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Upgrade Advice? Gaming PC Under $500

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May 11, 2013 1:45:43 PM

Hi all,

I've been satisfied with an overclocked Celeron (!) E1200 @3.2GHz and 2 gigs DDR2 for years, but that won't cut it anymore. I don't need to be future-proof, just now-proof, and I'm trying hard to save money on this, but choosing where to compromise performance for cost is really tricky. Any advice on this build would be welcome!

Approximate Purchase Date: This month
Budget Range: $500 After Rebates & Shipping
System Usage from Most to Least Important: Gaming, watching movies, light photo editing, web browsing
Need monitor: No

Parts to upgrade: CPU, mobo, RAM, PSU (Unless my 380W 80+ PSU is enough)
Need OS: No
Preferred website: Usually Newegg.ca
Location: Toronto, Canada
Parts preferences: None
Overclocking: No
SLI/Crossfire: No
Monitor Resolution: 1680x1050
Additional comments: I run Win8, Photoshop Lightroom, L4D2, Civ5, LA Noire, Arkham City...
Why I'm upgrading: I'm maxing out my Core 2 Duo, and want better gaming and a more responsive system in general.

Additional Comments: Obviously, I'm trying to strike a compromise between cost and performance and get my games loading fast and running smoothly. A Phenom II X4 965BE was tempting, but with this build only $100 more, I didn't think I could justify buying a nearly 4-year-old AMD.

Intel Core i5-3350P 3.1GHz ($179.99 @ NCIX)
Asus P8B75-M LE Micro ATX ($69.99 @ Canada Computers)
Corsair 4GB (1 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 ($23.99 @ Newegg Canada)
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB ($159.99 @ Newegg Canada)
Raidmax 530W ($47.12 @ Amazon Canada)

Total: $481.08

Already have
Case: Antec NSK4482B (Includes Earthwatts 80+ 380W PSU, which I expect I'll need to replace)
SDD: OCZ Vertex3 128GB
HDD: WD Green 2TB, Hitachi 1TB

More about : upgrade advice gaming 500

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May 11, 2013 1:55:25 PM

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($89.99 @ NCIX)
Motherboard: MSI 970A-G46 ATX AM3+ Motherboard ($89.99 @ NCIX)
Memory: Mushkin Blackline 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($62.32 @ NCIX)
Video Card: Asus GeForce GTX 660 2GB Video Card ($199.99 @ NCIX)
Power Supply: XFX 550W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($59.99 @ NCIX)
Total: $502.28
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
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May 11, 2013 1:56:55 PM

All looks sensible to me ... you can always add more memory later if that's a problem. The CPU and GPU are great bang for buck choices. The only bit I'd query is the PSU but I assume you've researched it?
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May 11, 2013 2:17:18 PM

ksham said:
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($89.99 @ NCIX)
Motherboard: MSI 970A-G46 ATX AM3+ Motherboard ($89.99 @ NCIX)
Memory: Mushkin Blackline 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($62.32 @ NCIX)
Video Card: Asus GeForce GTX 660 2GB Video Card ($199.99 @ NCIX)
Power Supply: XFX 550W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($59.99 @ NCIX)
Total: $502.28
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)


Wow ksham, that's a great build and an incredible mobo for the price. I'd love to save on the CPU and spend on the GPU. But I also do photo editing and a lot of sound recording/encoding -- can the 965 Black really give good enough performance?
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May 11, 2013 2:37:36 PM

TuffLittleUnit said:
All looks sensible to me ... you can always add more memory later if that's a problem. The CPU and GPU are great bang for buck choices. The only bit I'd query is the PSU but I assume you've researched it?


Thanks, TuffLittleUnit! I'm still torn between the i5+midrange GPU vs. Phenom+nicer GPU. It's just hard to believe an old chip like the Phenom could still hold its own in gaming and photo editing.

As you said, I can start with the 4Gb RAM module and add another if I need to. I checked out the PSU on the manufacturer's website and it seems fine, but I might go with the XFX 550W for a little extra overhead.
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May 11, 2013 3:05:22 PM

It can work but not very well. Overclocking would help. But for that, you really want something like the FX-8320/8350 or the Intel Core i7-3770K. But your budget is already tight as is. So you'll have to compromise on something.
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May 11, 2013 3:58:06 PM

I tend to build my systems on a CPU to GPU lifespan ratio of 1:2 or 1:3, particularly now my kids are getting into PC gaming and willingly take my hand-me-downs. By that I mean that each CPU will usually see 2 or 3 different GPUs attached over its lifespan (and then it goes into one of the kids PCs when I upgrade).

GPUs still seem to advance far quicker than CPUs plus upgrading the CPU generally means new mobo and memory. As such I tend to go for a higher spec CPU initially but always balanced against at least a mid range GPU (but I also do video transcoding so need a beefy CPU for non-gaming stuff too)

So, my (non-expert) advice would be to get a capable mid range GPU and the best CPU you can on the expectation the CPU will last much longer than the GPU (which seems to be what you do anyway based on your initial description)

I guess it comes down to the proportion of gaming vs CPU intensive stuff you do...

[EDIT]
Just noticed your comment about now-proof rather than future-proof. Go with Ksham's recommendation on that basis. The CPU is plenty capable and the 660 outpaces the 650 Ti sufficiently to merit the investment there. That's the better balance for the here and now.
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May 11, 2013 7:17:44 PM

You only need a new motherboard if you're changing chipset. As for RAM, you don't really need to switch. The GTX 660 and the GTX 650 Ti Boost are about even.
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May 12, 2013 12:58:16 PM

TuffLittleUnit said:
I tend to build my systems on a CPU to GPU lifespan ratio of 1:2 or 1:3, particularly now my kids are getting into PC gaming and willingly take my hand-me-downs. By that I mean that each CPU will usually see 2 or 3 different GPUs attached over its lifespan (and then it goes into one of the kids PCs when I upgrade).

GPUs still seem to advance far quicker than CPUs plus upgrading the CPU generally means new mobo and memory. As such I tend to go for a higher spec CPU initially but always balanced against at least a mid range GPU (but I also do video transcoding so need a beefy CPU for non-gaming stuff too)

So, my (non-expert) advice would be to get a capable mid range GPU and the best CPU you can on the expectation the CPU will last much longer than the GPU (which seems to be what you do anyway based on your initial description)

I guess it comes down to the proportion of gaming vs CPU intensive stuff you do...

[EDIT]
Just noticed your comment about now-proof rather than future-proof. Go with Ksham's recommendation on that basis. The CPU is plenty capable and the 660 outpaces the 650 Ti sufficiently to merit the investment there. That's the better balance for the here and now.


Thanks, TuffLittleUnit, I'll take your 1:3 lifespan ratio to heart in the future, if I start to depend more on my desktop for demanding work. But you're right, for now my needs are basic enough (again, I've been happy with my E1200 since 2008) that ksham's build is all the upgrade I need for, hopefully, 3-5 more years of casual gaming.
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