Can You Upgrade a Prebuilt PC?

Can You Upgrade a Prebuilt PC?

 

In the world of computers, every monumental leap in processing power pushes an entire generation of hardware into the obsolete bin. While other systems are moving on to the newest hardware, it's up to prebuilt systems to incrementally upgrade singular components to keep the edge on the latest hardware requirements.

This article will cover what you need to remember when trying to upgrade a prebuilt gaming PC.

Can You Upgrade a Prebuilt PC?

The simple answer is yes. Depending on what you want from a gaming PC, an upgrade can be as simple as installing a new SSD or Graphics card to switching out a CPU cooler or power supply, which requires more planning into compatibility.   

The Benefit of Prebuilt Support

When you buy a prebuilt, system integrators automatically offer you a default warranty period for a certain amount of time. During this warranty period, you are not allowed to make hardware changes to the system; doing so can result in unnecessary component damage to the unaware customer. 

This is why system integrators have an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) department that deals with component failure and troubleshooting cases. Along with customer service, the benefits of not violating your warranty from when you initially receive the system has its advantage.


If you intend to upgrade your system, know that any warranty you have will no longer be honored.

With that out of the way, let's consider the most important things when upgrading a certain component. 

Why You’d Want to Upgrade Your Prebuilt PC

 When using a stock configuration, it's easy to accept that a PC won't perform significantly better through slight alterations. A small change that upgrading can do to a PC is its RAM or GPU, which will dramatically increase gaming performance and productivity. 

Putting money into a part upgrade can prolong a system's life before completely changing the core components like the CPU, Motherboard, and PSU. 

What You Can Upgrade

CPU

The CPU has a wide or limited range depending on the brand of CPU. AMD has had a long history of supporting sockets through multiple generations, like the AM4 microarchitecture, which supports four generations of CPUs on most production motherboards that have received a proper BIOS update.

On the other hand, Intel comes out with a socket-specific motherboard for every generation of CPU released. These motherboards are incompatible with future releases, limiting the motherboard to a single generation of CPUs. 

GPU

Next to the RAM, the GPU is one the most accessible yet power-dependent parts of a PC. Most modern prebuilt systems can accept a GPU if the motherboards contain a PCIe 16x slot capable of utilizing a GPU in its entirety. 

 The most critical factors when upgrading a GPU that is not limited to performance bottlenecks is the length of your PC case and whether your GPU will have enough airflow to operate at ideal temperatures. 

RAM

RAM is arguably the most accessible component to change and support with a broader range of hardware. The most modern RAM is DDR4 and DDR5 in the current PC market.

While DDR4 is on its way out, DDR5 is the latest iteration for the newer CPUs released in 2021 and 2022. Unlike older versions of RAM, these are not backward compatible and require new motherboards if you plan to upgrade from DDR4 to DDR5.

Storage

One of the most reliable hardware in the system, besides a good PSU, is storage solutions ranging from hard drives to the more modern NVME.

Storage depends on factors like available mounts and space. If your PC case has a hard drive chassis, getting HDDs may be a cheap and effective solution. If you don't have any HDD or SSD mounts, then getting SATA SSD would be the best course of action to shove in the back of your system with no performance issues.  

Power Supply

An essential base for a system will always fall on the PSU. The most imperative direction to follow when upgrading a PSU is the headroom given to components depending on how much power components draw.

A good rule of thumb is to have a PSU around 100 watts above the total system usage will be enough to facilitate the PC's needs. This ensures a healthy amount of overhead for a majority of components from a majority from all third party manufacturers. 

Importance of OEM Parts

Some more prominent manufacturers are so large that they ship their prebuilds with OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) components that are not for retail markets. These parts are “standardized” in their design and incompatible with some components you would pick up from a retailer. Depending on the system integrator, this can range from a lackluster motherboard to an unknown power supply that you've never heard of before. 


Here is an example of the different types of OEM and Retail motherboards:

Z490 Motherboard

Above is a Z490 motherboard made by Dell in their AlienWare R11 prebuilt series from 2020. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this type of motherboard from an upgrading standpoint.

Pros

Cons

Is a standard Micro-ATX board

Lacks M.2 NVME slot

Multiple PCIE slots

Proprietary front panel connector (Not standard in most other cases)

Swappable CPU slot

Lacks internal heatsinks on VRM to help thermals

4 RAM stick slots

 

Has standard 4 and 24 pin power connectors

 

Multiple SATA ports for drive expansion

 

With prebuilt OEM systems, their main purpose is to serve the minimum specs advertised on the product page. If you see yourself only adding a new hard drive or an SSD during the life of the system, then this may be the best pick for you! But as far as overclocking and other newer gaming PC storage solutions, these actions will push this board beyond its specifications.

Let's look at a comparable board in the rest of the Manufacturer market and see if we can find one of equal valves of $180 on the market. 

Competitive Component Manufacturers

MSI Z490-A Pro

Above is a MSI Z490-A Pro that we use in our systems,an equivalent example to the Z490 Aurora R11 variant, with added features for the modern PC hardware enthusiasts.

Pros

Cons

Has two dedicated M.2 Slots

Larger Motherboard (ATX)

Has dedicated heatsinks for the VRM

Limited SATA usability (M.2 share some SATA ports when in use)

4 RAM stick slots

 

Type C connection on motherboard

 

2 USB 3 headers (can support up to 4 additional usb 3.0's)

 

RGB headers (ARGB& JRAINBOW)

 

Overclock supported Motherboard

 

Already you can feel the “bang with your buck” when choosing this board option. So why don't prebuilts come with this much future proofing from big manufacturers? It all boils down to intended use and the projected life time for a system.

PC components have a habit of becoming outdated so fast that in five to ten years after a product release, many people may consider that component obsolete. That is why companies don't put more effort into a component that a minority of people will want to tinker with upgrading their system.

When You Can’t Upgrade a Prebuilt PC

A major drawback of some system integrators is their inability for the right to repair and exclusive OEM parts that do not work with other industry standard components. While this has their advantages for some customers who are not technically inclined, but less so for those looking to upgrade prebuilds with retail parts.

Apex’s Promise for System Integrity

At Apex Gaming PCs, We understand if the hardware from yesteryear doesn't live up to what you need out of your system. Apex does not use any major OEM parts that will inhibit your upgrade journey into making the system you want. We encourage you to view our fully upgradable PC’s with components made by manufacturers who have a wide range of compatibility with other companies and accessories.

Whatever upgrades you have planned for your system, Apex puts the forethought into future proofing components providing options to upgrade by yourself or with Apex.     

Written by Will Wilson


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