10 killer PC upgrades for less than $250

Sometimes a single component upgrade can push your PC over the edge. Allow us to make some timely holiday suggestions.

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6. A PCI-based Wi-Fi card

Are we crazy? No, were just sick of stringing cables all around our homes and apartments. Gigabit networking will beat the best speeds of a Wi-Fi connection, but going all-wireless isn't unreasonable if you primarily concern yourself with browsing the Web, updating Facebook, playing World of Warcraft, and talking to your friends online.

As long as you arent trying to transform your desktop into a multiuser streaming hub for your living area, an 802.11n Wi-Fi connection (aka, Wireless-N) should be just fine for your typical needs. Youll still likely be able to stream high-quality movies, depending on your connectionwhich is why

Our recommendation: We suggest that you go for a multiple-antenna, PCI-based wireless card over a relatively wimpy USB-based Wireless-N adapter. You should be able to find a good PCI-based unit for under $65.

7. An aftermarket CPU cooler and larger case fans

This suggestion applies to desktop owners who are sick of hearing the din generated by CPU and case fans.

An aftermarket CPU cooler can give you better performance than a typical stock cooler. More important to the user we have in mind, it will likely be quieter. The same same thing goes for aftermarket case fans: Larger fans that run at a lower rpm rate offer greater cooling potential, and in many instances do so at a lower decibel reading.

Our recommendation: Many good aftermarket CPU coolers and fans are available. A quick scan through the CPU cooler offerings at Thermaltake reveals prices ranging from $15 to $100, with most options falling in the $40-to-$60 range. Fans, meanwhile, typically cost $10 to $20 each. The crucial factors here are making sure that your system can accommodate the increased size of the components you choose and installing them properly.

Fractal Define R3 8. A new case

Many case options, ranging from budget to midrange, cost well under $250 and can provide you with a completely new experience beyond your rigs standard setup.

Perhaps your current case only sports USB 2.0 headers on the front, and you want to upgrade to USB 3.0to match your new USB 3.0-friendly motherboard. Or maybe youd like to switch to a case thats more upgrade-friendly than the tiny, screw-filled system you have now. Or it could be that you want to add visual punch under your desk, with all the lights, fans, glowing LED strips, and touch-panels you can get your hands on.

Our recommendation: Check out the Fractal Define R3, an inexpensive ($120) chassis that looks as good as it functions.

9. Liquid cooling

With this upgrade under your belt, youll have graduated from computer enthusiast to die-hard system builder. But making the big leap to liquid cooling doesn't have to an exercise in masochism. The cooling capabilities of liquid-based systems tend to be superior to anything based on traditional air-cooling methods. This is a crucial consideration if you want to overclock your CPU or GPU.

You'll also find that you can eliminate a significant amount of noise when you rely on liquid-filled tubes instead of noisy fans. And, of course, liquid cooling looks neat, especially if youre sporting clear tubing filled with pretty (or UV-reactive) fluid.

Our recommendation: Our do-it-yourself liquid cooling system came in at about $220, but models in the popular Corsair Hydro line will set you back far less. Be sure to invest a little extra money in some towels, just to be safe.

Seagate Momentus XT 10. The biggest hard drive you can find

If youre jonesing for raw speed, the solid-state drive described in item number one is your ticket. As noted earlier, though, a hybrid drive like the Seagate Momentus XT can pair a 7200-rpm standard hard drive with flash memory, yielding SSD-like performance with plenty of storage capacity; and a 750GB hybrid drive can be yours for about $140. Yet another option is to go strictly for cavernous storage capacity: You can snag a 2TB hard drive from Western Digitals Caviar Black line for about $170.

Our recommendation: Hard drive prices arent great right now, but if youre tired of living small and/or slow, you should treat your computer to a boost in storage (with a hard drive that breaks the terabyte barrier) or speed (with a hybrid drive).

This story, "10 killer PC upgrades for less than $250" was originally published by PCWorld.

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