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Best Upgrade Options For The Money

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Last response: in Systems
January 26, 2009 12:03:40 PM

It's been a while since I posted on here. The last time I did an upgrade was back in Summer 2007, with the exception of a couple hard drives in 2008. Here are my system specs.

Asus M2N-E Mainboard (AM2)
AMD Athlon X2 3800+ Processor (AM2)
OCZ 4GB PC2-6400 (1GB x 4) Platinum Revision 2 Memory
Western Digital 640GB SATA-II Hard Drives (3)
Samsung DVD-RW+ SATA Burner
Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Gamer Edition
Asus ATI RadeON x1950 w/256MB PCI-E Video Card
Ultra 700Watt PSU
Windows XP Pro SP3 (32-bit) / Windows 7 Beta 1 Build 7000 (32-bit)

I've got Windows 7 on my secondary drive for testing. Although not relevant to this upgrade at this time, it is interesting. I've excluded items not relevant to upgrade.

I'm not sure how much to allocate to an upgrade, though I don't want to spend too much. I am pondering whether to go to a faster dual core processor or to go quad. I already have a monster electric bill as it is, so I'm thinking quad may be a waste of electricity since my system is on pretty much 24/7, idle the majority of the time. I don't do much that requires excessive power and I don't use many apps that can even utilize multiple cores. I use the system for general use as well as occassional heavy gaming. Any suggestions? Thanks.

-- MaSoP

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a b B Homebuilt system
January 26, 2009 2:32:10 PM

Get a HD 4870. Your CPU will hold it back a little but it will still be a huge improvement.

January 26, 2009 3:23:00 PM

aevm said:
Get a HD 4870. Your CPU will hold it back a little but it will still be a huge improvement.


That would certainly improve gaming performance, but how about overall system performance? Is there a particular AM2/AM2+ processor that is a best buy? I'm looking for best bang for the buck, but not necessarily the cheapest either. Thanks for the reply. :-)

-- MaSoP
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a b B Homebuilt system
January 26, 2009 3:48:54 PM

That motherboard supports the AMD X2 6000+ ($79 at newegg). I think that's the highest you can go. It does not have Phenom support.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductReview.aspx?Item=N82E16819103272

Frankly, I don't know if the difference from X2 3800+ and X2 6000+ is worth $79 and the hassle of replacing CPUs. Read this article and try to figure it out for yourself. For example if you look here:
http://www.legionhardware.com/document.php?id=770&p=8
you'll see a difference like 44 fps to 59 fps.
January 26, 2009 3:52:26 PM

aevm said:
Get a HD 4870. Your CPU will hold it back a little but it will still be a huge improvement.


By the way, my Asus M2N-E Motherboard that I currently have doesn't support PCI-E 2.0 x16 graphics cards, only PCI-E x16. After checking out NewEgg, it looks like my options are very limited. I'm thinking my current RADEON X1950 Pro 256MB is better than almost all of the currently aailable cards for PCI-E x16 (non-2.0 based).

I may have no choice but to upgrade the processor instead, as that seems to be the only viable option for speeding up system and gaming performance on my existing motherboard.

-- MaSoP
a b B Homebuilt system
January 26, 2009 4:11:46 PM

It's backward compatible. You can use a PCI-E 2.0 card in a PCI-E 1.1 slot without any problems. It would only be bottlenecked in Crossfire or SLI, i.e. if you have two cards.
January 26, 2009 4:19:13 PM

aevm said:
That motherboard supports the AMD X2 6000+ ($79 at newegg). I think that's the highest you can go. It does not have Phenom support.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductReview.aspx?Item=N82E16819103272

Frankly, I don't know if the difference from X2 3800+ and X2 6000+ is worth $79 and the hassle of replacing CPUs. Read this article and try to figure it out for yourself. For example if you look here:
http://www.legionhardware.com/document.php?id=770&p=8
you'll see a difference like 44 fps to 59 fps.


Actually, it does support the Phenom processors, up to the X4 9950, but you have to have BIOS 1504 installed. That in itself is not a problem. The last time I had a processor with a core max temp of 89W or higher, I had overheating and stability issues when using the amd fan/heatsink and arctic silver. Since then, I've been using 65w models with no problems at all. The X2 5400 would give me a 800mhz core speed boost over my existing X2 3800 (2.0ghz) and would still run at up to 65w. Overall cpu temp difference would be marginal overall. If I went with a Phenom processor, I'd be looking at 89W or higher. That would likely give me overheating issues again, plus the extra cores would push the overall temp of the processor noticeably higher than what my 3800 currently does. Since I have not used a Phenom processor, I don't know first hand what the performance and temperature differences are when compared to the X2 models. The other option would be the 4850e or the 5050e energy effecient models which are 45w models and are fairly cheap.

-- MaSoP
a b B Homebuilt system
January 26, 2009 4:29:58 PM

Good to know. Newegg didn't list Phenoms and I assumed they were correct. You probably don't need a quad for gaming anyway. Only FSX and GTA4 really benefit from quads AFAIK.
January 26, 2009 4:41:07 PM

aevm said:
It's backward compatible. You can use a PCI-E 2.0 card in a PCI-E 1.1 slot without any problems. It would only be bottlenecked in Crossfire or SLI, i.e. if you have two cards.


Really? That's good to know. I'll keep that in mind. I have two x1950's I was hoping to put in Crossfire, but when I realized my board only has one x16 slot, I was bummed, lol.

It looks like I may go with the following:

CPU:

Athlon 64 X2 5400+ 2.8GHz ($70 @ NewEgg)
or
Athlon 64 X2 5600+ 2.9GHz ($70 @ NewEgg, OOS Currently)

Since I'm trying to keep the temps at bay, but need a little more performance, I'll likely go with one of the above processors. I'll wait until I get a more advanced motherboard before I mess with the Phenom.

As far as a Video Card goes, I need to figure out if I should go with 512MB or 1GB or above. There are so many options. I'm rusty with all of this stuff. I've been out of the "hardware/gaming" scene in many ways for the last couple years for the most part. I've been working with computers since 1994, but lately I've been slacking, lol.

In my research, I've been staying away from video cards that don't have a memory interface of at least 256-bit. From what I have read, the 64-bit and 128-bit cards aren't worth the hassle, since 256-bit or higher cards are widely available for just a few bucks more. Any thoughts on that?

-- MaSoP
a b B Homebuilt system
January 26, 2009 5:17:55 PM

The HD 4870 1GB costs more than the HD 4870 512MB and gets you a few fps more at 1680x1050. Watch these charts for example:
http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3415&p=4

The memory interface is tricky. For example 256-bit with GDDR5 is equivalent to 512-bit with GDDR3 or something like that. You have to compare cards with the same type of GDDR to get any meaningful result. This article might clarify that a bit:
http://hothardware.com/News/ATI-Radeon-4000Series-to-Use-GDDR5-Memory/
Anyway, it's simpler to just use benchmarks.

If you're going for the HD 4870, there are two Sapphire models with good user reviews at Newegg for $225 (1GB) and $175 (512MB).

There's also the HD 4850, a pretty good card, but with that one you need to make sure it's a dual-slot version (i.e. with a vent) or you'll run into overheating troubles. On the nVidia side, there's the 9800GTX+, almost as good as the HD 4850.
January 26, 2009 5:48:01 PM

aevm said:
The HD 4870 1GB costs more than the HD 4870 512MB and gets you a few fps more at 1680x1050. Watch these charts for example:
http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3415&p=4

The memory interface is tricky. For example 256-bit with GDDR5 is equivalent to 512-bit with GDDR3 or something like that. You have to compare cards with the same type of GDDR to get any meaningful result. This article might clarify that a bit:
http://hothardware.com/News/ATI-Radeon-4000Series-to-Use-GDDR5-Memory/
Anyway, it's simpler to just use benchmarks.

If you're going for the HD 4870, there are two Sapphire models with good user reviews at Newegg for $225 (1GB) and $175 (512MB).

There's also the HD 4850, a pretty good card, but with that one you need to make sure it's a dual-slot version (i.e. with a vent) or you'll run into overheating troubles. On the nVidia side, there's the 9800GTX+, almost as good as the HD 4850.


It looks like the 4870 would kill my current x1950 card in the games that I play. The prices on the 4850 models are pretty competitive too. I may hold off until the spring to jump at a new video card. I think I'll just order a 5400+ or 5600+ (pending availability) processor for now to give overall improved performance for windows. My current card does fine in medium quality levels for most games, which is what i'm used to. I will look forward to getting a higher end card though, maybe in the spring. We'll see how much crappier the economy is then, hehe. Thanks for all the input. :-)

-- MaSoP