Building a new computer is fun, exciting and. . . expensive. Once you have built some desktops, all the new boxes with Corsair, NVIDIA and Intel equipment can lose their luster ̵1; especially after you have counted the bill.
Do you really need brand new parts?
For the most part, when it comes to a new computer, people think of new parts, and with good reason. When you build a new desktop, you want a machine that performs better than the one you had before. But that does not mean that some parts can not be reused.
Let’s take a look at the most important PC pieces from most to least reusable, as well as some of the other considerations for each.
Of course, building a new computer can save you money by keeping your old peripherals. These include your monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, webcam, headphones and all other gadgets. Even if you want to upgrade, it’s easy to buy something later and connect it.
RELATED: Where to splurge when building a computer (and where you should not)
The best candidates to keep
The following components are the easiest to keep in a new building. Some are pretty basic items, but their cost can increase if your budget is small.
The case and the fans
Of all the parts you can reuse from a previous version, the case is the most likely candidate. If you have a quality model that is still in good condition, there is no need to change it.
However, if you have an old school case (see first picture above) it is a good idea to change it. These include both older computers and newer, pre-built cases from Dell, HP and Lenovo.
These older styles were not really built with usability in mind. For the most part, all components are filled in, the lid is closed and everything is forgotten. Sometimes these cases may not even take a standard sized motherboard, which is an important factor.
Modern cases, on the other hand, make it easy to mount components, get proper airflow and are built with cable handling in mind.
However, if you have a modern case that takes care of all these features, there is no real reason to change it. The only exceptions would be if the case is broken, the internal cable for the front panel no longer works, or if you want a case with a front panel and a Type-C port.
If you keep the old case, you can also keep the fans if they still work. Be sure to give them a good cleaning. If you do not keep the case, see if the old fans will fit into your new one. The case guide says what size fans it accepts.
The power supply
There are three types of PC power supplies: rugged devices that seem to last forever, mysterious PSUs in pre-built systems, and lemons that last for two years or less. If you have had a quality PSU for more than two years, you can guess which camp you end up in.
PSU is well worth keeping under any circumstances. The first is if they are still under warranty. Quality PSUs can have a warranty of up to ten years, so these things can last in several buildings.
The second issue, of course, is power. Do you have an old PSU with enough watts to power the more advanced monster you build? If not here’s a new product just for you!
One last question for PSUs is whether you have a modular or semi- or non-modular drive. If you have a non-modular one, consider switching.
Fully modular and semi-modular power supplies give you more freedom to choose which cables you need on your computer. This reduces clutter, which is better for cable management. It also makes it easier to close the back panel when you are done with the building.
After no-brainers, we come to the “yes, I guess you can keep them” variety. The following components will probably work well, but may not provide the performance boost you want from a new computer.
The graphics card
The graphics card is one of the easiest components to decide on. If you only need it to play a single game, that Civilization VI, then you can keep your GPU as long as the game still works well.
However, if you want to play the latest glowing titles, check the minimum specifications for each game. You quickly get a sense of how long you have before you need to replace the graphics card.
When the minimum specifications for triple-A games exceed the model number of your graphics card, it’s time to change. However, you can probably squeeze in one or two more rounds of game editions if you are particularly tight on cash.
Retaining the old card only applies to those who are willing to accept between 30 and 60 frames per second at 1080p. If you want more than 60 FPS, a higher resolution or the latest gaming features (like real-time beam tracking), you need a new graphics card.
Yes, you can reuse storage devices. In many ways, they are probably the easiest parts to transfer between machines. However, we have some precautions, which is why we did not include them in the “Keep” section.
One device that you probably should not continue to use is your primary boot device. It works hard and is the most likely candidate for failure. In addition, with NVMe prices falling, you can find solid deals on great devices.
If your secondary hard drives and SSDs are working well, they may be candidates for reuse. Just make sure they are not dying by checking their SMART statistics. A good SMART rating does not guarantee that a device will not fail, but it is generally a good guide.
Another good rule of thumb is to replace your devices after about five years or so. If you are going to roll the dice and use an older device, make sure you have a solid backup plan to protect your data from a sudden disaster.
Reusing RAM is possible because it is such a stable part. RAM types do not change as often as CPU and GPU generations do. If you keep RAM, make sure it is compatible with your motherboard. For example, if you have DDR3 RAM, it definitely does not work on a DDR4 motherboard.
Keep in mind that RAM prices also look sane again. If you save money by reusing other parts, you may want to upgrade your RAM, or even splurge on some nice RGB RAM for a nicer look.
CPU coolers can be expensive. If the old one is in particularly good shape, you may be able to reuse it. You need to make sure it is powerful enough to cool your new CPU, though (check TDP). It will also need to fit the socket on your new motherboard.
Also keep in mind that of all the parts you do not want to fail, this is a great one. Doing so may damage the expensive new CPU. A new one will probably be more reliable for this critical job.
Parts probably should not be retained: CPU and motherboard
Now we come to the part where we talk about the middle ground. If you are building a new computer, you should probably not keep the processor, even if it works well.
That does not mean you can not use it for a second system with a lot of spare parts, just do not use it in your new computer. The processor is one of the most important driving forces for PC performance, which is why you build a new rig in the first place.
In addition, if you keep the CPU, you will probably also keep the motherboard, as it can be difficult to find a new one for an old CPU. Also, if you keep the CPU and motherboard, you are definitely in “upgrade” rather than “newly built” territory.
However, there are exceptions. For example, if you bought a modern processor, such as the Ryzen 9 3900X, for your old computer, you will of course want to reuse the CPU.
Upgrade versus new computer
There are a number of components to consider reusing in a new installation. Just remember, there is a fine line between upgrading and building a brand new system when reusing parts.
You can make a new system repair worth it by saving on costs wherever you can, but making the meat of your new system fresh.
There is nothing wrong with making simple upgrades to an existing installation. But if you keep too many old components, you will not get the performance enhancement you are looking for with a new build.