Older computers are typically donated for recycling of parts and materials. Hobbyists will sometimes use old cases and parts to build an upgraded system from an old one. This page describes a common upgrade process using some old working parts with a new motherboard and faster CPU.
This guide assumes you will be using a larger computer case that includes a working power supply capable of powering the components suggested. Some older power supplies will not have sufficient output in watts, and may not have all of the necessary cables and compatible connectors. If a power supply is needed, that can be $55 to $120 depending on occasional sale pricing. [View]
An ATX case might be full-size, 3/4-height, half-height, or Mini-ITX sized. Most modern cases have mounts for standard-sized motherboards. [View] The motherboard recommended in this guide is a Mini-ITX design and should fit in most cases. Smaller motherboards do not accommodate multiple expansion cards, but this is less of an issue with new motherboards including most outputs that would be needed as well as fast USB ports.
Small form factor cases should be avoided. They typically use proprietary non-standard motherboards designed by manufacturers to fit in a small case with components precisely positioned to line up correctly. So, these are more difficult to work with.
Matching Compatible Components
The primary component to upgrade in an older computer system is the CPU. The new CPU will be an AMD or Intel processor. The processor brand will determine the motherboard specifications required, since motherboards are designed for AMD or Intel. Assuming there is a significant design improvement over the old computer system, a new motherboard will be needed and new memory will need to be purchased that is compatible with the new motherboard. This decision process is explained more below with a list of suggested matched components.
Basic Computer — Not for Gaming
The suggestions here are for a computer not intended for gaming. For example, there is not a dedicated high-end video card. The computer should serve most business and personal tasks just fine. A dedicated video card could be added, but it may require a power supply upgrade which is an additional expense.
Integrated Video Graphics
The components suggested below include a CPU with integrated graphics. Here are some of the benefits with integrated graphics:
- Reduced heat inside the computer, allowing the processor to run faster.
- Lower heat so components are less likely to fail due to excess heat.
- Computer case cooling fans can adjust to the internal temperature of a computer case, and slow down when possible. Lower temperatures result in less fan noise and less power used to cool the system.
- Dedicated video cards typically have one or two built-in cooling fans. These require additional power and result in additional noise beyond the case fan noise. So, not having a high-end dedicated video card also reduces fan noise.
- Power hungry video cards generally require higher capacity power supplies, and some need special power wires connected directly to the power supply.
Suggested Components ($1,200)
The following components are suggested as a sensible cost-effective option for a basic desktop computer with mid-range processing power. Pricing shown here reflects the standard prices on Amazon for these items as well as the lower price when on sale.
- CPU ($179 to $260) — For the processor, an AMD Ryzen 5 5600G 6-Core 12-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor with Radeon Graphics is selected. Some processors include video processing capabilities. Others do not. This will typically be reflected in the CPU model number. For example, the 5600G has graphics and the 5600X does not. Having video capabilities integrated with the CPU saves money, energy, and space inside the computer. This CPU comes with a cooling fan, which ensures a good fit and compatibility with the CPU. Thermal paste should be included. [View]
- MEMORY ($58 to $75) — The memory selected is the Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 DRAM 3200MHz. This memory is enclosed in metal for better thermal cooling and handling protection. [View]
- MOTHERBOARD ($218 to $230) — An ASUS ROG Strix B550-I motherboard is selected as a Mini-ITX sized main logic board that will contain the CPU, memory, and circuitry for various functions and connections of hardware. [View]
- STORAGE ($90 TO $140) — The system storage is the SAMSUNG 980 SSD 1TB PCle 3.0×4, NVMe M.2 2280, Internal Solid State Drive. [View]
- WINDOWS 11 ($140) — A license for Windows will need to be purchased for a custom assembled computer. [View] The Windows activation is automatic with some brand name computers such as Dell and HP, but a new motherboard will usually be considered a new unregistered computer. The USB installation media is created by using the media creation tool and a Windows 11 Disk Image (ISO) as explained on the Microsoft website. [View]
Cost Saving Alternatives
Some lower priced components could be selected to reduce the cost. For example, a cheaper motherboard, less powerful processor, and less RAM could bring the cost down by a few hundred dollars.
The old motherboard with CPU and memory sticks will need to be removed from the case. All wires will need to be detached in the process. Taking photos before removing connections can help identify which wires go to which pins and connectors on the motherboard. A larger computer case will be easier to work in than a smaller one.
Repurposing old equipment helps conserve energy and materials that would be required to make new equipment. A project like the one described above can help preserve the environment.
Pre-Built Computers for Price Comparison ($200 to $1,200)
Here are some computers to consider as an alternative to building your own. These are good for a cost comparison. A pre-assembled computer saves the time or money of having one built.
- HP ENVY ($800) — An ENVY Desktop with Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB Memory, and 1TB SSD storage would efficiently handle most tasks. [View]
- HP Pavilion ($860) — An Pavilion desktop computer with an AMD Ryzen 7 processor, 16GB Memory, and 1TB SSD storage would efficiently handle most tasks. [View]
- Lenovo ($1,150) — A Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO 5i 27″ Touch-Screen All-In-One computer with an Intel Core i5 processor, 12GB Memory, and 512GB SSD storage would include a display and smaller space requirements since the display and base are the entire computer. This system would have less storage and slightly less performance, but includes other aesthetic advantages. [View]
- Mini Computers ($200 to $900) — Mini computers from Dell, HP, Intel, and Lenovo are generally low cost, quiet, compact systems that work well for most applications. The lower priced versions of these are typically not as powerful. [View]
Revenue from Links
Links in this document that go to Amazon may provided some revenue. Links to Best Buy do not generate revenue. Cookie blockers and choosing to donate to charity will disable any revenue from links. The purpose for the above suggestions is not to generate revenue, but to provide the best impartial advice possible.