Image: Brue Computing

Upgrading your computer can be a great way to save a little cash. It can also be a great way to fulfill that need most gadget geeks have for getting cool new stuff on a regular basis. But upgrading can also be shockingly expensive if you’re not careful (steer clear of Apple’s overpriced RAM), and it can seem especially daunting to upgrade if you’re not familiar with the insides of your computer.

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Yet there are many ways to upgrade your current setup without spending too much cash or needing a degree in computer science to tackle them. These are the DIY upgrades that will give you the most bang for your buck, and are shockingly easy to perform in an afternoon.

Add more memory

If the processor inside your computer determines how fast it can think, then the amount of RAM affects how much it can think about at any one time—opt for a memory upgrade and you’ll be able to run more programs simultaneously and more smoothly, and you’ll find larger files or multiple files are handled better too.

Getting extra RAM sticks inside your machine isn’t that expensive or that difficult to do, particularly if you’re using a desktop computer with an extra memory slot or two free on the motherboard. Your first task is to identify what your motherboard is, and how much memory is already installed—you can either open up the case and take a look or run a diagnostics tool like CPU-Z or Apple’s About This Mac to check for you.

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In the case of laptops the job is a lot trickier but not impossible for the casual computer user—how easy the task is can vary widely from model to model, so again you need to do some online research into the laptop you’ve got.

As the video above from Brue Computing shows, you can do the job on a Dell laptop with a screwdriver, a plastic pry tool and a few minutes’ spare time. Where possible find instructions for your exact make and model of computer, to minimize the chances of running into problems. Ifixit.com is a great resource for learning how to get into many laptops from major brands, including Dell, Apple, Samsung, and HP.

Add more storage space

Your computer doesn’t like running out of storage space—besides losing out on a place to store that kitten video you downloaded for Youtube, you’ll also find your computer runs a lot slower when the storage is nearly full. So anything you can do to keep a healthy chunk of storage space free is an upgrade that’s well worth doing.

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Investing in an external hard drive and plugging it into a spare USB port is an upgrade that pretty much anyone can do. You won’t be able to move your operating system files over to it, but you can shift all those photos, videos and other personal files to the external drive no problem. Just remember that you need to back them up somewhere else too, just in case your new external hard drive should fall into the fish tank.

Fitting a second hard drive inside your case or even swapping out your original drive for a bigger one isn’t as difficult as you might think, though in the latter case you have the added hassle of having to move your operating system, applications and files over at the same time.

If you do decide to replace your internal hard drive, than switching from a mechanical hard drive to a speedy SSD can make a huge difference to the load times and running speed of your computer, as well as potentially giving you more storage space too.

The comprehensive video above from Babbling Boolean is a great introduction to the process of adding an SSD drive to your system (and you can see the before and after speed difference too). The process is easier if you’re working with a desktop computer with large hard drive bays but you can made the switch on most models of laptops too.

Upgrade your input options

Image: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

You may not think that buying a new mouse and keyboard is much of an upgrade for your computer, but you use these devices constantly, and buying new kit can feel like upgrading your whole machine (even though all the internal components are exactly the same).

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There are a lot of options out there and you don’t need to spend much to get something of great quality. You could consider investing in a mechanical keyboard for a more pleasing typing experience or a dedicated gaming keyboard for all those FPS games you play. On the mouse side, upgrading to a model with more switches and options gives you access to more instant shortcuts—whether that’s for Excel or No Man’s Sky.

Installation and setup can be done in seconds and then you’re ready to go. For those who aren’t particularly concerned with computer performance, or who already have computers that are running top-notch components, focusing on the devices you use to interact with your system is an upgrade path well worth considering.

Buy a new (or second) display

Image: Samsung

As with keyboards and mice, adding a new display doesn’t change anything about the core specs of your computer, but it can make the experience of using it a whole lot better. There are a couple of options here: upgrading to a bigger display from your original one or adding a second monitor.

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Both can make a big difference, letting you run programs side-by-side, or keep one app open constantly on one screen while you work on another. If you’ve never considered setting up a secondary monitor before, take our word for it that it’s a lot more useful than you might realize: web browsing, office apps, playing music and video, all these tasks benefit from extra screen real estate, whether that’s more room on one monitor or a second one available to the OS.

And the upgrade is about as easy as they come as long as you can plug in both ends of an HDMI cable and find a power socket. If you’re adding a second monitor then you need a desktop or laptop capable of powering two displays (most can), otherwise you can simply swap out one monitor for another and you’re ready to go. However you set up your displays, both Windows and macOS should detect the changes instantly.