2023 is the year for a small, tactical upgrade to your PC
There are a few famous challenges in PC gaming history: landing on a distant planet in Kerbal Space Program, managing an aquifer in Dwarf Fortress, and upgrading one component in PC yours without replacing anything else. I have fallen into this trap many times.
⚡ I’m getting a new graphics card, but then I’ll probably need a new power supply just to be on the safe side, right?
🧠 I decide to upgrade the CPUs, but that requires a new motherboard and my RAM it is a bit outdated now that I look at it…
🖥 I’m getting a new CPU cooler, but oops, it turns out it doesn’t quite fit my case – and while I can get a new one of these, wouldn’t it be quieter with a full set of Noctua fans?
One shiny new component begets another, and once you’ve made a few upgrades it’s hard to resist the allure of a new gaming PC. And then whoops: there’s $1,500. But 2023 is my request for the Frankenstein approach: it’s a great year to make tactical and targeted improvements to your PC for a new boost in speed that won’t cost an accidental fortune.
Video games are easy expensive at the moment. As of today, the cheapest new graphics card you can buy from Nvidia, the 4070 Ti, costs $799 before taxes. Nvidia is expected to launch cheaper options later this year. But not affordable enough. Just a few years ago, a Super 2070 was $499; 1070 Ti costs $450. The GTX 1650, still the most used card in the Steam hardware survey, launched in 2019 for just $149. Basically, if you want a graphics card at this entry-level price today, you need to buy… a GTX 1650. Quiet!!
It’s hard to ignore the fact that video games have become much more expensive overall in recent years, thanks to a combination of powerful new technology and pandemic shortages that have driven up component costs. . The article we wrote in September 2021 about PC gaming getting harder still rings true. And since then The $70 game has also arrived on PC. On the bright side of it all, hardware has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years after a few generations of unimpressive growth. This means that if you’re still sitting on an aging PC, a few well-directed upgrades can go a long way.
All speed boost
(Image credit: Future)
Upgrade: SATA SSD to PCIe Gen 4 SSD
Do this if:
- You’re booting from a SATA SSD (or, wheeze, HDD)
- Your motherboard has an M.2 SSD slot that supports NVMe (probably from 2016)
Ballpark price: $100 – $120 for 1TB
On Black Friday, I finally saw a price I was happy with for a 2TB PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSD and picked up an SK Hynix Platinum P41, one of our top picks for the best gaming SSD. It’s the best PC upgrade I’ve had in years. This thing is so fast It brought my PC’s boot time close to single digits and made me feel a bit stupid for sticking with a SATA SSD all these years.
I realize there is a lot of techno babble in that first movement. So if you don’t really know what “PCIe Gen 4” means or understand the nitty-gritty of NVMe vs SATA, that’s fine. The main takeaway here is that these newer, high-speed PCIe 4.0 drives support a faster data transfer rate, which is around 8,000MB/s versus SATA’s 600MB/s. Of course, it’s not as simple as “PCIe Gen 4 SSDs are 13 times faster” – that depends a lot on all sorts of factors, eg. B. if you are reading or writing sequential or random bits of data, what kind of controller does the SSD have, and on and on. But forget all that: just focus on the fact that a quality SSD like the Sky Hynix Platinum P41 can reach speeds of over 7,000MB/s on a newer motherboard that supports PCIe Gen 4, or an older motherboard that supports PCIe , Gen 3. can take full advantage.
When I bought mine I was still using a 2017 Intel i7-7700K CPU. My mainboard supported NVMe SSDs, but only at the maximum Gen 3 speed of 4,000 MB/s. But it’s still much, much faster than SATA, and if you’re running on hardware of a similar age, you’ll absolutely feel the difference in Windows and game load times. It’s not as noticeable an upgrade for gaming as a new graphics card, but for everyday computing, nothing will improve your PC more.
Bonus value: AMD added Gen 4 SSD support with Ryzen 3000 (2019) and Intel added Gen 4 SSD support with 11th Gen Rocket Lake (2021). On either of these platforms, you get the maximum benefit from a new SSD.
The clever Intel upgrade
Update: 13th Gen Intel CPU and new DDR4 motherboard
Do this if:
- Your CPU is more than 5 years old
- They have DDR4 RAM that can run at 3600MHz or higher
Ballpark price: $320 for CPU, $100-$200 for motherboard
Nothing excites us PC gamers as much as the jump to a new generation of hardware, which I just claimed in the SSD tip above. It’s an expensive proposition, especially when this new technology is coming out for the first time: DDR5 RAM was overpriced and almost impossible to get a year ago, but now it’s easy to find and not anymore to it costs a lot more than DDR4 (I think it will take another year for prices to reach parity, although AMD is a bit more optimistic). For now, however, DDR5 is still an additional expense that you can possibly avoid without sacrificing much performance.
We recently crowned Intel’s new Core i5-13600K as the best gaming CPU thanks to its six high-frequency performance cores and more efficient cores than last year’s model -other. This thing matches the 12th Gen Core i9 for single thread performance! Wild. If you haven’t been paying attention to CPUs over the past few years, this chart from PassMark will help show how much improvement there has been from generation to generation over the past few years; If your CPU is from 2017 or earlier, you’re in for some big wins. AMD’s Ryzen 7000 CPUs are still a good buy, too, but here’s a tactical move you can only make with Intel’s motherboard 13 that supports DDR4 RAM.
See, AMD is now all over DDR5, but Intel is still supporting DDR4 for another generation, which means you can keep your old RAM and still take advantage of a new CPU. If you bought DDR4 in the past, which can run at 3600 or 4000MHz, it is still perfectly usable today. A few years ago we found that DDR4 with 3600MHz and tight memory timings was the best value for money, and further testing since then still hasn’t revealed much use for faster DDR5 for gaming. You can you get better minimum FPS or more overall performance with DDR5 in some situations, but not enough to justify buying it now if you already have a good DDR4 kit.
So which motherboard should you buy if you want to pair a new Intel CPU with DDR4?
the budget road it uses a B760 chipset motherboard which will cost around $150-$200. These models are brand new and will only be released in January this year. Intel’s “B” chipset motherboards are more budget-friendly options without CPU overclocking support and a few other fancy features. You can also look for a cheaper 2021 Z690 motherboard or 2021 B660 motherboard as these models also support the 13th Gen Intel CPUs. The Gigabyte B660M, for example, costs just $110 (opens in a new tab), which is dirt cheap. Alternatively, the $200 MSI MAG B660M Mortar Max (opens in new tab) is one of the few B660 boards with an external clock generator that lets you overclock even if you buy a non-K CPU.
the High-end overclocking path it uses a motherboard like the Asus ROG Z790-A (opens in new tab) ($380) that Asus sent me to test with my fast DDR4 kit. This is essentially where you are putting the money saved from not buying new RAM into a slick and high-end motherboard that, as usual for a ROG board, comes with many advantages: PCIe Gen 5 slot, generous USB 3.2 ports. , 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, and RAM overclocking speeds up to 5333MHz. This is the board to buy if you want to get your hands dirty overclocking and/or undervolting; Otherwise, stick with a motherboard in the lower price range.
Optimal use of AM4
(Image credit: Future)
Update: New 3D Zen CPU, old Zen motherboard
Do this if:
- You have a Ryzen 1000-3000 CPU
- You are playing at 1080p and want 144 fps+
- You prefer CPU-heavy games
This is a much more specific upgrade recommendation, but it’s a great move for PC gamers who jumped on the AMD Ryzen bandwagon early and have stuck with their platform ever since. AMD has made huge performance gains between generations of its Zen architecture, but for gaming the most impressive chip is still the 5800X3D, which uses an extra helping of cache to deliver incredible gaming performance. It was a powerhouse at $450 and now it’s only $350 (opens in a new tab). It’s not the absolute top of the range anymore, but it represents the highest gaming potential of Ryzen before the new 7000 series when AMD switched to a new motherboard socket after five years.
If you’re currently using a 2017 Ryzen 1000 CPU, or even a 2019 Ryzen 3000 CPU, buying a brand new motherboard and a current insane Ryzen 7000 CPU costs at least $450, and that’s with the cheapest board you can find . But to use it, you also need to buy new DDR5 RAM, which adds another $150 or so – up the quality of your motherboard a bit, or get Ryzen 7 over Ryzen 5 and easily pay more than $700. For half that, you can reuse your existing motherboard and RAM and throw in the 5800X3D and watch the performance numbers go up, up, up.
In the GamersNexus benchmarks, the 5800X3D averaged 190 FPS in Hitman vs. 137 on the Ryzen 7 3700X and 171 FPS in Grand Theft Auto 5 vs. 108 on the Ryzen 7 3700X (note that this is at 1080p with the settings though). tuned to challenge the CPU more than the GPU). PCWorld compared the 5800X3D to a first-gen Ryzen 7 1800X and saw it hit 217 FPS in Shadow of the Tomb Raider vs. the 1800X’s 116 (again at 1080p). In a variety of 1080p games, the 7800X3D was typically 80% – 100% faster, and the difference was even more pronounced in light games like CS:GO.
If you’re gaming at 4K and lower frame rates, you won’t see as much of an advantage of the 7800X3D over an older Zen CPU. But if you tick all the boxes above, this single upgrade will keep you in contention for a few more years while new AMD motherboards and DDR5 RAM drop in price.