Enhance your computing experience.
$100 can buy a lot these days, even when it comes to PC upgrades. You might think that upgrading your current PC just isn’t cost efficient, but there are lots of deals out there to bring any computer up to par without breaking the bank. We’ll divide this article into secions for Gamers (Because most store-bought PCs just don’t cut it.), Multitaskers (Who need lots of applications running at the same time), and Media Enthusiasts (Movies, music, etc.). For each of these categories, there are a stunning amount of cheap upgrades that will vastly improve your computing experience.
For the Gamers:
The main bottleneck in most gaming PCs is the video card, or rather, the lack thereof. Many computers, either store bought, or even from specialized gaming PC vendors, use either a low end video card, or even worse, integrated graphics. This severely impacts the computer’s performance in games, to the point of rendering most new games unplayable. Fortunately, there is a cheap solution that will give you great performance for your dollar: The 9800 GT Video Card. This card can be found for as low as $88, and offers enough performance to play any modern game at high settings. Even better, it doesn’t require and extra PCIe power connector, making it a viable option for most store-bought systems that come with weak power supplies.
Maybe you’re not a huge gamer, but still enjoy the occasional strategy game or shooter. The HD 4650 is a great, cheap add-in card that can give any PC the ability to play new games, an ability that onboard graphics just can’t deliver. This card draws very little power, so it can run on virtually any PC without other upgrades.
Another limiting factor in many PCs today is the amount of RAM they have. Most PCs that are bought from a store come with 2 or 3GB of RAM. The problem is that the combination of modern games and the Vista operating system can easily use that much RAM at any time, causing slowdowns. RAM is one of the cheapest components to upgrade, fortunately, and you can now get 4GB of fast, DDR2 1066 for as little as $48.
When multitasking, the CPU is one of the main factors in performance. Having a fast CPU is good, but a multi-core CPU is better. Most computers these days come with a dual-core CPU, but even these can be brought to a crawl when running many intensive applications. For those with an AMD system, the Athlon II brings the performance improvements of the Phenom II architecture, scaled down slightly, but at an amazing price. The Athlon II’s can be great overclockers too.
For the Multitaskers (Continued):
If you don’t feel the need to move to a quad-core CPU just yet, there are still many affordable options for upgrades. A fast dual-core CPU will handle most any application out there. For AMD users, the Athlon II X3 425 2.7GHz processor is a great intermediary solution, giving an extra core over duals, but still able to maintain high clockspeeds. All of this for only $77, which is the same or even less than many comparable dual-cores. If you’re using an older Intel based computer, the Pentium E5300 2.6GHz dual-core CPU can also offer a host of benefits, not the least of which is the Wolfdale core’s legendary overclocking capabilities. Some have even managed to get this chip up to 4GHz!
For the Home Theater Enthusiast:
The price of storage has come down drastically in recent years, and for the home theater enthusiast, storage is always in demand. Music, pictures, and most of all, high definition video takes an enormous amount of storage capacity, and smaller hard drives just don’t cut it. A 1 terabyte hard drive, equal to 1000 gigabytes, is sure to last a while, and for less than $90, this is great for a home theater PC. A slightly cheaper alternative to the 1TB hard drive is Western Digital’s $55 500GB drive. While it’s only half the capacity of a 1TB drive, 500GB is still an enormous amount of space. It will hold plenty of pictures, music and HD video.
A blu-ray drive is a must for any home theater PC, and they’ve never been cheaper. Stand alone drives are available for nearly $100 less than a stand-alone player, making a BD-ROM drive the perfect upgrade for your HTPC. At only $60, a 4x Blu-ray drive that also includes a DVD and CD reader/writer is a great all-in-one drive for a video enthusiast.
If you’re stuck with an old CRT monitor, there’s never been a better time to upgrade to an LCD. LCD have a multitude of advantages over CRTs, such as DVI instead of VGA connection, and at such a low price there’s no excuse not to have one. There are both widescreen and non-widescreen models available at this price, with resolutions of either 1440x900, or 1280x1024. A 17 inch LCD also works well as a secondary monitor if you’ve already got a larger monitor, both for games and regular use.
As you can see, there is no shortage of PC upgrades below the $100 price segment. There’s something for every type of computer user, whether its the gamer, the multitasker, the home theater enthusiast, or average user. The components in this guide all offer excellent value for the dollar. Other good, but cheap PC hardware recommendations and tips can be found here.