Choosing Between Two Difficult Paths: Upgrade vs. New System

I've crossed the proverbial upgrade bridge and now two paths fork out in oposite directions. Money is a concern of mine, but I also want a machine that will handle next-gen games (BF2, Elder Scrolls IV, Vanguard, etc) on medium settings. In other words, I'd perfer taking the road that would cost me the least money possible, yet yield the best practical gaming power. I'm torn between upgrading my old system or building a new system.

Special Note: I have NO computer building experience. I understand the parts, can read and follow directions, but have never built or installed anything in a computer before.

Choice One: Upgrading My Old System

Special Note:

My first great choice is --far-- cheaper and less risky than the second. To introduce this concept, let me tell you about the system I own right now (try not to laugh): WHEN DINOSAURS ROAMED THE EARTH ---

CPU:Intel Pentium 4 2.4A 533MHz FSB Socket 478 Processor

Motherboard:ASUS P4S8X-MX Micro ATX Intel Motherboard

Video Card: Evga Geforce 4600TI

Memory:1 Gig of Value RAM

PSU: 300 Watt Stock

Pretty funky, amirite? To upgrade this old hunk-of-junk, I'd need to do two things (without replacing the mobo and processor). I would need to get a new power supply and a new graphics card -- this would, at least, give me a system CAPABLE of running next gen games. Wouldn't cost too much either (but I wonder if it's even cost effective to do this, considering the age of the mobo and processor).

PSU: ENERMAX Whisper II EG465P-VE FMA(24) 460W Power Supply $76.00. Needed to make the proposed video card function.

Video Card: BFG Tech Geforce 6600GT . $189.00. The last great AGP video card. The best video card this old system could ever dream of using; the final arbitor of my outdated comp-tomb.

Total Cost for Upgrade: 265$ (100 dollars less than the new video card I'd want for a new system alone).

So, I'd still have an old rusty clunker (you should see this case, my computer is like the Millineum Falcon of comps). Is my comp so old that it'll throw up, even with its new shiny upgrades, when I load up BF2 and Elder Scrolls IV in a few months? Or is this a wise, cost-effective, upgrade that will allow me to play games with decent FPS on low and medium settings?

As you can see, my upgrades are limited. The case is so old that I would much rather get a new one than build into it. The motherboard is so old that the mere suggestion of PCI express would kill it. The processor runs around with the dinosaurs that carried Adam and Even to church. I'd have to replace the MB -- which would mean a new processor -- which would mean a new video card -- which would mean a new HD. Once one goes that far, I'd rather just start off with a clean new slate and keep this old cat around as backup.

Choice Two: Building a New System

This is pretty much the most cost effective system I could create. It would be VERY VERY VERY expensive for me, but buying anything else would be a waste of money in the long run. This system is the best bang for your buck, imo:

Processor: AMD Athlon 64 3200+ Venice 174$. Hurray, from the Jurassic to the Holocene in one swift jump.

Motherboard: CHAINTECH VNF3-250 ATX AMD Motherboard 59$. Mmmm... cheap stable MB goodness. Like a fresh plate of cookies.

Video Card:BFG Tech Geforce 7800GT 350$. As the Kool-Aid Man once said, "OOOOOOOOOOOOOH YEAAAAAAH!!!!"

Memory:CORSAIR XMS 2GB (2 x 1GB) 184-Pin DDR SDRAM Dual Channel Kit System Memory 238$. Who the hell writes witty comments about RAM? I thought this stuff came in boxes of TRIX cereal now-a-days.

Case:Thermal Take Tsunami Case $115. Air flow anyone? It'd be nice having a pretty case for once. A little expensive but worth it!

PSU:ENERMAX Whisper II EG565P-VE FMA(24P) 535W Power Supply 89$. Considering my comps 300w stock power supply sounds like Setzer's first airship taking off, this would be one hell of a PSU.

Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 250GB 3.5" Serial ATA150 Hard Drive 103$. I won't lie. Gotta have that extra 50GB for all the porn, you know?

Optical Drive: LITE-ON Black IDE Combo Drive 33$. In some boxes of Trix Cereal, they'll put an optical drive in there instead of value RAM.

Total Cost: 1,155$. An outstanding system for the money... but the money is SO MUCH for a poor college student like myself. This system will run almost anything on high and last for a while... but spending that much money twists my guts like the stabbing of a thousand knives.

This is the only system I would consider buying -- the only build (with a few altercations) that I consider to be the best bang for your dollar. Sure, it's expensive as hell, but it'll last and perform well.


265$ upgrade vs. 1,115$ new system.

So... to play those sweet next-gen games: it's either upgrade or build a new machine. There is little logical, cost-effective, ground between these two options. Why make a weak system for 700-900 dollars when it clearly does not reflect the best cost/performance ratio?

Remember, money is an issue to me, and the main use for this comp is gaming and various college uses. Please council me on this difficult issue. Which path should I take =(?
8 answers Last reply
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  1. You know, when I am asked to build a system for friends or other people, this question, or one similar to it invariably comes up.
    The first step in any upgrade or design is to define what we want the computer to do. You have done that by specifying that you want a performance system for gaming.
    The next step in the process is to define what the cost will be to achieve the end result. It appears that you have done this as well, and if I may add, you have chosen some nice components for someone with no upgrade or building experience.
    Where you're getting hung up my friend is admitting, simply, that you cant afford the new rig. Well, you DID admit it, you just haven't accepted the fact! :D Well my friend, quit dreaming on building a new rig, you obviously cannot afford it. Don't lose hope though, a well-planned upgrade can put you close to where you want to be.
    When I was your age and in college on a fixed budget, I had to make all kinds of hard decisions on things I wanted. It payed off though, because these days, even though I can afford a lot of my desires, I am wise enough to measure the need versus the desire, which is a skill I believe you are learing now. It will serve you well in the future.
    Upgrade the rig you have, and save the rest of your money for books and school supplies. Besides, if you have a schedule like I did in college, you don't have a whole lot of time for playing games anyway!!
    Good luck.
  2. Ok, either path will work, and Obviously there is no comparison between the two systems. If you build the new system, pick a different motherboard as that one is an AGP Socket 754. You want an NF4 chipset, which will be S939 like the cpu, and also PCI-e for the 7800GT.

    You have plenty of RAM. If someone is stuck with say 512MB of Rambus, then upgrading an old P4 makes less sense. Your cpu is on the weak side, but it can still play every game out there. But many games your will be system/ cpu limited. Anyway, I agree a 6600GT is a nice match for that system. BUT, that is an aweful price for a 6600GT. Since it's just a GPU upgrade, and a power supply which you can reuse, I'd go the upgrade route and save some money. But look for a better deal on the 6600GT; $189 is aweful.
    Here is a 6600GT for $120 after $20 rebate. Out of stock now though. but don't spend over $140's on a 6600GT. They have been as low as $100 after rebate. I like BFG, but it's not worth the extra $50 as you are then in X800GTO territory, and soon the 6800GS may be available in AGP for a little more. Stick to your plan with the 6600GT, but find a deal first. That's my opinion anyway.
  3. For some reason Newegg is not coming up for me right now...

    Anyways, I agree with Pauldh - get a 6600GT for 140 or less. Also want to throw out maybe you can overclock that P4 a little. That'll make it not the bottleneck and stretch your system just a little longer.

    Oh, another thing - Fortron Source has a 450w PSU that's $50 at newegg (I would've linked it but newegg isn't showing its inventory to me :( ) - FSP is another good company for PSUs. Generally they're underrated for power (if for example your old 300w was an FSP, I'd say its plenty of power) and work well. I'm using 2 right now (on different PC's of course lol). Save a few more bucks.

  4. Hello,

    I would get the AMD as they are better for gaming. The 3200+ can OC to 2.5ghz while the 3800/ 4000+ can go close to 2.8 ghz.

    RAM, save $100 and get Corsair, OCZ, Patriot, or the Crucial Ballitix. There's no real gain in having 2 gb for a large majority of games and applications. Now there's also the case if you are not going to DDR2 later on and keeping your system for over 5+ years, then maybe 2gb is fine.

    Mobo, I would go for the A8N-SLI Deluxe or DFI Premium/ DR. I personally chose the A8N-SLI Deluxe since the price was much lower, had the same features, and the performance was just as good as most nforce4 boards perform about the same.

    PSU, any SLI certified power supplies will do. I'm still using my Antec Tru480 even though it is not SLI certified, but that part doesn't matter too much. The newer Antec Tru550 was $89.99 est. and is SLI ready.
  5. Actually, stepping back on that video card and not paying the SOTA premium for a 7800 GT can save you $200 alone. Can you claim to have the biggest vid card on the block? no. Can you still play new games with high res settings? in most cases, yes.

    Is the new case pretty? Yes. Can you get as effective a case for less money? yes. You can pick up a case that is about $75 cheaper and will still do the job. (Namely hold all the parts in one place and keep them relatively cool.)

    Memory, you can slim this down to 1Gb and not see a big performance difference, go with a value ram option and save almost another $125. Trust me on this one, You can do just as well with cheaper ram as you can corsairs. I know. I bought corsair back when 512 Mb was the standard (I'm runnin a 2.4 a right now myself hehe) and have since upgraded to 1Gb (added a stick of Rosewill 512 for $35 and I can't tell a difference between the two brands.)

    As a college student, if money really is your concern (Hey, when in college I built my share of over the top systems; If I had it to do all over again I would have built them differently and saved a ton of money), by cutting these corners alone you should be able to save about $400 on the new build and still have a top end gamming rig.

    In short, I can see why building a new rig is an attractive option, I can understand why, if your building a new rig, you want to go 'Big Time'. I'm trying to tell you that given your situation, and what you want to do with your computer, you don't have to drop $1k to be able to keep up with the jones's. You can do that on $700-$800 just fine (and if you build it yourself you'll end up with a rig that if they ordered it pre-built would cost them $1200 or more). Things you need to keep in mind. Most of the time the low cost parts will function just as well as the premium parts for half the cost. That means that if you really have the money to invest, you can build a faster rig.

    While $1100 may be more than you can swallow right now for a new rig, and $250 would be easy, Why build the ego machine? Drop $700 and build a respectable rig that will run circles around your current machine.

    Check alienware build vs new egg if you don't beleive me.

    Also, if you have never installed anything into a 'puter before, find some friends that are geeks and have a 'cherry' popping party :D when you build your first rig. I know it sounds a little tongue in cheek but you'll save yourelf a lot of headache if you have someone there to help you out when you set up your first system. (my first one was a nighmare, course I went SCSI (I"m still paying for that mistake) and you would not believe the headaches I would have had doing the initial install and getting it all running if I hadn't had a friend there who new a lot about comps)
  6. Haro,

    Agreed on the case part. You can go with an acrylic case or Super Lanboy. Both are under $90.
  7. I was wrong to think that a small upgrade or huge new build was the right choice. I could reuse my hard drive and MAYBE RAM to make a new comp. Before I got any further, I have a few more questions:

    1. I have 2x512 PC 2700 DDR RAM sticks in my current machine. Could I reuse this Ram in a new Atholon 64 939 motherboard (most say something about 3200 ram standard, I'm quite confused).

    2. What socket 939 motherboard would you reccommend for a non-SLI agaming rig? I'd be using a PCI-Express card.

    3. Which pci-express video card would you reccommend on a 200 dollar budget (see below for the three cards I thought to be decent).

    Affordable New Comp:

    Processor: AMD Athlon 64 3200+ Venice $174.

    Motherboard:CHAINTECH VNF4 ATX AMD Motherboard $69.00. ---- Not sure of this. Please give feedback.

    Case:POWMAX CP0327PL-4 Window Black/Silver Computer Case $28.99.

    Power Supply:FSP Group (Fortron Source) AX400-PN 400W $39.99.

    Optical Drive:LITE-ON Black IDE Combo Drive Model SOHC-5236V $28.99.

    Memory: 2x512 PC2700 DDR

    Hard Drive: 7200 RPM WD 80 gig (reused).

    Videocard: *** I am VERY unsure about the right video card. I'm willing to spend 200$ max and have singled out three cards that look pretty good:

    eVGA Geforce 6800GS 205$.


    XFX Geforce 6600GT 115$.

    XFX Geforce 6800XT 169$

    Would I notice a performance boost to justify a 90 dollar price jump betweent the 6600GT and 6800GS? 128 to 256 video memory sounds like a pretty good upgrade. Is a good choice the 6800XT? It seems like an odd version of the card that alot of people don't consider.

    Total Cost: $470.96-550.00$

    Sounds alot better to me now that I think about it. When I manage to scrounge up some more cash, I can purchase a 7600 when the price drops and upgrade to some nice ram.

    Not a bad upgrade, I think. Anymore thoughts?

    Thanks for your feedback thus far everyone, it has been very helpful =).
  8. Okay, the case you've chosen comes with a power supply, so you might be able to do without one of those, I don't have any experience with Powmax cases and PSU's so I'd ask around. Your ram should run fine on the Chaintech board (albeit a bit slower than the DDR 400) but you may have to do some tweaking to get it to run right.

    I'm not that familiar with the chaintech board but I've read enough that would make me catious in picking one up. I'd take a look at an Epox or Abit for not much more money (like $10-20) and they seem to have much better reviews.

    As for the vid card. I'm perosonally going to be picking up a 6600 GT. Not sure about the performance difference between that and the 6800. I'll do some checking and post a link for the review I find.
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