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P4, AGP, DDR1... best upgrade path?

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December 14, 2006 10:14:15 PM

I took a long hiatus from PC gaming, meaning my hardware suffered obsolescence accordingly. The game I'm playing now is just about all my system can handle, and only at 1024x768 at 16 bits, with less than maximum detail. (And this is a game where you want 1600x1200 or higher to be able to spot specks in the sky from many miles away, high FPS for precision manoeuvres, etc.) I also want to move on to higher-end games in the next year.

My current system is a Pentium 4 at 1.8 GHz (Socket 478, pretty sure), GeForce 3 Ti200 AGP card, 512 megs DDR1, and an ATA hard drive.

I want to end up with a good motherboard, a Core 2 Duo CPU (I'm eyeing the E6600), two gigs of DDR2 RAM, a good PCI-E graphics card, and some quiet and efficient coolers as needed (either for heat or for excessive noise, with overclocking only as a bonus feature).

I'll also be buying a large LCD at some point and would like digital video out, but I assume that's standard with any good video card. And I'd like to get optical surround sound at some point, but that's a topic for another day. (I mention it just in case someone knows of a good deal on, say, a motherboard with good onboard optical sound.)

(Note that my knowledge of the hardware market has become just as obsolete as my system. I'm working on that, but I'd appreciate any and all input, especially if I've got something wrong. I won't prefix everything with "as far as I know" only for the sake of brevity, but please feel free to assume that I don't know what the heck I'm talking about and that I need some helpful guidance. :) )

So! My questions:

1. What's holding me back the most? Until I dropped the graphics settings, things got choppy around landing time (lots of objects on the ground) and during major air operations (lots of planes dropping lots of munitions). I personally suspect both the CPU and graphics card are the bottleneck at various points.

2. What's a good incremental upgrade path? I want to get something upgraded in the next month or so, but money is a limiting factor. I'm not looking for exact parts here (although that helps), just the most effective and least wasteful way to get from point A to point B -- without having to wait until I can buy my way to point B outright.

Way I see it, I've got a few options:

The ASRock 775Dual-VSTA motherboard (http://www.legitreviews.com/article/377/1/)
Initial cost: ASRock motherboard (temp, $60) + CPU ($300) = $360.
Incremental cost: Video card ($??), DDR2 RAM (2x $100?), better motherboard ($100?).
Waste: ASRock motherboard ($60).


This would let me go Core 2 Duo immediately, without having to purchase a new video card or RAM. And once I've replaced the video and RAM, I could ditch the motherboard in favour of a high-end one and get full PCI-E performance (since the ASRock board is limited to 4x) and overclocking capability (if I want it).

The down side is, if the graphics really are the primary bottleneck, I'm stuck until I shell out the cash for the new card. Also, the newegg.com reviews for the ASRock board suggest that quality control might not be quite up to spec; there were several DOAs.

Socket 478 motherboard, cheap video
Initial cost: S478 motherboard ($130?) + cheap video card ($40 and up) + DDR2 RAM ($100) = $270.
Incremental cost: C2D motherboard ($100?), CPU ($300), better video card ($??), more DDR2 RAM ($100).
Waste: S478 motherboard ($130?) + cheap video card ($40+) = $170+.


Here the CPU remains the same, but I get room to expand at my own pace, and a minor video upgrade. Or at least, I think I get a minor video upgrade. Today's cheapo PCI-E video card is pretty much guaranteed to outperform my Ti200, right?

The downside is twofold. One, I'm stuck with a slower CPU for longer. Two, I waste money on a Socket 478 motherboard, and Socket 478 with 16x PCI-E is not cheap. ($130 was the lowest price I could find on newegg.com, which is more than many Socket T boards.)

Good Socket T motherboard, good CPU, cheap video
Initial cost: Motherboard ($100?) + CPU ($300) + cheap video card ($40+) + DDR2 RAM ($100) = $540+.
Incremental cost: Better video card ($??), more DDR2 RAM ($100).
Waste: Cheap video card ($40 and up) = $40+.


The least wasteful of all, assuming I stick with a very cheap video card. As long as the video card doesn't perform worse than my current card, then everything is upgraded to some degree.

The downside, of course, is the initial cost. Assuming (say) an MSI P965 motherboard (the "winner" of the Tom's 2006-11-13 motherboard "shootout", now about $100), an E6600 CPU (about $300), a bottom-of-the-line $40 video card, and the first chip of DDR2 RAM ($100 and up for DDR2 800), I'm at $540 and up already.

A variant on this option would be to substitute a cheap Socket T CPU for the C2D. There are Celeron D's for Socket T as low as $50. This would raise waste to $90 but drop initial cost down to a respectable $290, and I'm still giving the video and CPU a boost until I go high-end. So this is a fairly attractive option as it stands.


Any thoughts? Is there a fourth option? Are any prices bogus? Am I spending (or expecting to spend) too little on the motherboard? Am I overestimating the performance of a $40 PCI-E video card? Am I completely off-base?

TIA.

More about : agp ddr1 upgrade path

December 14, 2006 10:59:44 PM

Thats a pretty fat post. What game were you playing by the way? And you should never play at 16 bit unless its absolutely necessary, as 32 bit looks much better.
December 14, 2006 11:50:04 PM

Quote:
Thats a pretty fat post.

I'm nothing if not verbose. :)  I just wanted to at least offer up a few places to start; I know you must get a lot of people who just come in and say "I want to do <this>, tell me what to do".

Quote:
What game were you playing by the way?

Falcon 4.0: Allied Force. Not the most graphics-intensive program around by a long shot, but it's still at the top end of what my aging system can do. I'm also looking to get a solid platform to move up with.

Quote:
And you should never play at 16 bit unless its absolutely necessary, as 32 bit looks much better.

Last time I tried it, 32-bit was okay in the framerate department, but there were a lot of pauses. I assumed it was taking longer to load the larger textures in.

Also, maybe it's just me -- or my low resolution, or small monitor (a stand-in since my big one broke) -- but the effect of 32-bit is pretty hard to see in F4. The only textured surface you spend a lot of time looking at is the ground, and when it's 22,000 feet away, you don't need a lot of detail. :) 

Rest assured, once I'm upgraded, I'll certainly be playing at 1600x1200 (or higher), 32-bit, etc. I just need to get there first. :D 
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December 15, 2006 12:30:12 AM

Yes I do remember that old games look similar between 16 and 32 bit, makes a bigger difference with most games now tho. Its just one of those things that you leave at default (ie. 32bit in every case I know of). I never change it, always something else. And as for F4, I still have that game, not allied force tho, but I could never make it work after an OS resintall - windows ME (:twisted:)  if I remember correctly. And it has huge loading times too considering its age. Ah, windows ME, has got to be the worst OS ever made, needed a reformat every 6 months juist so I could shut it down. Always came up with the non-responsive program closing box, but didnt name the program that it was closing. No matter how many times you "closed" it, it would come up again.
a b B Homebuilt system
September 12, 2008 7:03:22 AM

The least waste huh? I say go with an AMD system like a 790GX board such as this Gigabyte board

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

spend $20 on 1GB of DDR2 and a cheap CPU like a 5000 X2 for $60. In this case the only waste is the 5000 if you upgrade your CPU. The onboard Graphics will be much faster than your GeForce 3 Ti200. Even a board based on a 780G or the nvidia 8100 will give you better game performance. I suppose on the CPU side you can even go with a Semperion and get a noticeable increase in performance compared to your 1.8GHz P4. Someone gave me an old 1.5GHz P4 with Rambus RAM and that's where my ol geforce 3 ti200 currently resides. It's not a bad machine to run Linux or old games, but I can't imagine trying to run any modern games on it ^_^.
September 12, 2008 2:30:59 PM

P31 motherboard (with shipping) = $47
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

1 GB DDR2 RAM = $25
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Intel Pentium Dual-Core = $70
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Radeon Hd 3650 = $48
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

This is all with shipping - and total, it will add up to less than $100 dollars. You could add a CPU cooler in there for another $25:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

This wouldn't be a bad system at all, and pretty solid for the low price.
September 12, 2008 3:37:48 PM

I'm kinda in the same place you are. I've got an aging system and not enough money for a new rig. So I decided the best thing to do (and this is what I'd suggest you do) would be to upgrade as little as possible just to make life a little more enjoyable until I can afford a complete new system. Don't worry about carrying anything over, just think of these as disposable. Just about everything that'll be compatible with your current system won't be worth carrying over into a new rig.

What's your current MoBo, RAM, and PSU (makes & models)? It'll help with suggestions on temporary parts.

Without knowing all the necessary details, I'd suggest you pick up a POWERCOLOR X1550 256/64 AGP ($35+$7) and another 512MB stick of the cheapest RAM you can find that matches your current RAM's speed. I recently made the exact same upgrades to jump up from 512MB of DDR 266 and a Radeon 9200 (the same tier as your card on Tom's monthly GPU roundup), and there's a world of difference.

That ~$50 upgrade should help you stretch your current dinosaur until the budget is there for a new build. I initially had some BSOD issues, but it just turned out to be a driver problem. If this happens to you, just try some of the older drivers from ATI before you start to panic (like I did).
a b B Homebuilt system
September 12, 2008 4:29:45 PM

You know what, if your going to do an incremental upgrade just get used parts on eBay for now. Really if you're going to just phase out those parts it doesn't make sense to buy new, outdated parts to help you transition to current ones. Since you want to go with the Core 2 you can probably get a used P4 that is a socket 775 LGA, motherboard, as well as RAM or video card for that $130 you were thinking of spending on a MB with a PCI-E slot.

Once you get a new MB you can use that same P4 CPU until you get something better. Really just about any socket 775 cpu, pentium or celeron, should be much better than what you have now. Many people sell their previous builds there so you may find a kit that has the RAM and an old video card that's likely to be faster than your current one.
September 12, 2008 5:28:25 PM

Good job digging up a post from 2 years ago.
September 12, 2008 8:15:57 PM

wtf i need to read posts. dang.
September 15, 2008 4:54:11 PM

It wasn't you wolf, it was megaman. Megaman, you suck for tricking me into posting on the really dead thread.
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