PC Performance Upgrades: CPU, Motherboard, and Memory - dummies

PC Performance Upgrades: CPU, Motherboard, and Memory

By Mark L. Chambers

Performance upgrades give your PC an overall performance boost that affects all programs you run, including Windows itself. Performance upgrades include those to the CPU, motherboard, and memory.

Upgrading your CPU and motherboard

Simply put, a central processing unit (CPU) is the brain of your PC. A significant upgrade to your CPU usually results in more than just replacing the CPU chip itself. For example, if you decide to upgrade from an older Intel Core 2 Duo processor to the quad-core Intel i7 3.4 GHz CPU, your PC’s motherboard certainly needs to be replaced as well (as will the RAM memory modules).

The motherboard is the largest circuit board in your computer’s case — it holds the CPU and memory modules and all the rest of the electronics — so this is probably one of the most technically demanding upgrades you can make.


Naturally, replacing your computer’s brain with the next generation of chip results in faster performance. How much faster depends on the speed of the chip — which is usually specified in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz) — and on whether you’re skipping a generation. This list describes two upgrade examples:

  • From a Core i5 3.0 GHz processor to a Core i5 3.4 GHz processor: This upgrade results in a speed increase. And, because the chip generation may remain the same, you probably can use your current motherboard. However, the performance increase might not be significant enough to be noticeable in many of your programs. (You’re not really advancing very far.)

  • From a Celeron 2.2 GHz processor to the same Core i5 3.4 GHz: This upgrade, on the other hand, changes your plodding plowhorse into Shadowfax (the uberstallion from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). You’re not only installing a CPU that’s much faster but also upgrading from single-core Celeron technology to quad-core technology — and the tasks that you perform now will finish in a fraction of the time.

Anything less is a waste of time and effort (unless the CPU fairy dropped a new chip on your pillow for free).

Adding memory to your PC

Adding memory (random access memory, or RAM) is a favorite performance upgrade. Here’s why:

  • Memory packs performance punch. Any PC tech will tell you that dollar for dollar, adding memory results in a far more significant performance boost than simply upgrading your processor by a few megahertz. Windows uses every bit of that additional memory (bad techno-nerd pun intended there), and everything your PC does is done faster.

  • Memory is cheap. Really, really cheap. Most folks can now afford to max out their memory capacity. (The total that you can add depends on your motherboard, so check with the PC manufacturer or look up the specifications for your motherboard to determine the maximum amount of memory you can add.)

  • Memory is easy to install. Compared with upgrading a motherboard and CPU, adding memory is one of the simplest upgrade tasks you can perform in the bowels of your machine.