Coolest Tech Gift? Breath New Life Into an Old PC With a Component
Like many people, I love getting a new desktop computer. Also like many people, once I have that new PC, I often grow to hate the idea of giving it up. It’s easy to grow attached to a computer, especially one that works well. You learn the little quirks it inevitably has, and soon you’re in a groove. It becomes comfortable and familiar. Replacing that PC represents a big leap into the unknown, so you put it off. Yet every PC starts falling behind on features and capabilities the minute you take it out of the box.
Eventually—usually after a year or two—you’ll start wishing your aging desktop computer could do some of the things the new PCs can do. Like start up in a few seconds instead of waiting a minute for the hard drive to spin up. Or being able to play Star Wars: Battlefront with all the graphics effects cranked to the highest level. Or being able to drive a pair of big, curved 4K monitors at full resolution. Or being able to keep twenty browser windows open at the same time without everything slowing to a crawl.
That’s where a computer component comes into cool gift territory. Give someone a computer component and their PC gets a new lease on life. They keep the familiar device that’s served them well for the past few years, but also get to do the cool new stuff they keep hearing about.
It’s also a very green gift, which is a fitting theme for a season where red and green are so prominent. A new component keeps an older PC out of the landfill, and that’s good for everyone.
Big Bang Component Upgrades
So you’ve decided that a computer component would make a great gift for someone on your holiday shopping list. That’s the easy part. How do you decide which component? That’s a little more complicated. You’ll need to know a few things about that computer first, so before you start shopping, find out exactly what it is and its configuration—not all computers are physically able to take all upgrades and your recipient may have already done some updating. Once you know the details, here are four big-bang-for-the-buck components.
This is one of the easiest, least expensive and big impact upgrades for any desktop computer. If it’s equipped with a traditional HDD, moving to solid state storage—an SSD—will offer an immediate performance upgrade. SSDs mean dramatically faster data reading and writing. That translates into boot times that take only a few seconds, saving and loading files in a fraction of the time and overall faster system performance. It’s also easy to do. Check out my video on swapping out HDD for an SSD on a laptop to see just how fast this upgrade can be.
This is another easy win. More RAM means snappier operations. It enables your computer to do cool stuff like run multiple software applications simultaneously or, yes, even go for those marathon web browsing session where you never have to worry about closing a tab.
Most desktop computers come with multiple memory banks and most arrived with some of those empty, so an upgrade is as simple as popping the new RAM in. Even in a worst case scenario when the banks are all filled, chances are you’ll find small sticks, such as 2GB and swapping two of those out for 8GB RAM sticks will still deliver a big boost.
If you have a desktop computer owner to shop for and they enjoy PC games, wish they could watch 4K streaming video, they’re considering the leap to a VR headset, or have aspirations of boosting their onscreen real estate with multiple big screen monitors, then a graphics card is the key.
Every year, graphics cards get more capable. Consider the difference in performance between one of last year’s flagship cards the Nvidia GTX 970 and its successor, the new Nvidia GTX 1070. They’re only a year apart, but when benchmarked using Rise of the Tomb Raider with all settings at maximum and at 4K resolution, the GTX 970 managed just 20 FPS, while the new GTX 1070 scored 34 FPS. That’s the difference between a new game being unplayable unless you dial all the settings down (and then what’s the point?) and being able to immerse yourself in all the Ultra HD action and scenery.
A networking card? Boring, right? Wrong. A new wireless networking card could be the key to a tremendous performance boost for a desktop PC. If that computer was purchased a few years ago, there’s a good chance it’s equipped with an 802.11n Wi-Fi card. Replacing that card with a new 802.11ac version means the maximum Wi-Fi speed at least triples. Assuming their ISP’s internet plan delivers high speeds, the upgrade would mean stutter-free video and music streaming, lag-free online gaming, faster downloads and web pages that load faster.
Not Just Cool Results, But a Fun Project
For a computer geek, half of the fun of receiving a new component is the installation. It’s an excuse to open up their desktop computer. Besides the install itself (and most of these are pretty close to plug-and-play installations), having the PC opened up is an excuse to do some housekeeping: blow out the dust, organize the cables, that sort of thing.
Is the person getting this cool new computer component not really a do-it-yourself kind of person? No worries, you can also book their PC in for professional installation with Geek Squad.
People don’t always consider PC components as a gift, but if you think about it, these non-traditional choices can make some of the coolest tech gifts for anyone who owns a desktop computer. With a new component or two, their existing PC gets a big performance boost and feels like a new machine—at a fraction of the cost of buying a new PC and without having to give up their machine. That’s pretty cool.