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Graphics Card Upgrade Needed For Under $200

Last response: in Graphics & Displays
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April 14, 2009 7:12:40 PM

Good morning/afternoon/evening. To start things off, here is my current setup and where and when I bought the component:

Asus M2N-E nForce 570 Ultra Sempron/Athlon 64(FX)(X2) SktAM2 DDR2 ATX Motherboard Retail
(ZipZoomFly; 2007)

AMD Boxed Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 5600+
(MicroCenter; 2009)

NOTE: Arctic Silver 5 was applied to the CPU Heatsink

OCZ OCZ2P800R22GK 2GB Kit PC2-6400 (DDR2-800) Platinum Revision 2 Dual Channel Memory Retail (Qty = 2)
(ZipZoomFly; 2007)

Asus EAX1950PRO CF/HTDP/256M Radeon X1950 Pro CrossFire 256MB PCI-Express Dual-DVI Retail
(ZipZoomFly; 2007)

Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Gamer Sound Card
(CompUSA; 2004)

Ultra XVS Modular 700 Watt ATX PSU (Model ULT33183)
(MicroCenter; 2007)

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD2500KS 250GB Serial ATA II 7200RPM Hard Drive w/16MB Buffer
(ZipZoomFly; 2007)

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM (Qty = 3)
(NewEgg; 2008)

SAMSUNG 20X DVD±R DVD Burner Black SATA Model SH-S203B/BEBE - OEM
(NewEgg; 2008)

Samsung 19" LCD (1440x900 Native)
(Best Buy; 2008)

Windows XP Professional SP3

-----------------------------------------------

Here is the link for the details on the power supply:

http://www.ultraproducts.com/product_details.php?cPath=...

I am looking for more gaming ability without breaking the bank. I've
set a preliminary limit of $200 for a Graphics Card Upgrade. My games of choice are the following:

LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth II
LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth II: Rise Of The Witch-King (Expansion)

Crysis
Far Cry 2
Fallout 3
Need For Speed: Undercover (In Progress)
Left 4 Dead
Grand Theft Auto IV
F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

Limitation 1: No DirectX 10 Support due to Windows XP
Limitation 2: No Crossfire Support due to Single Slot Based Motherboard
Limitation 3: Limited CPU Based Gaming due to No Quad Core CPU (ie; GTA IV)

I've put a Quad Core CPU upgrade on my list of things to do later in 2009, or as needed. Any suggestions on a "best bang for the buck" graphics card solution? I'm looking to buy one in the next couple months, as my current card will be 2 years old this summer and is showing it's age in newer games. Thanks in advance!

-- MaSoP
April 15, 2009 12:59:51 AM

4870 (180-190 on newegg) or 4850 (140 on the egg)
You listed dx10 as a limitation, you should probably know this already, but dx is backwards compatible, so you can use a dx10 card w/ dx9. Definately upgrade your cpu asap, upgrade from athlon x2 5000+ to Phenom II 920 (now at 3.29 ghz) and my fps went from 80 max 30 min 45 average in cod 4 to 60 min 160 max 60 average (i use vsync)
April 15, 2009 3:01:25 AM

I don't know if the board supports Phenom II, but if it does, get the 920 as gonnitendo suggests. A 4870 would be a good choice. But he got the prices wrong. The Asus 4870 512 costs $135. Better to go for the GTX 260 is a better option. You get the factory overclocked 55nm version from EVGA for $199.99 with Cod WaW free. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Related resources
April 15, 2009 3:11:54 AM

rags_20 said:
I don't know if the board supports Phenom II, but if it does, get the 920 as gonnitendo suggests. A 4870 would be a good choice. But he got the prices wrong. The Asus 4870 512 costs $135. Better to go for the GTX 260 is a better option. You get the factory overclocked 55nm version from EVGA for $199.99 with Cod WaW free. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...


Well, I need a video card upgrade though. My board supports all of the x3 and x4 processors but not the phenom ii series. I already have issues keeping my system running cool, so a 95 watt or higher cpu is just going to overheat in my system and office. I'm limited because of that issue, in regards to the cpu. I've looked at the gts 250, gtx 260 core 216, 4850 and 4870 as my graphics card options but don't know which one to get for under $200. NVidia uses wider bandwidth and ATI uses faster memory and more stream processors. It's almost a toss up.

-- MaSoP
April 15, 2009 4:31:07 AM

It's not that ATI uses more stream processors... They do, but each group is assigned different tasks, whereas in nVIDIA cards, any one of them can perform any task.

Your motherboard cannot support Phenom II's, as it's socket AM2. AM2+ motherboards can.
April 15, 2009 8:08:49 AM

Then get the best Phenom x4 you can. And GTX 260 Core 216 55nm EVGA factory overclocked like I suggested.
April 15, 2009 9:47:21 AM

I may have been mistaken...

Is this your motherboard? LINK

If so, it supports AM2+ processors, too. However, it still doesn't seem to support any of the Phenom II's. You'd need to perform a BIOS update if you haven't already done it.

In any case, I think you're OK on CPU power, and would be more so if you attempted overclocking your current one. If it's a Brisbane core, you should be able to get it to about 3.2GHz with little trouble. If it's Windsor, I'm not sure, as they're so much more power hungry than the Brisbane core CPUs. Plus, I dunno if you'd be willing to spend an additional $100 (Agena 9600 / Toliman 8750) to $170 (Windsor 6400+) on a CPU upgrade (unless you consider the 7750 Kuma Black Edition an upgrade) along with a video card.

Personally, I don't think you could go wrong with either a GTX260 Core 216 or an HD4870 1GB. They're very close in performance across the resolution range. Though it doesn't affect you on an XP system, it would seem that ATI is beginning to get the Direct X 10.1 support they've sought after for so long in more titles. That's something to consider for the future regarding both Vista and Windows7.
April 15, 2009 3:39:15 PM

gonnitendo said:
4870 (180-190 on newegg) or 4850 (140 on the egg)
You listed dx10 as a limitation, you should probably know this already, but dx is backwards compatible, so you can use a dx10 card w/ dx9. Definately upgrade your cpu asap, upgrade from athlon x2 5000+ to Phenom II 920 (now at 3.29 ghz) and my fps went from 80 max 30 min 45 average in cod 4 to 60 min 160 max 60 average (i use vsync)


I know. What I meant by "DX10 Limitation" was that if I buy a DX10 card, I will be incapable of utilizing DX10 features unless I was to upgrade to Vista or Windows 7. That would in effect be underutilizing the new card and wasting $$$ ultimately. With that in mind, I'm considering my options for upgrading my O/S in order to fully utilize the hardware.

-- MaSoP
April 15, 2009 3:42:05 PM

RazberyBandit said:
It's not that ATI uses more stream processors... They do, but each group is assigned different tasks, whereas in nVIDIA cards, any one of them can perform any task.

Your motherboard cannot support Phenom II's, as it's socket AM2. AM2+ motherboards can.


Actually, the M2N-E is an AM2+ CPU Compatible board, but just has no Phenom II support. The Phenom II family is actually AM3 based and requires an AM3 board.

-- MaSoP
April 15, 2009 3:42:52 PM

rags_20 said:
Then get the best Phenom x4 you can. And GTX 260 Core 216 55nm EVGA factory overclocked like I suggested.


I'll look into both options. :-)

-- MaSoP
April 15, 2009 4:02:25 PM

RazberyBandit said:
I may have been mistaken...

Is this your motherboard? LINK

If so, it supports AM2+ processors, too. However, it still doesn't seem to support any of the Phenom II's. You'd need to perform a BIOS update if you haven't already done it.

In any case, I think you're OK on CPU power, and would be more so if you attempted overclocking your current one. If it's a Brisbane core, you should be able to get it to about 3.2GHz with little trouble. If it's Windsor, I'm not sure, as they're so much more power hungry than the Brisbane core CPUs. Plus, I dunno if you'd be willing to spend an additional $100 (Agena 9600 / Toliman 8750) to $170 (Windsor 6400+) on a CPU upgrade (unless you consider the 7750 Kuma Black Edition an upgrade) along with a video card.

Personally, I don't think you could go wrong with either a GTX260 Core 216 or an HD4870 1GB. They're very close in performance across the resolution range. Though it doesn't affect you on an XP system, it would seem that ATI is beginning to get the Direct X 10.1 support they've sought after for so long in more titles. That's something to consider for the future regarding both Vista and Windows7.



Correct, a BIOS update will be required on my system if I am to use an X3 or X4 processor, as my BIOS is a bit dated. I do have the Brisbane core, but haven't tried OC'ing it. I've got overheating issues with my system during the late spring, summer and early fall seasons, if I don't keep the office under 80F. If I want to play games, I've got to get the office temps down under 70F (including ambient case temp), otherwise I require an external fan. It's really a pain in the ass. I've considered the Phenom X4 9750, as that is the fastest 95W model available. The Phenom X4 9350e is 65W but I haven't been able to locate that model at my usual places online. I'm not sure if it is even in production anymore.

As for Vista and Windows 7, I'm stuck with waiting for 7 to be released and although Vista is widely available and has matured a bit, it is still going to be a headache with over half of my applications. I suppose either O/S will be an issue for the short term. I'll likely end up holding onto XP through the end of the year and likely through at least half of 2010 as well because of compatibility reasons. It sucks. I wonder when DX9 will be "out" officially. As more games move to DX10 and then DX11, I'm undoubtedly going to lose a nice chunk of performance in the long run unless I take the plunge on the O/S soon. Thanks for all the input!

-- MaSoP
April 16, 2009 3:00:49 AM

masop said:
Actually, the M2N-E is an AM2+ CPU Compatible board, but just has no Phenom II support. The Phenom II family is actually AM3 based and requires an AM3 board.

-- MaSoP


Incorrect. Your motherboard is Socket AM2, with AM2+ compatibility. See here.

I have an actual Socket AM2+ motherboard and I can run both the AM2+ Phenom II's and the AM3 Phenom II's CPUs on it. Phenom II compatibility is not exclusive to AM3, but they are not at all compatible with AM2.

If you're running into heat issues, an easy way to help with that would be a good aftermarket heatsink/fan along with some high quality thermal paste. I use a ZEROTherm BTF-80 on my Athlon X2 5000+ Black Edition and have overclocked it as high as 3.48GHz (currently @ 3.2GHz). With ambient temps in the 70's, case temps closer to 80F, my CPU never breaks 108F, and that is at only 50% fan speed. Good aftermarket coolers are available at a very reasonable $30-$40 price range.
April 16, 2009 11:20:19 AM

RazberyBandit said:
Incorrect. Your motherboard is Socket AM2, with AM2+ compatibility. See here.

I have an actual Socket AM2+ motherboard and I can run both the AM2+ Phenom II's and the AM3 Phenom II's CPUs on it. Phenom II compatibility is not exclusive to AM3, but they are not at all compatible with AM2.

If you're running into heat issues, an easy way to help with that would be a good aftermarket heatsink/fan along with some high quality thermal paste. I use a ZEROTherm BTF-80 on my Athlon X2 5000+ Black Edition and have overclocked it as high as 3.48GHz (currently @ 3.2GHz). With ambient temps in the 70's, case temps closer to 80F, my CPU never breaks 108F, and that is at only 50% fan speed. Good aftermarket coolers are available at a very reasonable $30-$40 price range.


Actually, I am correct. I was directly quoting Asus from their web site when I said the M2N-E is an AM2+ CPU Compatible board. If you'd like to tell Asus that they are wrong about their own board, be my guest. LOL

As far as an after market fan and good paste, I figured Arctic Silver 5 was good stuff, though not the very latest out there. My CPU averages in the mid 30's C to mid 40's C when not gaming during winter months and mid 40's C to mid 50's C when not gaming the rest of the year, except hot days. When gaming most of the time, it either stays in the 50's C or pushes into the low to mid 60's C. If that is acceptable, than perhaps my CPU is doing alright. :-)

According to the ATI Tool I've had running, my GPU tends to idle in the 50's C or around 60C. It has risen at least to the mid 60's C during gameplay. Using the tool to adjust the fan setting to try to keep the GPU around 50C, has helped. I've noticed a general 5C increase during game play, over idle. What I don't know for sure is what the precise heat threshold is for both my 5600+ and my x1950 GPU, the point where my system becomes unstable and freezes, or overheats. I'm positive the artifacts I saw when playing NFS Undercover without an external fan, were because the GPU was overheating. What I don't know is what temp it was at when it was acting up.

What I need to do is keep the ambient case temp lower than it has been, which will help the overall temp of both processors, but obviously not fix it completely. Seeing that I didn't have this GPU heating problem during the first 1.5 yr of ownership, it seems the fan isn't running optimally, probably because of age. It is quiet though!

-- MaSoP
April 16, 2009 8:32:34 PM

I know you quoted Asus, I read the same thing on their site. Asus is correct in everything they state about that board, but only because they chose their wording wisely in saying it's "AM2 and AM2+ Compatible." However, nowhere in their specification list does it actually say what socket is on the board, only what it's compatible with. I assure you it is in fact an AM2 socket on that board, and that alone is the reason you cannot use Phenom II CPUs. The part of your original statement that was completely wrong was stating that the Phenom II's are only AM3, when it fact there are AM2+ versions of them. In addition, AM2+ socketed motherboards can use the AM3 versions of them. However, AM3 boards cannot use the AM2+ versions.

As far as your temps are concerned, they're pretty good. Even high 70's are within "acceptable" parameters, but sustaining such temps is not good for longevity, or performance. Anything much higher than 80C is beginning to enter the danger zone, though GPUs will sometimes encroach upon or even enter that danger zone under prolonged, heavy stress.

Have you ever taken a can of compressed air and blown out the fans, intakes, and heatsinks of anything inside the case? Dust can build-up rather quickly in some environments. If you happen to be a smoker, it's even worse, as dust combined with the tar makes it stick, badly.

Anyway, back to the original point... Video card, right? LOL

With a budget of $200, it's an easy suggestion of either the GTX260 Core 216 or HD4870 1GB. Both would perform very well at your resolution and beyond, should you decide to replace the monitor down the road.
April 16, 2009 8:42:57 PM

RazberyBandit said:
I know you quoted Asus, I read the same thing on their site. Asus is correct in everything they state about that board, but only because they chose their wording wisely in saying it's "AM2 and AM2+ Compatible." However, nowhere in their specification list does it actually say what socket is on the board, only what it's compatible with. I assure you it is in fact an AM2 socket on that board, and that alone is the reason you cannot use Phenom II CPUs. The part of your original statement that was completely wrong was stating that the Phenom II's are only AM3, when it fact there are AM2+ versions of them. In addition, AM2+ socketed motherboards can use the AM3 versions of them. However, AM3 boards cannot use the AM2+ versions.

As far as your temps are concerned, they're pretty good. Even high 70's are within "acceptable" parameters, but sustaining such temps is not good for longevity, or performance. Anything much higher than 80C is beginning to enter the danger zone, though GPUs will sometimes encroach upon or even enter that danger zone under prolonged, heavy stress.

Have you ever taken a can of compressed air and blown out the fans, intakes, and heatsinks of anything inside the case? Dust can build-up rather quickly in some environments. If you happen to be a smoker, it's even worse, as dust combined with the tar makes it stick, badly.

Anyway, back to the original point... Video card, right? LOL

With a budget of $200, it's an easy suggestion of either the GTX260 Core 216 or HD4870 1GB. Both would perform very well at your resolution and beyond, should you decide to replace the monitor down the road.


Ah, the "grey" area between AM2, AM2+ and AM3. I believe I got caught up with the whole transition aspect of it all. It can be quite confusing. I hope they don't do that again, lol.

Yeah, I used a can of air and cleared out all the dust around the cpu fan and gpu fan on the x1950, and all that I could see from inside the casing where the air exits on the card. The design of the x1950 doesn't allow the air to exit the case, so it fills the case up which is probably at least half the heat problem right there now that I think of it. That also contributes to dust. Perhaps I can remove the slot cover by the card and jerry-rig it so it blows most of the air out the back of the case instead of filling the case with it.

I've got 1 fan blowing in on the bottom of the case (directed to pci slots and cards), another blowing in behind the hard drives from the front as well. I also have 2 fans, one blowing inward to the cpu and one beneath it blowing out the back of the case. I try to keep the front box fans dust free but those can get pretty bad. The house is smoke free fortunately, so I don't need to worry about that aspect of it all.

That is my current fan setup. I've considered replacing those box fans and even changing the direction around if needed. Any suggestions for optimal air based case cooling? Thanks for the input.

-- MaSoP
April 16, 2009 9:09:09 PM

Air-cooling is best served front to back, bottom to top. So, in from the bottom-front, out from the top-rear is pretty much the standard. Intakes from the side help, but don't necessarily have to be paired with a fan, as they can often just create turbulence and dead zones in the middle and lower-rear areas, which is typically where cards are located.

Does your system have a top-mounted PSU? If so, I'd say your setup is decent, provided the exhaust and intake rates are close. By rates I mean CFM, but that's getting pretty technical. If they're all the same size and run at similar speeds, then you should be doing just fine.

Also, having your PC as close to floor level as possible helps, as that is where the coolest air is.
April 16, 2009 9:53:22 PM

RazberyBandit said:
Air-cooling is best served front to back, bottom to top. So, in from the bottom-front, out from the top-rear is pretty much the standard. Intakes from the side help, but don't necessarily have to be paired with a fan, as they can often just create turbulence and dead zones in the middle and lower-rear areas, which is typically where cards are located.

Does your system have a top-mounted PSU? If so, I'd say your setup is decent, provided the exhaust and intake rates are close. By rates I mean CFM, but that's getting pretty technical. If they're all the same size and run at similar speeds, then you should be doing just fine.

Also, having your PC as close to floor level as possible helps, as that is where the coolest air is.


BTW, I updated my original posting to reflect the psu model and link for the detailed specs on the ultra web site. I'm not sure exactly what the rail voltage is or how many rails it has. The box is not clear, though I'm not exactly well versed in understanding half the verbage in regards to power suppy specs.

My PC is on the floor, though it backs to a corner under my desk, so it doesn't have the most ideal venting. The ambient temp behind the case is warmer than elsewhere around the case.

-- MaSoP
April 16, 2009 10:43:54 PM

Single rail, 40A on 12V. Not bad, but it seems to be of the older type with it having 30+ amps on the 3 and 5 volt rails. It should power the cards mentioned previously just fine.
April 17, 2009 12:36:08 AM

I don't understand. How can a 700W give you 40A? Corsair's VX550 delivers 41A. Wouldn't that be better? This PSU is way costlier too. I know the full 700W can't be utilized, but how can a 700W be inferior to a 550W?
April 17, 2009 12:48:10 AM

rags_20 said:
I don't understand. How can a 700W give you 40A? Corsair's VX550 delivers 41A. Wouldn't that be better? This PSU is way costlier too. I know the full 700W can't be utilized, but how can a 700W be inferior to a 550W?


Who knows. The psu is 78% effecient, so only a hair from 80% which seems to be a sweet spot. I dropped $115 or so for this psu in mid to late 2007. My previous 480w wasn't powerful enough to power the athlon 64 x2 3800+ which i had at the time.

-- MaSoP
April 17, 2009 12:52:50 AM

rags_20 said:
I don't understand. How can a 700W give you 40A? Corsair's VX550 delivers 41A. Wouldn't that be better? This PSU is way costlier too. I know the full 700W can't be utilized, but how can a 700W be inferior to a 550W?


Because 700W is the total wattage, including the 3, 5, and 12 volt rails. If you put a lot of amperage on the 3 and 5 volt rails while maintaining/keeping the 12v the same as someone elses 650W unit, you can inflate your overall wattage rating, making it appear more attractive.

That is why, again and again, the well-informed don't simply ask for a wattage rating on PSUs, but the actual amperage ratings.
April 17, 2009 1:15:38 AM

I know that, but what is the use of giving more amps. to the other rails.
April 17, 2009 1:27:36 AM

Inflating the total wattage rating to make it more attractive to the uninformed.
April 17, 2009 1:39:51 AM

RazberyBandit said:
Inflating the total wattage rating to make it more attractive to the uninformed.


Man, what a pain in the ass. I suppose everyone should be looking at amperage and rails and not the wattage, lol. Why advertise wattage if the rails and overall amperage is what matters more? LOL

-- MaSoP
April 17, 2009 1:45:50 AM

That's dumb. Instead of increasing the other rails' watts, why not the 12V rail? Make no difference, right? - from the cost of production pov.
!