Getting into PC gaming or just computers, in general, can often be costly, which is why a lot of people prefer the simplicity of consoles. However, computers can do much more than let you play video games, and depending on your work, a gaming PC can even pay for itself.
Of course, as with any other piece of digital technology with a mainstream operating system, you will need to upgrade in order to keep up with either games or the rapidly improving productivity demand for processing power.
So that begs the question, how often do you need to upgrade your gaming PC?
This goes for both a desktop PC and a laptop since there are also gaming-focused models for such devices. Moreover, a gaming PC isn’t just for gaming. They’re also generally considered the most powerful consumer computers; so on top of video games, they can help tremendously with professional tasks such as video editing, programming, graphic design, 3D artworks, etc.
As a general rule of thumb, a gaming PC is usually relevant hardware-wise after around five years. For laptops, it’s usually around three years due to weaker hardware.
However, there are many other factors that can affect how often you should need to upgrade. We’ll break them down to help you decide whether it’s time to check that cart out.
What Are Your Needs?
Everyone is usually different when it comes to necessity. Gaming computers tend to have two major use cases. The first is for gaming, as usual; the second is for productivity. Here’s when you should be upgrading your gaming PC based on each need.
We’ll also be giving some advice on which components to prioritize depending on your use case or necessity.
Games develop fast these days and GPU (graphics processing unit) companies like Nvidia always love to push the possibilities when it comes to graphics technology.
In this use case, the most important component would be the GPU itself since it’s mostly responsible for the video game’s framerate.
The two major GPU companies, AMD and Nvidia, typically release a new generation of GPUs once every two years (sometimes three).
That means if you bought a computer with the latest generation of GPU which was just released, then you have about two years before it gets replaced in its price category by a more powerful GPU.
However, that doesn’t mean you should be upgrading your GPU every time AMD or Nvidia releases a new generation of GPUs.
You’d want your mid-range GPU (around $300 to $500 at MSRP) to last around four to five years in order to get the most out of it. This GPU price category is the sweet spot for price-to-performance since most mid-range GPUs can play games at High or Ultra settings for most video games released up to three years past the GPU’s release date.
You can add more years to that if you’re willing to turn down the settings to lower than High or Ultra.
Meanwhile, a high-end GPU (above $500+ at MSRP) should last more than five years if you want to get the most out of it. Some even last for nearly a decade before concurrent video games start consuming their processing power like a buffet.
As for a low-end or budget GPU (below $300 at MSRP), we recommend making it last as long as it can (as long as it’s still running) since you’re presumably concerned about the budget if you opted for this category.
Other components such as the RAM, the CPU, and the storage don’t really require that much attention for upgrades as long as they aren’t hindering your GPU’s performance.
These specifications are the standard for now for a gaming PC, if your PC has these, you don’t need to upgrade them just for the sake of gaming:
- An i5 or Ryzen 5 (or higher) processor with a release date no older than 2016.
- 16 GB of DDR4 RAM
- A mid-range GPU (or higher) no older than five years since its release
- A monitor that still works perfectly (no dead pixels, excessive light bleed, etc.)
These conditions assume that no parts are broken or malfunctioning (overheating, sudden shutdowns, artifacts, etc.), by the way.
If you’re using your gaming PC for both heavy digital work and gaming, or even just exclusively for heavy digital work (video editing, sound production, image processing, 3D rendering, graphic design, etc.), then work takes precedence more than anything else.
For work, the CPU is more important since it allows you to multitask better. A few jobs do require a beefy GPU on top of a powerful CPU, such as:
- Video editing with special effects (Adobe After Effects)
- Photo editing with plenty of filters
- 3D graphics rendering
- Machine learning
- Blockchain and crypto mining
However, most digital media jobs (even video editing) will benefit more from a more powerful CPU upgrade.
Unfortunately, upgrading the CPU is more costly than upgrading the GPU. CPUs will require specific sockets every few generations or so. You can’t just buy a new CPU and slot it on the motherboard like you would with a GPU.
By the time your current CPU starts showing signs of slowing or problems running multiple applications, you’ll likely need a new motherboard to go along with a CPU upgrade.
So when upgrading a CPU that’s at least three years old or so, you will need to increase your budget to accommodate a motherboard and possibly a new set of RAM depending on the CPU’s requirements.
It’s also worth noting that finding out whether your CPU is starting to show signs of aging or not is trickier. It might be the other components that are affecting it such as the RAM and the storage device.
If you’re still using a hard disk drive (HDD) instead of an SSD, then chances are, it’s not your CPU that’s causing the slowdown, and upgrading from HDD to SSD will provide a smoother Windows operation than changing the CPU and motherboard.
The same can be said for the RAM. If your RAM is just 8GB instead of the safe standard 16GB needed for today, then you might want to upgrade it first by buying another stick of memory before blaming the CPU.
But of course, if your work involves the aforementioned applications for video, photo, or graphics editing, then you’d want a robust CPU every four to five years or so to help you with productivity and creation.
A Condition for Laptops
Laptop owners are somewhat out of luck here since the only components they can upgrade in a laptop are the RAM/memory and the storage.
Currently, the only way to upgrade your laptop’s CPU, GPU, or motherboard is to purchase another laptop; those components are not modular or are soldered shut to the laptop’s chassis.
It’s also worth noting that laptops are significantly less powerful than their desktop counterparts (if the specification names and price categories are the same). Hence, laptops will struggle with demanding applications much earlier in their lifespan compared to desktops.
Still, the same rule of thumb applies when you’re contemplating upgrading your gaming laptop. Make it last a couple of years or three at the least, five at most. This way, you can get the most out of your purchase and you can also reduce e-waste unless you are re-selling the laptop as a secondhand device.
In any case, we’re not here to dictate what you want or need when it comes to upgrading your gaming PC. All the advice above is just a generally agreed-upon metric from PC users and the PC community in general.
It’s still up to you and your financial situation or how satisfied you are with your current computer whether you want to upgrade or not. But do consider the factors and guidelines above at the very least.