Should I Upgrade My PC Piece-By-Piece Or All In One Go?

Dear Kotaku, My current desktop is on its last legs and I'm looking at upgrading. I bought it in 2008, so it's definitely time to move on! The problem is I'm on a very tight budget. I was wondering if you had any advice on whether I should upgrade my components in increments, or try to save up and buy the whole thing in one go? Thanks, Poor Gamer

PC picture by Shutterstock

Dear PG,

Firstly, let's nip the 'build-your-own vs. pre-built' debate in the bud. If money is in short supply, you should definitely buy the components separately as opposed to ordering a pre-built model. While component prices have mostly gone down, pre-made package prices continue to rise. With a little wheeling and dealing, you can potentially save hundreds of dollars by going down the DIY route.

Kotaku contributor Junglist recently upgraded his gaming rig and decided to compare his costs to a pre-built machine with similar components. According to his calculations, he walked away with over $400 in his pocket: not too shabby for what only equates to a bit of extra effort. These days, PCs snap together like Lego — it's so easy your grandma could probably do it.

The next question is whether to build your PC incrementally or save up and get all the components at the same time. The answer depends on a range of factors, including the condition of your current machine, what you chiefly use it for and whether you want to stick with your existing chipset or move onto something new.

Obviously, taking a Frankenstein's monster approach will result in smaller performance gains. If you're still using an old graphics card or ageing RAM it's not going to feel like a completely new machine — especially when it comes to stuff like 3D gaming. You also run the risk of damaging your new parts if an old component like the PSU goes kaput.

With that said, there are also advantages to upgrading in piecemeal intervals. You'll get results faster and can buy at your own pace depending on when things go on sale. If you go down this path, work out the exact configuration that you want to end up with. Start by choosing the motherboard and CPU (which will be the final things you purchase) and ensure all the other parts are actually compatible.

Whatever you decide, be mindful that PC component prices vary wildly from store to store — be sure to check price-comparison sites like Static Ice and PCPartPicker before purchasing.

At the end of the day, while it costs more to buy everything upfront, you will likely save money in the long run. An all-new PC that's firing on all cylinders should last you for many years. Plus, you'll still have your old PC with all its parts intact — you can sell it, donate it to a friend or repurpose it somewhere else in the house. Good luck!

We also want to hear from readers: do you think it's better to build an entirely new system every few years or to upgrade components as you need them? Share your opinions in the comments section below.

This post originally appeared on Lifehacker Australia


    If it's a 2008 PC, build it all new, you'll run into a lot of issues trying to do piece by piece upgrade on something so old, specially if it's an older socket/ddr2

    Up to a point, I'd go piece by piece. Certain parts (like CPUs) you can usually get away with leaving for quite a while - e.g. good unlocked Sandy Bridge processors (like 2500K) are still perfectly acceptable. My PC is almost two years old and all I've changed is the graphics card.

    2008 would probably be pushing it though. At that point I'd start fresh.

    Last edited 23/11/15 1:22 pm

      Said elsewhere (same story on Lifehacker) something similar. If you pick smart, the mobo and CPU shouldnt really need to be changed. Plan properly, you're either adding to a build, or really only replacing the GPU every year or two.

      I had a similar aged machine myself, and only added a HDD, and a broken PSU. Graphics card was replaced twice (I think. Might have been 3), and I expected that.

      With the new machine (early this year), I did similar, with an extra 8 Gb of RAM added early, along with a 3 Tb HDD I scored cheap. The original build only had a 256 Gb SSD and 8 Gb of RAM.

      The RAM was because I could, but now its set and forget. The HDD was planned, it was just a matter of waiting for the right price to come along, and I was able to source that HDD for $70.

      With the GPU, I recommend sticking to cards under $300. They do a more than good enough job, and my experience has been they get replaced at about the same rate as the really expensive ones.

    Build a whole new one, but get it piece by piece. When I built mine I went in this order:

    CPU, CPU cooler, RAM
    Power supply, HDD
    Then the GPU as it was the most expensive and I could still use the computer without it.

    Then you can add a few extras like SSD, extra fans, lighting, monitor and keyboard etc if you need it.
    Keep using your old computer until you have everything set up.

    $100-$300 each week is better than paying a minimum of $2,000 in one day(if you want a decent gaming rig, could be cheaper)

    Mine cost around $3,500, but it didn't feel like that much as I spread it out.

    Last edited 23/11/15 11:32 am

      Heh I think I had the weirdest order. I bought a graphic cards first, then case and mobo, monitor and lastly the rest of the stuff. Couldn't do anything until the final parts arrive.

        Having a shiny graphics card in front of you would motivate you to get the rest of the parts faster!

          That's right! I was literally staring at my graphic cards waiting to slot it into the board and it gives enough motivation to fuck all save money quicker to use it.

    If I was building a PC on a tight budget and was happy to get a base system up and running with the intention of adding bits later, I'd put my budget into the core components, so I would look at a good Motherboard that supports DDR4, a good CPU and PSU but just some basic ram and a small capacity ssd. Adding extra RAM or a Video Card or an extra HDD later is trivial.

    My last build i built piece by piece, bought the case, mobo and PSU at once and then i saved and bought every piece separately, funny enough i bought a CPU cooler before i bought the CPU.

    It took about 6 months from buying the first components until i finished the build.

    Only get what you NEED. If your case is good enough, then don't bother upgrading. Work out what hardware you want, then work out if you need a new case. I recently upgraded, but I did not get a new case, as the one I have is fine for what I am doing.

    MB/CPU/Ram has to be purchased together every 4-5 years imo. Everything else can be upgraded as you need them. I usually upgrade gpu every 2nd generation.

      This is the way I upgrade as well. I think it works out to be the most cost efficient way to do it.

    I'm a buy everything in one go person. I don't see the point buying bit by bit when it just shifts the bottleneck somewhere else. Even newer GPUs I'm not too fussed on getting. Currently sitting on a 4 year old i7 2600k, EVGA GTX 580pro, 8gb DDR3 and it hasn't skipped a beat in that whole period (well except an under warranty SSD replacement).

    I'm going to let the old girl run down in the next couple of years and then assess the next step.

      Oh also, I usually buy a completely new PC so I can use the old one as a media server... Although that hasn't happened with the last one as I sold it to a flatmate XD

      Because of the quality of your other components chucking in a new video card would have a massive effect on your FPS.

      The 2600k still easily holds its own especially if you overclock it.

        Overclocked the shit out of it :P yeah the only thing I'd think of upgrading is the GPU but I honestly have not been stressed with FPS performance on anything to date :)

          Next year there is going to be a pretty decent leap in GPU performance due to a new manufacturing process so that would most likely be the best time to upgrade.

            Brilliant, thanks for the tip Pete! I'll make sure I keep that in mind :)

    For this example of a 2008 era machine, assuming they're all parts from 2008, then you need to go the whole hog.
    Mobo, CPU, RAM all need to be done together. I'd be going a new PSU because the last thing you need is a 7 year old PSU fritzing out and taking out your shiny new parts with it.
    Hard drive? Going to need SSD since they weren't a thing in 2008. SSD is one of the most important upgrades you can do.
    GPU? I doubt any 2008 video card would still be pulling its weight for a new game. Hell, the onboard stuff with the new generation processors might outperform that.
    That's pretty much a new PC. Case, K&M, monitor, speakers / headphones can be done independently of a PC so I'm hesitant to call those upgrades rather than just peripherals. But they aren't always a pressing need if the budget is tight.

    When I rebuild my dead PC (RIP 2007-2015) once I scrape some cash together I know I need to do everything above, except I've already got the SSD from an upgrade 3 years back, ditto for the 4 year old GPU - it can scrape by until I can afford that part separately.

    I like the idea of upgrading your PC piece by piece and using the usable components of the PC to lessen the budget cost.

    I change everything about once every 3 - 4 years. There's always a new CPU or RAM socket that ends up making the MOBO obsolete. In my current case its the lack of the M.2 connector for those uber fast SSDs and no DDR4 support (not as much of a big deal). I also don't think I can run the latest GPUs to their full potential on my PCIe slot.
    The problem I have is a hoarding of old PCs. I can't seem to ever get rid of them and they are too giant to use as "media" PCs.

    If it is a windows system, do it piece by piece so you don't trigger Windows activation protection. (F*** windows. Just for the record :P)

    In my opinion, doing it one piece at a time is better if you are on a limited budget... but doing it all at once would mean you are only pulling the computer apart once.

    Do whatever suits you.

    Buy a new system if there is a new socket out in the last year.
    Then I think you have to either replace core components, rolling, every year. (CPU one year, GPU the next) and sell them second hand ASAP.
    Buy top range, keep it for 2 iterations of sockets or thereabouts, then buy a whole new system.

    First cycle will cost a 1 - 2 hundred dollars per year and you stay on the curve.
    Second cycle is easier and you get a big jump in performance. Should be able to get a solid 4-5 years out of each machine.

    If you're planning on upgrading you PC and asking Kotaku for advice, you're doing it wrong.
    Go ask somewhere like Tom's Hardware or a PC Mag for best results.

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