Putting new hardware in an old PC might seem like a recipe for disaster at first. However, you might be surprised to hear that you can go quite far back with older desktop PCs and upgrade them by installing a state-of-the-art graphics card. There are lots of graphics cards that are compatible for use with pretty much any PC that has been built in the last decade, and some for PCs that are even older. However, if your desktop PC is quite old and you want to upgrade the GPU, there are some main things to consider.
What Your PC Needs
In order to ensure that a new graphics card works with your PC, you will need to check a few main requirements. First of all, you’ll need a PCIe x16 slot on the motherboard, CPU and RAM that are fast enough to not cause major bottlenecks when the GPU is running, a power supply that has both 8- and 6-pin PCIe graphics connectors, and enough clearance space in your PC case. How much space you’ll need will vary depending on the graphics card, for example, if you’re looking to upgrade to Intel Arc Graphics, or the two other popular manufacturers, NVIDIA and AMD.
PCI Express has backward compatibility, which means that even the newest, high-end, powerful graphics cards can be plugged into a motherboard from years ago. In theory, any graphics card that can fit into your slot will work, from the original PCIe 1.0a to the latest PCIe 4.0. As long as your PC has this slot, then upgrading it with a new graphics card should theoretically be easy.
While a PCIe x16 slot means that any graphics card can be plugged in, there are other hardware requirements to think about before you go out and buy a new one to upgrade to. For example, you’ll need to make sure that there is enough space in your PC case to fit the graphics card in there. Most compact PCs are going to be restricted when it comes to the size of the graphics cards that they can fit. You can look at your case manual if you have it to find out how big your GPU can be, or simply measure it.
Finally, another major requirement to consider before upgrading your graphics card is the power supply unit or PSU. If your PC was built before 2015, then there’s a high chance that your power supply isn’t going to include an 8-pin PEG power connector, which is necessary for most faster graphics cards today. Because of this, you might have to be prepared to buy a new power supply unit if you want your new graphics card upgrade to work. Adapters do exist, but they are not recommended – they can be quite hazardous and have led to all kinds of trouble including short circuits, melted wires, and even fires.
Even if your PC is old, you can boost its performance by upgrading the graphics card.
— Featured photo by Flickr user Keijiro Takahashi, Creative Commons