Upgrading? CPU, GFX or RAM?

Hi, I'm new to computers... Stuck with a Dell atm but I was wondering, what would be cheap to upgrade but also worth it.

The last time I upgraded, I managed to get a 256MB (Well displays as 512MB in dxdiag) low profile MSI 8600GT for my B-ATX Dell along with Corsair XMS2 2GB 800Mhz RAM for my PC. However, it is using only an AMD Athlon X2 3800+ Processor. I haven't overclocked as I realised that I will need better cooling and with my case, I can't really install any better cooling as it is a Media PC case. I will get a new case if I get a new processor as I will need a new mobo in doing so.

I'm not really that much of a hardcore gamer nor am I a hardcore user but I do play games. I'm on the pc a lot though so I tend to multitask with music, games and sometimes photoshopping or just web browsing. When I do play games it's usually games like Left 4 Dead and other non-hardware intensive games.

I just wondered what would see the biggest improvement with an upgrade. I am on a budget though (students are poor T_T) so I can't exactly get an Q6600 + 8800GT or something lol. But my final question though is whether or not it's even worth it to upgrade for me as I'm not wanting to play Crysis on 1980x1670 or whatever xD I play games at 1280x1240 and that's about as far as my graphics go.

Oh and btw, I am using Windows XP 32 bit so I don't think upgrading RAM helps too much as I've heard 2GB is the right amount, not too much and not too little, just right. I've also heard that the 8600GT is pretty good for games such as those that run on the Steam engine and those MMORPGs and that the 3800+ is old but isn't much of a bottleneck to the 8600GT so I was thinking maybe I don't need to upgrade? I dunno... opinions please!

Thanks in advance!
16 answers Last reply
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  1. if you will be upgrading motherboard you have to do clean install of windows too. so you have some back up to do....
    you didnt specify what dell you have to specify what case you have, micro atx motherboard should fine thoe. to save money i would get amd motherboard and use your existing processor and overclock, down the road you will have ability to get a quad core (:


    that's a nice motherboard, can put your old cpu in it, is compatible with newest cpus and upcoming am3 quads, pcie 2.0 for graphic card

    as for the heatsinkinks they are getting big and I dont know how big your case is....
  2. The cheapest and most beneficial "upgrade" would be to do a clean OS install if you haven't yet done one since you purchased that PC. Other than that recommendation, I'm not sure what's the problem: Are you wanting just to upgrade it for the sake of upgrading, or is there some tangible reason/problem driving you to upgrade this PC? It is too slow right now for the games you play? Does it take too long in your opinion to encode music or video. Is the photo program agonizingly slow? Help us spend your time and money more wisely.
  3. Ah, I mentioned it was a B-ATX so I assumed you would have guessed that most things won't fit in it.

    Well it's a Dell Dimension C521 and almost nothing new will fit so I know that I will have to get a new mobo, case and PSU if I upgrade.

    Also to mention that I'm from the UK so maybe a site like ebuyer would be better as I think delivery charges will cost much more from the US
  4. Hmm, how comes I cannot edit my replies? (Firefox user here)

    Anyway, I wanted to say that:

    My PC has a pretty clean OS as I don't install many things and I have "cleaned" the pc before. (No viruses, dodgy processes running etc)

    It DOES run the games I play nice and fast "enough" but I would PREFER if it was faster. So I'm wondering if it's worth the money to do a "little" upgrade (Definitely not over £100) to maybe see a performance increase? I heard that there's some new processors coming out soon but I also hear 3800+s are pretty overclockable, however the Dell motherboards prevent OCing I think.

    Thanks for the replies for now ^^
  5. It's hard to say which is the better upgrade: CPU or graphics card. Dual core AMD X2s are cheap now, and your current X2 3800 is only a 2.0GHz part, which means it may very well bottleneck a higher end card. However, I'm pretty confident in stating that RIGHT NOW, the 8600GT is probably not being bottlenecked at all with that X2 3800, meaning that you probably would see very little benefit in games if you only upgraded the CPU to something faster and left everything else the same. Ideally, a CPU upgrade to an X2 5200 AND a graphics upgrade would be the best route, but in this case where you only want to spend 100, I think the graphics card upgrade is the smartest of the two. You won't get all the performance you could get since you still have that relatively poky X2 3800, but you should see more a tangible performance increase out of a newer graphics card than you would if you only upgraded the CPU. And I agree with you, 2GB of ram is still okay for gaming today when you're using XP.
  6. Ah I see, so what would be a good graphics card? I didn't think I needed something like an 8800GT but maybe I do?
  7. Since you have DDR2-800 the socket is AM2, so you can look at the Dell support web site to see if there's a bios update and update only your CPU.
    Something like a X2 5200 will be a nice upgrade.

    Since the PC is a Dell, if you change the MB you might have to buy another Windows licence since the Windows licence is OEM and is usually link to your MB.
  8. Buy another Windows license? For the MB? Please explain... I'm using the same hard drive though...
  9. The licence on the CD thatcame with the Dell is pre-activated and is associate with the MB something about the MB serial # or something else...

    If you take your reinstallation CD and try to install it on the same Hard drive but with a different MB, other than Dell, you won't be able to activate Windows.
  10. For gaming the most noticeable increase in performance would come from a new graphics card. Take a look at the HD4670 for $70-80 or a HD4830 for $100 - 120.
  11. Sell it to somebody and build a new one from scratch.
  12. since your PC case is small, buying a new Video card, it might not fit.
  13. Well thanks for the replies, I guess I will save my money for now and build a new pc altogether later on seeing as all the cards mentioned do not have half height versions.
  14. nocteratus said:
    The licence on the CD thatcame with the Dell is pre-activated and is associate with the MB something about the MB serial # or something else...

    If you take your reinstallation CD and try to install it on the same Hard drive but with a different MB, other than Dell, you won't be able to activate Windows.

    bah just claim your mobo failed when you call up during activation. Seems to work for everyone. lol Microsoft must think there are some really dodgy mobo manufacturers out there coz so mny are filing :D
  15. One thing that I have always found helpful, in many ways. Is buying a new quick hard drive, and reinstalling XP. Keep your old one around and mount it to get your data. Hard drives are basically the slowest thing in any PC, but in the last couple years they have really gotten better(as much as they can)

    And you may think you have a nice clean install, but XP is an bitch. And depending on the XP CD you have, you can have a billion upgrades. I have a Dell 8200 and I reinstalled everything I had before, and my C:\Windows dir went from ~400 megs down to ~180.

    Just plunking down 60 bucks for a modern/similar sized drive makes this type of upgrade easy. Yeah, slow, full reinstal... but it is nice to have that old drive around for backups/data
  16. If you can, also look up "slip streaming" your XP install. It doesn't work with my Dell, but does with my new OEM license. You can make a XP CD with SP3 by default, with lots of the patches.
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