your PC Part 3: Make a Target
  4. Upgrading Your PC Part 4: Time to Research
  5. Upgrading Your PC Part 5: Time to Buy!