Most of us hope we’re prepared for whatever’s coming next in life. Fortunately, PC users and builders have an advantage here because they pretty much know what’s next: More advanced computer parts will be released and, over time, they’ll gradually go from top-of-the-line to dominant standard to bare minimum to obsolete. (Yes, we know this applies to basically all technologies, but bear with us.)
In an attempt to get ahead of this, some PC users follow a strategy known as “future-proofing,” or buying more powerful components than they need right now. But is this actually a smart way to go for most PC users? Does it even help when it comes to keeping up with technological change? Ahead, we’ll take a look at what future-proofing really means, and how to do it in a way that actually makes sense for you.
What Is Future-Proofing?
In practical terms, future-proofing means choosing PC parts (or a prebuilt PC) with an eye toward long-term performance and relevance. For a future-proof PC, you don’t just buy the cheapest thing that meets your needs now. You invest in hardware that will stay relevant through multiple generations of upcoming tech.
Future-proofing can be a controversial topic among PC enthusiasts. Some say it’s just an excuse to drop megabucks on the latest top-tier graphics card, while others say it’s a common-sense way to stay ahead of the curve. The truth is that depending on how you approach it, future-proofing can be either — so it’s all about figuring out what’s cost-effective and fits your needs.
Should I Future-Proof My PC?
First, remember that “future-proofing” is a spectrum. Some of it is common-sense PC buying, like buying more current computer parts instead of ones that are at the end of their life cycles. On the other end, of course, some PC builders do choose to go all-out on builds with the biggest and best of everything. (And there’s obviously nothing wrong with that, if it’s what you want!)
For many builders, the best choice is a “middle path” strategy of buying high-quality midrange parts and then upgrading as they go. After all, one of the greatest things about PCs is that you can upgrade them whenever you want, whether it’s because your needs changed or you found an awesome price on some top-tier parts.
In addition, be aware that future-proofing doesn’t just mean choosing parts with good specs. It also means looking for parts that offer a smooth upgrade path — the ability to purchase compatible parts in the future. (Your CPU and motherboard, which we’ll talk about in a second, are a great example.) Another tip: take note of the ports and connectors present. Most people, for instance, will want multiple USB-C motherboard headers for the increasingly ubiquitous USB-C devices.
What About Laptops?
Laptops are a bit of a special case when it comes to future-proofing. Modern laptops are generally not designed to have their parts replaced other than the RAM and SSD (and not always those). By necessity, most people will stick with a laptop as far as it can go and then replace the entire computer (as opposed to the continual upgrades many users perform on desktops).
In turn, that means you probably want a laptop that will stay relevant for as long as possible, so it can make more sense to invest in the most high-end laptop you can afford out of the gate. That’s especially true if you use your laptop for professional purposes. Turning down your game’s graphics settings is one thing, but struggling to complete CAD projects on outdated hardware is quite another.
Four Tips for Future-Proofing
- Start with the CPU and motherboard.
The CPU and motherboard are among the most core elements of your system, and they’re the ones that most users will go the longest without replacing (aside from perhaps the power supply). Thus, when selecting these parts, it’s crucial to look at their upgrade paths and technological life cycles.
That’s especially important for the motherboard, which can determine future parts choices through features like its CPU socket and chipset, PCIe slots, and whether it uses DDR4 or DDR5 RAM. As for the CPU, look for a core count and clock speed that exceed your current needs, potentially with the ability to overclock.
2. Make sure your power supply offers some headroom.
Speaking of power supplies, yours can be a sneaky limiting factor in your ability to upgrade PC parts, especially your graphics card. For most PC users, it’s a good idea to buy a power supply with some extra headroom above what your current components require. (Using a PC builder can help you verify the power needs of your components.)
The quality of your power supply also makes a big difference, and it can even be a safety issue if you buy a no-name power supply that ends up frying some components. Instead, look for units from reputable brands that offer at least an 80 Plus Bronze energy efficiency certification.
3. Keep an eye out for deals on graphics cards, RAM, and SSDs.
These parts are all relatively easy to upgrade on most PCs, and many gamers swap them out every two to four years to keep up with technological advances. That also means that these parts can offer some of the best opportunities to go bargain hunting with the “upgrade later” strategy we discussed earlier.
Rather than buying a “future-proof” top-tier graphics card, for instance, you might buy a midrange card that will still give you good performance for several hundred dollars less. Should you later stumble onto a nicer card at a great price, sell the old card and grab the new one. The same generally goes for RAM and SSDs, both of which go on sale often and are usually simple to swap.
3. Realize there’s no such thing as true future-proofing.
Ultimately, the march of technology means that no PC will stay current forever — and it also often means that some new innovations will come along that we don’t expect. So stay humble, realize that no technology is eternal, and (perhaps most importantly) get to know your system inside and out so that you can pick and choose the most effective innovations as they arrive.