How Can You Keep Your Old Desktop PC Running Well?

When your desktop PC is ageing, but you don’t have the heart (or the budget) to replace it, there’s still plenty you can do to give it a long, fulfilling life. We’re taking a question from a reader who wants to know what they should put on their maintenance checklist for their antiquated desktop.

Lifehacker reader “BH” writes:

I have a desktop PC that is nearly 10 years old. I want to be proactive with its care, rather than have to deal with it dying on me.

Here’s a partial description:

  • WIN 10; i7 CPU 860 @ 2.80GHz processor;

  • 12 GB RAM;

  • hard drive replaced with SSD;

  • updated video card several years ago NVIDIA GeForce GT 630 with 1 GB;

It used to be pretty silent, but now it seems a fan can be heard much of the time. Is this a warning sign? Should I consider replacing the computer due to its age, or should I replace any components? I appreciate your thoughts on this.

Here’s the good news, BH. You’ve already done all the major upgrades I can think of. Namely, you’ve slapped an SSD in your system (the first thing I’d do) and given your graphics card a boost. (The Nvidia GeForce GT 630 isn’t a powerhouse, but at some point, your CPU is going to bottleneck your performance, so I wouldn’t splurge on anything more impressive or expensive.)

As long as your system is treating you well, and allows you to do everything you’d want to do on it—even if you’ll never be able to game in 4K—then you’re set with upgrades for the time being. Or, to phrase it differently, the next big upgrade you’d need (or want) to make would be replacing everything old and building a new PC. You’ve maxed out your current configuration (or, at least, are very close to it).

Regarding continued maintenance, there’s plenty you can do to keep your older PC running at tip-top shape. I’ve written a guide about cleaning all the dust and gunk out of your system (including its fans), which you should absolutely do at least once per year. More sparingly, you might also want to remove your CPU’s cooler, wipe off the old thermal paste, and apply a fresh batch. (Don’t use too much.)

Photo: David Murphy

I love that you’re already paying attention to what your system is doing and what sounds it’s emitting. Since you likely use your computer every day, this is one of the best ways to figure out whether something might be going bad—if your system generally sounds different than it did a few days ago, or you notice some component in particular is sounding off, you might want to investigate.

In this case, if you can hear a fan when you didn’t hear one previously, your first option is to clean it—I’m assuming we’re talking about one of your 80mm case fans (or whatever size you happen to be using). If that doesn’t fix the issue, it might be worth replacing. It’s super-easy to pull out a dying fan and replace it with a brand-new one, and it costs almost nothing to do. Heck, you can even pick up a fan that lights up, or one that runs quieter (or blasts more air) than what you had previously.

The same is true for the fan on your CPU cooler or any of the fans on your graphics card. If they’re sounding strange, give them a good clean. If they still sound a little off, but appear to be working fine and not running slow, you’re probably fine, but this is something you’ll want to keep an eye on. You can always replace a failing CPU cooler, too—either with a stock cooler or an aftermarket cooler. The cooler on the graphics card, if the culprit, is trickier to replace (if you can even do so). It’s probably better to just pick up a new card (or a slight upgrade) on eBay.

That’s my advice, though. Generally speaking, I think your ageing computer could absolutely use a full upgrade. In other words, I’d ditch most of its components (save for the SSD) and build something new. However, if you’re getting along fine with what you have, ignore my advice. Keep your system clean, pay attention to any moving parts that might be ageing out, and replace what you can. Knowing how to troubleshoot your PC and keep it in great shape will pay dividends for the rest of your geeky life.


Do you have a tech question keeping you up at night? Tired of troubleshooting your Windows or Mac? Looking for advice on apps, browser extensions, or utilities to accomplish a particular task? Let us know! Tell us in the comments below or email [email protected].


Comments

    When you do finally decide to upgrade and you can't find anyone who wants your old but still useful PC, pull out that 12GB of RAM. If it is not useful in your new build you will probably be surprised that it fetches good money on Ebay, and is a lot easier to sell/package/post than the whole PC.

    You may find a newer SSD can improve performance because some may be a lot better than the one you have at the moment, but I doubt it is worthwhile at this stage. The existing one will probably not be a big save for your new build unless it is fairly large capacity because new motherboards take M.2, U.2, mSATA which are much much faster than the older SATA drives for use as you system disk.

      Realistically a new SSD won't give you much visible improvement speed wise. I have been buying SSDs since 240GB cost $800 and upgrading regularly. The difference in Windows boot up time between my Patriot Inferno 240GB Sata SSD and my Samsung 970EVO NVMe 1TB is about 1 second. Similarly I can't detect a difference in game load times. On paper the difference between the two is massive, in reality not so much.

      If however, the SSD is small and you were still running games or apps from the HDD rather than the SSD it's definitely worth a new SSD for them. Similarly if the SSD is getting old (4+ years) it's worth considering a replacement because when they fail they do so without warning and usually catastrophically.

      Back to the article, I've never had a case fan fail. They seem pretty reliable and quiet, even covered in dust and fluff. The video card fan on the other hand tends to be smaller and higher speed. Every time I've had excess fan noise in a system it's been the video card fan. So I'd definitely check that out first.

      I also wouldn't bother with changing the thermal paste unless you're seeing high CPU temperatures. Just use a temperature monitoring utility (SpeedFan for example) and see what the CPU is running at while idle and under use. Ideally you'd have a baseline temp recorded from back when you first bought/built the system but even without that you can get an idea whether it's running too hot.

      https://forums.tomshardware.com/threads/is-this-high-temperatures-for-intel-core-i7-860.245924/

    I’m still using my i7-980 overclocked to 4GHz since 2009, I notice since then many newer CPUs are only incrementally faster, it has a GTX1080 graphics card. It is a Gigabyte mobo with solid capacitors.
    A few years ago I upgraded the case so it has 120mm fans and added a factory water cooler. Previously the main problem was cooling with it’s tiny 80mm fans and it ran better with the side cover removed. So the water cooling and new case was the best thing I ever done for it.
    I read from reviewers that the 980 was ‘too good’.

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