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How to upgrade, if at all

Last response: in Video Games
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April 13, 2011 5:15:46 AM

I have a Dell Dimension E510. Its most important gaming specs are:

Intel Pentium 4 3.0GHz CPU
1 GB of RAM (with a max of 4 GB)
ATI Radeon X300 with 128 MB

Typically I enjoy playing Counter Strike Source online, but find that it is often difficult to play due to delays. Other games I like to play are Guild Wars, and find that it is ok for the most part. I have the greatest difficult with Battlefield 2.

I have looked on amazon and have found that for about $60 I can upgrade to a 1GB video card, and for another $60 I can max out my RAM to 4 GB. However, I do not want to upgrade without first understand where my slow down is.

How can I determine where the resources are needed? I typically attempt to open up the Windows Task Manager to view the CPU and Memory utilization. I have not found a way to monitor video card metrics. The CPU hovers around 60% and the memory can get under 50 MB under certain circumstances.

Additionally, I have further concerns that my wireless connection to the desktop is less than optimal. How could I understand if: (1) a sub-optimal internet connection makes the game slow, or (2) a sluggish system is due to something other than network resources?

While upgrading both the video card and memory is not a tremendous amount of memory ($120), I would hate to upgrade and not see a difference in game play.

More about : upgrade

April 13, 2011 5:16:54 PM

It is tough to say, many games today are somewhat processor heavy, so at least with the latest games you will likely run into some issues regardless of what you choose.

That being said, if you are simply looking to improve performance in the games that you already play, a new graphics card should go a long way. However you will likely be limited by the power supply in the system when buying, so be sure that you have enough wattage and the appropriate power connections on the card. Also the amount of the memory is not what determines the power of the card, so you may want to look at hardware charts when selecting a card, like the ones that they have on this site.

I'm assuming given the specs that you are on XP so 1 GB of ram is ok, you would definitely be better off with at least 2 but may not see a large increase in games as graphics is likely your main bottleneck at this point. However with 1 GB be sure to clean your PC as much as possible, by uninstalling unnecessary software and possibly running programs like AdAware so that you can reduce the running processes as much as possible.

You can setup gpuz to log information in the background, which can give you an idea of how much of your graphics power is being used in game. As far as wireless goes most games show your ping times to the server, so you should be able to tell if that is slowing you down. However I have played a lot counterstrike and several MMO's, and as long as your connection is stable speed almost doesn't matter, for example there was a point in time where I played guild wars on dial up.
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April 13, 2011 6:26:56 PM

keep in mind that you are on an older system.

that said, your video card is a little weak and you should be using at least 2gb of ram. if your processor is at 60% at the desktop then this is an issue, if its in game then it should be adequate.

i wouldnt splurge excessively or buy very high end products as it is not worth the money and they may not work with your system the way you want them to.

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depending on how much money you are thinking of spending it might be worth getting a new system. for $600-1000 you can put together something newer that can kick some ass.

if all you want to do is play the old games that you already have then this can probably be done for $100-200. don't expect HUGE gains though.
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April 13, 2011 9:18:19 PM

I actually used to have the exact same system that you have. I bought an 8600gt and put it in the system, along with 3 gigs of ram. It sped up the system quite a bit. That being said, the system will not run new games very well. If you only play games that are 4 or more years old, you should be fine, but if you want to play current games, I would seriously consider scrapping the system altogether and getting a new one. If you get a new one, build it yourself. You will find that it is vastly cheaper than buying a system from dell, for the same specs. If you don't know how to build a PC, message me and I'll try to point you down the right path.

If you only want to upgrade your system, I would recommend getting more ram. That alone will do wonders for the system. A new videocard is a good idea as well. Keep in mind that you have a very small psu that does not have spare cables; therefore, the card will have to only get its power directly from the motherboard. That limits your graphics card options considerably.

I would recommend the gt430 for upgrading your card. You should be able to run games at 720p for newer games and run older games as well. I wouldn't recommend spending much more than $50 on a videocard for your system. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to message me.

Do you know what your psu is rated at? I think it's 300w, but I can't remember what that dell model was.

From my experience, the difference before and after upgrading my dell e510 was HUGE. It's not a powerhouse by any means, but it will be substantially better in games than it is now. If it were me, I would just buy a new system but I understand that financially that may not be an option.

For about $500-$1000 you could build a system that would be MASSIVELY faster than what you're running now. Don't buy a new system from dell if you want to play games (unless you're getting a laptop). Building the computer yourself is cheaper. Period.
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April 13, 2011 9:23:40 PM

If you do want to build the system yourself but lack the confidence to do it, I (and many other people here on Toms) would be more than happy to help you get up to speed on how to build your own system. Hell, if you need me to, I'll walk you through practically every step of the process, from picking components down to assembling the system. I was really worried the first time I built my own computer, but it ended up being an awesome system. I saved over $1000 by building the system myself, rather than getting it from alienware, etc. Of course, the amount of money that you save will differ based on how much computer you are buying.
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April 14, 2011 5:58:56 AM

Thanks for all of the responses and the support. I am mostly interested in only playing the games I already play with not so many delays. It would be good to support newer games although I'm not even sure what those would be and as a result would not be able to follow any type of system requirements by the games manufacturer as a starting point.

I am a student at this point and due to financial considerations do not feel comfortable on spending money for a new computer at least until after I graduate and get a job.

The part I have ordered at this point is the system memory:

Crucial DDR2: 2x1GB
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003SQW2UE

I figure that if I ever want more RAM I can just add it on later. I looked at the GT430 with 1 GB, and it looks like a good deal.

There is an articles on the site titled "Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March 2011"
<http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-gaming-graphic...;. It seems like the video card is a much harder decision with so many options. I am a bit limited on the time to have on researching my choice, but hope to order the video card soon.

Thanks again for your help in this matter.

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April 14, 2011 2:39:34 PM

Just another point...I know you've already bought the RAM, but given the age of your system, do you know if it's 32-bit or 64-bit? If you had, or are still thinking of, increasing the RAM to 4GB you'd have not gotten the full use out of it if it's a 32-bit system.

I'd also check the type of PCI-e slot on the motherboard as well. You could get a new graphics card that is capable of doing a lot more than the motherboard will let it, essentially bottlenecking your card and not allowing it to deliver its full potential. eBay may have a more suitable card at a cheaper price, which will still give you an increase in performance. Of course, a new card isn't a bad move...if you decide to upgrade in the future it could always be carried over to a new system.
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April 19, 2011 5:08:57 AM

I ended up buying a 1GB EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GT 430 video card. It was on sale directly from EVGA for $49 after a mail in rebate. Both of the items ordered arrived very quickly as I received them in the mail today.

I first put the video card into the system without the RAM. When I did this I went from about 15 fps to 50 fps which is about an improvement of 3x. The average ping also decreased by about 30 ms. This was the case across all of the three games mentioned that I play.

Next I plopped in the RAM and saw another dramatic jump from 50fps to 150fps, which is another increase by 3x. I was very happy to see that both upgrades made a measurable increase in performance.

While the gameplay was much better, I still experienced delays which where very bothersome. In the end I plugged into the wired network and saw ping times drop from 150 ms to numbers around 75 ms after switching off the wireless connection. This allowed the games to play as they where intended.

I probably should have plugged into the wired network first, but didn't. However, I was able to see that the video card and memory where without a doubt impacting network performance. There where noticeable changes when the video card was put in, and then additional improvements with the RAM. They included better resolution, and graphics quality/details.
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April 21, 2011 10:55:57 PM

Best answer selected by Abi.
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April 24, 2011 6:33:34 PM

That's awesome! My experience was very similar. Upgrading my video card and RAM had an absolutely astounding difference in my games as well. Glad I, and the other tom's members, could help you. :) 
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