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low budget video card if that's what I actually need

Last response: in Graphics & Displays
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August 12, 2013 1:04:45 PM

I think I need a new video card but I am not sure. Starting a few weeks ago, anything with 3D graphics runs horribly slow. Extremely low frame rates and even actual processing gets slow (i.e. in The Sims 3, "game time" normally runs one minute per one real life second, but now it has slowed at least 2-3 real seconds per "game minute"). The Sims 3 is my one and only game, but I also ran some 3D benchmarks and they ran horribly as well. Up until this point, my system has not had any major issues with gaming and 3D.

Here are my specs:
Intel Core i3 2100 CPU
MSI H61M-P23 Motherboard
8 GB RAM
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS Video 320MB
Windows 7

The RAM was just recently installed (upgraded from 4 GB) before this issue started, but it did run fine at first after I installed it. I have run MemTest86 on it and it comes back clean. I also ran Video Memory Stress Test which also came back clean, however I don't know whether to trust it or not.

I've done the following so far to try to fix this issue:
Scanned for malware using Malwarebytes.
Reformatted and reinstalled Windows.
Made sure video and chipset drivers are all installed and up to date.
Updated BIOS.

After reinstalling Windows, I installed only The Sims 3 base game with no expansion packs, and even that is unplayable. Something physical has to be wrong, because this system has handled this game just fine for the past two years. The timing could not be worse, as I am saving to move in to a new apartment in a month and just don't have money to throw in to my PC right now. I am hoping if it's the video card, that I can get something equal to or slightly better than what I have for not a whole lot of money (aiming for <$75). Really hoping it is not the CPU or motherboard, which would most likely mean replacing both and that is something I just cannot do right now. I also don't know if there's anything else I can do to determine which it is.

Any suggestions on further troubleshooting, diagnostics, and/or what would be an acceptable and affordable replacement if needed? Thanks in advance!

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a b U Graphics card
August 12, 2013 1:14:08 PM

Is anything else running bad besides games? It sounds like it could be your HDD. Seems like a weird issue with a video card..they usually just die or get artifacts or lines..things of that nature. I would first suspect the HDD and then the PSU with the GPU coming in 3rd. Do you have another HDD and/or PSU you can try?
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a b U Graphics card
August 12, 2013 2:26:09 PM

Have you cleaned your PC recently? Blown out any dust that may have accumulated on the CPU and GPU heat sinks?
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August 12, 2013 4:45:12 PM

Aside from the slowness in games, the only other thing I've seen is a few times it has rebooted when coming out of standby, which Windows "Action Center" keeps attributing to a problem with the video driver (but doesn't give me a solution when I click for one). Other than that everything else seems perfectly normal. Note my game loads up just as fast as it always has. It's only when it is in play and unpaused that there is any problem. I don't have another hard drive or PSU available to try. As far as cleaning dust out, that was done when the new RAM was installed a couple of weeks before this started.
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a c 92 U Graphics card
August 12, 2013 4:49:57 PM

While the 8800 isn't very good, it isn't necessarily the problem either.
How are your load CPU temps?
What does task manager say your idle CPU usage is?
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August 15, 2013 4:03:12 PM

Temperature just might be the culprit! CPU temps already in the caution zone with just a web browser running, and after running The Sims for a few minutes it is hitting the manufacturer maximum. I hadn't considered temps since I hadn't had a problem until recently and nothing had changed as far as environment, but now I wonder if the CPU fan got disconnected or damaged when the new RAM was installed. I will have to check it out the next time I have someone here to help me open it up (can't do it myself due to disability). I'll keep you posted, and thank you!
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a c 92 U Graphics card
August 15, 2013 4:24:40 PM

You should check the fan and try to get the dust out of the heatsink. CPUs will throttle if too hot.
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September 15, 2013 9:06:37 PM

Wanted to provide an update. Since I moved this weekend, I finally had a chance to have someone help me open up the PC. I haven't confirmed the game issue itself is solved, but the heat issue is, and I'm almost embarrassed how simple it was. Some of the power supply cables were jamming the CPU fan and keeping it from turning. We fixed that and my CPU now runs at about 60-65 C, instead of the 99-105 it was before. It may be the only part I needed was a rubber band!
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September 22, 2013 6:01:51 AM

Wow... That was it. Game runs beautifully now. So relieved I didn't have to spend any money!
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