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Christmas Upgrade - Advice Please!

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October 22, 2009 4:10:56 AM

Current Specs
CPU: Core 2 Duo E6550 2.33ghz @ 2.96ghz (420mhz, DDR2 800 memory holding me back I think)
Motherboard: ASRock P43Twins1600
PSU: OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W
RAM: 2gb G.Skill DDR2 800 5-5-5-15
GPU: ASUS NVIDIA GeForce 8600GT 512mb GDDR3
Cooler: ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro

I'm currently using a 19" monitor running 1440x900 resolution, and I'm looking to upgrade sometime in the future (tax return probably), so I'd like to get into a 24" monitor with a decent refresh rate and resolution (1920x1080). I'll primarily be playing games, very lightweight rendering / compiling use and such, so more than a dual core really isn't necessary.

Right now, I have two lists set up. I was really back and forth on whether to go for the HD 5000 series cards or not, but they're just not in my budget range, and until they drop below $200 they likely won't be. I've done some number crunching based on various benchmarks floating around, and the HD 4870 1gb is hands down the best bang for my buck, DX11 and power saving aside...though I'm still debating between it and the 5770. I really don't know if it's worth the gaming performance though -- as much as I say I'd play newer games after an upgrade, I don't buy many until they're on the discount shelf. The 4870 should do me fine.

Now, I'm fairly certain that I'll run into a CPU bottleneck that will limit my frames a bit with the E6550. I'll be overjoyed if you folks think otherwise if I can clock it up past 3.4ghz with a RAM upgrade. Keep in mind that my board does not allow asynchronous memory clocking unless it's a 3:5 ratio, and my DDR2 800 won't cut it. Right now my memory is happily overclocked at 841.2mhz (420.6). I'll get back to that later.

With that said, here are my current build thoughts.

Upgrade 1 - AMD - Total Cost: $461.95
CPU: AMD Phenom II X2 550 3.1ghz - $102.00 (I'll be overclocking it of course with 3.8 as a goal.)
Motherboard: ASRock M3A785GXH/128M - $94.99 (ASRock has treated me well.)
RAM: 4gb G.SKILL RIPJAWS DDR3 1600 9-9-9-24 - $85.99
GPU: XFX ATI Radeon 4870 1gb GDDR5 - $144.99 (lifetime warranty, price is right)
Cooler: ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro - $33.98 (I bought mine prior to the upgrade that included the AM3 bracket.)

I like the idea of going AMD at this point because of future socket compatibility (LGA 775 might as well be dead) and price in ratio to value. It opens up the door for CrossFire in the future, though I doubt I'll ever utilize it. AMD + ATI, from what I hear, is a bit more stable than Intel + ATI, though this may just be heresay and I'm pretty much discarding it. DDR3 support up to 8gb @ 4x 2gb, though I doubt I'll ever stick that much ram in it before an upgrade in the future.

What I don't like about the setup is the low-end processor should software developers get some motivation in the next 18 months to come out with some bitchin' multi-core capable (3+) games due to the Windows 7 launch. There has been much speculation as to whether the launch will spur 64 bit development, which would in turn spur more multi-core development. However, the $100 price point is attractive on the processor, and would make an upgrade to a more capable quad / hexa core less painful in the future, assuming AMD sticks with the AM3 socket. It's really a toss up in that respect.

Upgrade 2 - Intel - Total Cost: $398.97
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 3.0GHz - $167.99 (I'll be attempting at least a 3.8ghz overclock on this chip as well.)
RAM: 4gb G.SKILL RIPJAWS DDR3 1600 9-9-9-24 - $85.99 (DDR3 instead of DDR2 for "future proofing" and higher clocks...plus, amazingly, cheaper than DDR2 1066 now.)
GPU: XFX ATI Radeon 4870 1gb GDDR5 - $144.99 (lifetime warranty, price is right)

This is, essentially, my backup plan should the wife put her foot down on the AMD upgrade price. At a $63 difference, this may just keep me out of the dog house when I put my foot down back on an upgrade at a lower cost.

From what I've read, the E8400 performs a bit better overall than the PII x2 550 at stock clocks. I haven't gone in-depth to research overclocked numbers, but I'd assume that they scale about the same. This minor increase in overall performance, in my opinion, doesn't warrant the $66 difference in price between the processors...but since I already have an LGA 775 motherboard that supports the CPU, it's a negligible expense. I don't have to buy a new motherboard 5 months after a motherboard upgrade, and I already have a compatible CPU cooler.

The memory slightly worries me. I have two DDR3 sockets on this board, capable of, according to ASRock, DDR3 1333. I know squat about DDR3. I believe that it has the same core clock multiplier, so 500fsb would still result in 1000mhz, which DDR3 1600 would definitely perform at. Other than that, I'm unsure of how it will work with the motherboard and whether the CPU will "get along with it" or not. The benefit of having memory available when I do upgrade my motherboard is worth the gamble though, and as stated above it is about $5 cheaper than G.SKILL DDR2 1066 (which still amazes me). I can always RMA it if it doesn't work and revert back to my DDR2 while I wait for a refund.

While we're on the memory / overclock subject, let's re-visit my current processor. I could knock another $168 off the total cost if I keep the E6550 and overclock it to around 3.4 (hopefully), assuming it won't act as a bottleneck. I'm fairly certain memory is holding me back in my overclock rather than the board, because I have to believe that I didn't spend $73 for a motherboard upgrade for a .3 ghz increase in max clock ;) . Not really though. I don't even get to bios, much the less post, at an FSB over 425, and 425 nets me memory errors. My voltages are all in line, and I've tried upping them all to "safe" generous amounts just to see if it would work out to no avail. I've spent hours tweaking my bios settings, and if you'd like I could take a couple of pictures of my bios settings if an expert happens to drop in.

To summarize, I really have 3 options:

AMD Upgrade - $461.95
Intel Upgrade - $398.97
GPU & RAM Upgrade - $230.98

All options include an overclock. The first two my aim will be 3.8ghz, the third my aim will be 3.4ghz. I'm at 2.96 currently, and if I can't push the overclock past that with better memory please take that into consideration. I'm looking for the best gaming bang for my buck, and a moderately happy wife after the dust settles (she'll be getting an upgrade in either case). Optimally, there will be no bottleneck, and if that can be achieved with an E6550 I'll be pretty happy to save the $168 on the E8400.

All input is appreciated. You folks are some of the most well informed enthusiasts on the net, and I know you won't steer me wrong. Just think about the dog house.

Thanks.
October 22, 2009 6:50:28 AM

I won't bother mentioning exact parts to upgrade to since your purchase date is quite a bit aways, so I give you some advice.

Your current build is good enough to be worth keeping the core parts (mobo, cpu). Upgrading to DDR3 will net you about no real benefits in performance, and off hand I think it may be harder to OC with that. You have to look into it more, but like how you more or less mentioned it when DDR2 is running at say 840mhz (420), I think it be the same way but with a divider of 3. But really you need to look into that more as I am unsure. But beyond that if you think your ram is holding your OC back try loosening up the timming's than proceed to OC and see if that does the trick for now. But I recomend picking up another 2gb stick or so to put you up to at least 4gigs, and taking full advantage of the dual channel capabilities of your board be quite nice.

Now that the whole memory thing is out of the way you definately need to upgrade the GPU. Right now I would recomend the 5770 as an upgrade as it be cheap (in comparison to the other ideas) and very good BIG upgrade considering what you have right now.

I don't recomend buying a new cpu/mobo and in essence a new machine as it won't give you really any performance increase while gaming for what your planning to spend.

So long story short add more RAM and toss in a new GPU. And loosen the timings and try to OC than to see if you can get a better OC.
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a b B Homebuilt system
October 22, 2009 7:04:31 AM

Just to say - don't overestimate your 8600GT. The 8500GT was absolute crap - look at the tier list on the 'best graphics cards for the money' article to see what I mean. Both of them were just DX10 introduction cards. I have far faster DX9 cards that can put both to shame. That said, I think that graphics alone is your biggest bottleneck. Don't forget also that between C2D and Phenom II there is a clock-per-clock speed difference as well.
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a c 122 B Homebuilt system
October 22, 2009 7:36:52 AM

Your memory settings may be holding your overclock back.

I bet you are running your memory clock (or whatever ASrock calls it) on AUTO. Change it to MANUAL and select a 2.00 multiplier if you haven't already. FSB increase to 400 MHz gives you 2.8 GHz at DDR2-800 speeds.

You are hamstrung by the relatively low internal multiplier of your CPU (X7).

Next:
All DDR2-1066 memory is is DDR2-800 memory tested to run at the higher speed, generally with looser timings and a higher voltage. Loosen the timings to 6-6-6-18 and increase the RAM voltage by 0.2 volts. Then see what happens.

If I were to do a low budget upgrade on your system, I'd buy a better video card and better memory. Or maybe change the CPU to an E5200.

Yes, that's right. It's a great overclocker. You should be able to get 3.5 - 4.0 GHz out of one. The high internal multiplier (X12.5) is a great advantage. And the base 200 MHz FSB means you could keep your existing RAM. The higher potential core speed will compensate for the smaller cache. And it's less than $70.

I reached 3.78 GHz (stress tested with P95) with mine using my old ACF7P. Search for "E5200 overclock" for examples of what people are doing with them. E5200 seems to be a better overclocker than the slightly more expensive E5300.
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October 22, 2009 10:49:23 AM

jsc said:
Your memory settings may be holding your overclock back.

I bet you are running your memory clock (or whatever ASrock calls it) on AUTO. Change it to MANUAL and select a 2.00 multiplier if you haven't already. FSB increase to 400 MHz gives you 2.8 GHz at DDR2-800 speeds.

You are hamstrung by the relatively low internal multiplier of your CPU (X7).

Next:
All DDR2-1066 memory is is DDR2-800 memory tested to run at the higher speed, generally with looser timings and a higher voltage. Loosen the timings to 6-6-6-18 and increase the RAM voltage by 0.2 volts. Then see what happens.

If I were to do a low budget upgrade on your system, I'd buy a better video card and better memory. Or maybe change the CPU to an E5200.

Yes, that's right. It's a great overclocker. You should be able to get 3.5 - 4.0 GHz out of one. The high internal multiplier (X12.5) is a great advantage. And the base 200 MHz FSB means you could keep your existing RAM. The higher potential core speed will compensate for the smaller cache. And it's less than $70.

I reached 3.78 GHz (stress tested with P95) with mine using my old ACF7P. Search for "E5200 overclock" for examples of what people are doing with them. E5200 seems to be a better overclocker than the slightly more expensive E5300.

I have it set to manual (5-5-5-15 - I'll try loosening those up), but I'm unsure what you mean by a 2.0 multiplier.

I'll look into the E5200. I do some things with virtualization, but not often, so it may just be an option.

EDIT: Tried upping the timings as suggested and I would not post at my current clock. Upped the CPU and DRAM voltages (CPU AUTO, DRAM 2.08) and set my FSB to 450 just to see if I had hit an FSB wall and it would not post. Didn't look into NB voltages at all, though I've never heard of those causing a system not to post.

Here are some pics of my bios for reference. These are the settings I have access to. Memory is locked in a 1:1 ratio unless I go for a major (in my eyes) memory overclock. NB, VTT and PLL voltage slightly upset me in this bios because I don't get raw number settings, but rather "low", "middle" and "high" options...but that's beside the point.











Thanks for all the help!
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October 22, 2009 11:34:40 AM

assasin32 said:
Your current build is good enough to be worth keeping the core parts (mobo, cpu). Upgrading to DDR3 will net you about no real benefits in performance, and off hand I think it may be harder to OC with that. You have to look into it more, but like how you more or less mentioned it when DDR2 is running at say 840mhz (420), I think it be the same way but with a divider of 3. But really you need to look into that more as I am unsure...But I recomend picking up another 2gb stick or so to put you up to at least 4gigs, and taking full advantage of the dual channel capabilities of your board be quite nice.

Now that the whole memory thing is out of the way you definately need to upgrade the GPU. Right now I would recomend the 5770 as an upgrade as it be cheap (in comparison to the other ideas) and very good BIG upgrade considering what you have right now.

I have another 2gb stick of DDR2 800, but it resides in my wife's computer for the moment, was too strapped to pick up one for it when I bought a cheap E1500 to take advantage of my empty motherboard. I'll be running it in dual channel when I upgrade to 4gb on my machine for Christmas (looking at buying end of November / beginning of December).

The 5770 is more expensive than the 4870 I have listed by about $15, and raw performance values are lower. I do like the DX11 support and lower power consumption though. Is that enough reason to go with the 5770 over the 4870?

Can anyone verify whether DDR3 would run at 2x or 3x core memory clock? I'm fairly certain that it's 2x, but I am a novice in this area. That aside, would it be more difficult to overclock with DDR3 than DDR2? I know I won't see a performance increase with any Core 2, but I will need 4gb of memory capable of pushing more overclock regardless. I have DDR3 capabilities, and DDR3 is cheaper than DDR2 at this point. I'll be able to use it in future builds, as well.
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October 22, 2009 11:39:59 AM

False_Dmitry_II said:
Just to say - don't overestimate your 8600GT. The 8500GT was absolute crap - look at the tier list on the 'best graphics cards for the money' article to see what I mean. Both of them were just DX10 introduction cards. I have far faster DX9 cards that can put both to shame. That said, I think that graphics alone is your biggest bottleneck. Don't forget also that between C2D and Phenom II there is a clock-per-clock speed difference as well.

Oh, I'm quite aware that the 8600GT is very low-end. I purchased my budget build in May of 2008, upgrading from a P4 1.8 when my ti4400 ate it and I was very satisfied with the GPU for a while. Recently I've moved on from the older games I was playing, and I just don't see the framerates I'd like to. At $70, it has treated me pretty well considering the low performance. I was pretty happy playing Crysis on medium settings at around 25 avg. FPS. I'm sure my relatively low resolution (1440x900) helped me there.

I suppose I'm a doom and gloomer based on my P4 experience. I was stuck at AGP 4x, and even with graphics upgrades from the ti4400 (dx8) to the 6000 series (dx9) I saw a decrease in performance. I don't want to upgrade my GPU just to end up with marginal / nonexistent framerate increases. Hardware has come a long way since then, and I may just be holding back without reason.

Thank you for your input.
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a b B Homebuilt system
October 22, 2009 3:50:34 PM

My problem when they came out was that I saw them as a waste of money. I heard of less tech-savvy people getting DX10 launch cards who assumed they'd be faster than what they had, and they weren't. the 8500 was so bad that it's about as good as a much older 6600GT - which was good for its time, but being released as new? There were definitely far faster cards for the money (or at least thereabouts money wise) at the time. There's a reason I find the tier list so invaluable when comparing to whats in a system and possible upgrades - including from ebay.
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October 22, 2009 3:54:49 PM

Completely understandable. My main goal when I put this machine together was to have some relevant hardware, and I pretty much neglected careful selection of the GPU. Anything PCI Express x16 was good enough for me, as long as it had at least a 6 in front of it and was under $75 to fit my budget.
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October 22, 2009 6:46:21 PM

I went ahead and ordered this combo today because of the $15. You never know how long combos will be valid, and I've got my mind set on these components at least. When they come in, I'll test and make sure an RMA won't be necessary, then I'll force myself to box up until Christmas time. I will, of course, be testing the overclocking capability of my system with the DDR3 ram installed, and I'll post system performance results from before and after the overclock.

I'm still interested to hear opinions on the possible motherboard / cpu upgrades though, so keep 'em coming!
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October 27, 2009 6:16:52 PM

Got my stuff in! The card pushed my gaming performance through the roof. There is no way I can compare it to the 8600GT I was running.

The DDR3 is working very well. DRAM frequency is at 420mhz (840mhz) @ 5-5-5-15. However, I'm still hitting a wall in my overclock, and I'm starting to think it's either the motherboard or processor...not much I can do about that other than an upgrade. If you happen to be knowledgeable about overclocking C2Ds, let me know. I might just put a post up in the overclocking section.

Thanks for all the help!
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a b B Homebuilt system
October 28, 2009 2:00:23 AM

I'm glad it worked for you.

I'm an AMD guy myself so I can't help you with the overclock.
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