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Budget build upgradeable to gaming build

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November 17, 2009 1:45:45 PM

Purchase Date: Prior to 1/1/2010
Budget Range: $300

Usage: Budget, upgradability (to gaming),

Parts not required:
19" Monitor
150 GB WD SATA drive (plus lots of PATA100 drives of mixed brands [WD, Maxtor, Seagate])
ATX case (I have several cases available for use at this point)
Mouse/keyboard
PATA DVD drive
Wireless LAN card
Nice air cooler with heat pipes.
350 W PSU (several brands available but this is underpowered for what I'll eventually want)

Preferred websites: None
Country of Origin: US

Parts Preferences: (leaning towards AMD/Gigabyte but not a requirement)

Overclocking: Maybe (depends upon CPU operating temperature with my cooler)

Monitor Resolution: (I'll be using an existing 4:3 ratio CRT up to either the 1400x?? or 1680x1050? resolution)

Additional comments:

I only build new systems from scratch about once/5-7 years. My last (completely new) system was built in the days of PC133 RAM, AGB, PATA, Socket A CPU.

This system is now on the fritz and I'm planning for its replacement.

What I want:
A system with an obvious upgrade path.

Ultimately I'd like to make this into a nice gaming system BUT I don't have the $$ build up the system into a gaming system right now. I also probably won't replace this system for at least 5 more years so I'd like something that is not cutting/bleeding edge but won't be totally obsolescent within a year or so.

I'm thinking a nice interim solution would be to get a MB with built in graphics (& sound) until I'm able to invest in a nice dedicated video card or two.

I also think that AMD offers a better Performance/Price point but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise :) .

Overclocking is of secondary/tertiary importance at this point but I do sometimes play with that and am interested. Whether I pursue this will depend upon how well the cooler keeps the CPU within tolerable temperatures.

So, what I'll need at a minimum is MB, CPU, & RAM (min of 2 GB but I'd _like_ to be able to upgrade to 4 gb without having to throw out the first 2 GB). I might not need a new PSU right off but will need one prior to putting in any dedicated video cards.

I'd like to get these base components for <$300 and cheaper is better :) 
November 17, 2009 1:47:57 PM

I also have nice speakers (they'll just transition from the flaky computer over to this one).
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Related resources
November 17, 2009 3:20:59 PM

Does

<Quote>
Ports
HDMI 1 x HDMI
D-SUB 1 x D-SUB
DVI 1 x DVI
</Quote>

Can I get an adapter from one of these ports to a standard VGA cable?
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November 17, 2009 6:09:18 PM

In this combo: http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboBundleDetails.aspx?ItemList=Combo.290805 mobo only has one 16x PCI slot (so SLI/Crossfire will be impossible).

Mobo: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128398 $114.99
CPU: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103688 $60.99
RAM: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231276 $105.99
------------------------------------------------------------------
Grand Total: $282

You can also use http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103714 for a CPU ($55) if your heatsink will accomodate.

When it's time to upgrade for gaming you will need:
Better CPU
Aftermarket Heatsink (if you seek to overclock)
Better PSU
New GPU
...and that's it!
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November 17, 2009 6:56:50 PM

jimbatka said:
Does

<Quote>
Ports
HDMI 1 x HDMI
D-SUB 1 x D-SUB
DVI 1 x DVI
</Quote>

Can I get an adapter from one of these ports to a standard VGA cable?

D-Sub is the standard 15pin VGA adapter.
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November 17, 2009 7:17:04 PM

For anyone that can't follow the links:

Mobo: GIGABYTE GA-MA790GPT-UD3H AM3 AMD 790GX (NewEgg offers a $15 rebate on this)
CPU: AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333

So instead of spending $60 for the CPU if I instead spent $90-100, would I do better with a Phenom II X2 or an Athlon II X4?

Also I just recalled that my proposed PSU won't work. My only PSU with connectors for SATA drives went Kaput a couple of months ago. My current 350 W PSUs do not have these connectors *sigh*.

IMO PSUs are hardware whose prices are NOT dropping like the rest of the components. It will probably be more cost efficient for me to just purchase a 550W PSU now rather than buying a smaller one now and the big one later.

Do you have any PSU recommendations?
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November 18, 2009 11:29:58 AM

jimbatka said:
For anyone that can't follow the links:

Mobo: GIGABYTE GA-MA790GPT-UD3H AM3 AMD 790GX (NewEgg offers a $15 rebate on this)
CPU: AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333

So instead of spending $60 for the CPU if I instead spent $90-100, would I do better with a Phenom II X2 or an Athlon II X4?


I would just get that good RAM and that Gigabyte board (which has all the expandability you will need), then just dump the cheap Athlon II X2-240 into it for now. That processor is dirt cheap and will be great for everyday use (you really don't need anything more powerful). Then, when it's time to upgrade to a gaming machine, get the beastly Phenom II X4-955 and never look back. You've only lost $61, and that processor still packs enough punch for general use to keep you happy for many months while you save your money.

BTW, you will still be able to game with that cheap processor once you drop in a better GPU, but you will notice a significant performance increase when you upgrade to the Phenom II X4. Hopefully by then they will come down another $30-$40 in price, so you can recuperate some of your original sunk costs. Even better, AMD may come out with a new AM3-based chip by then, which you may opt to go for.

In any event, it's your money. If you'd rather just get a middle-range processor (say a Phenom II X2-550 - $102) and be done with it, that's your call.
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November 18, 2009 4:58:54 PM

nofun,

After pondering a bit on the problem last night, I came to the same conclusion as you. I'd really rather not go over the $300 limit, so when I throw in the cost of the PSU I'd best go with the el cheapo CPU (mirroring your conclusions). Then when the time comes, I can drop another $300 to upgrade CPU & Video at the same time for a much better gaming computer.

As you say, best to get a highly expandable Mobo and add in the power as needed and as I'm able to afford it.

My only hurdle now is convincing wifey ;) 
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a b 4 Gaming
November 18, 2009 5:16:36 PM

I also agree with nofun. That was a good assessment.
For the PSU, in the 550W range, check out the Antec Truepower New. The 650W version may not be that much more, or the Earthwatts 650. At any time, Newegg generally has decent deals on one or more of the Antec PSUs.
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a b 4 Gaming
November 18, 2009 5:18:34 PM

Since your purchase date is 1/1/2010, I suspect there will be some excellent deals published on Black Friday that could make any of our recommendations obsolete.
Nofun's general observations remain valid though.
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November 27, 2009 10:20:54 PM

I've been told that some of the timings on high end DDR2 memory can be better than those than on DDR3 and that might be a better choice. Any comments on the DDR2 vs DDR3 memory thing?

Also here on black Friday the total price looks to be about $3-4 cheaper. However, I'll look for a couple of other specials.

Jim
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November 28, 2009 1:50:43 AM

jimbatka said:
I've been told that some of the timings on high end DDR2 memory can be better than those than on DDR3 and that might be a better choice. Any comments on the DDR2 vs DDR3 memory thing?


Read this article and look at the chart at the bottom of the page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAS_latency. Mostly all memory today is Synchronous DRAM (SDRAM).

Long story short: DDR2-800 Ram with CAS Latency of 5 will (in some cases) respond faster than DDR3-133 with CAS Latency of 9.

RAM Performance is determined by three things (in order of most important to least):
1) Data Rate Speed (ie - DDR3 1333, or DDR2 800)
2) Timings (CAS Latency) - see the Wikipedia Article
3) Manufacturers Recommended Stable Voltage (Read below)

CAS Latency is another term for memory "timings." On the NewEgg RAM pages, under the Specifications tab, you will find a row for Timings. Timings of 5-5-5-?? indicate a CAS Latency of 5. Timings of 7-7-7-?? indicate a CAS Latency of 7. Lower timings are better, but cost more. With the mobos you're looking at, anything over DDR3 1333 will require overclocking - so DDR3 1333 is about as good as you'll want to go, and the lowest CAS Latency commonly available is 7 at that speed.

Voltage is also important. Also under the NewEgg specifications, you will see a row for the manufacturers recommended voltage. Higher voltage allows RAM to achieve stability at higher speeds and tighter timings; thus, feeding the RAM a little more voltage is a way to achieve stability while overclocking your RAM. The trouble is that a lot of motherboards cannot tolerate voltages which go too high (bump them up to those levels, and you could fry your board). Generally, lower voltages are better, though, anything under 1.8V should be fine for your setup.

Thus, the RAM kit I linked http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231276 is a great choice. Great speed, tight timings, reasonable price, low voltage. Doesn't get much better than that.
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February 7, 2010 6:46:28 PM

Well, my planning for doing this around Christmas fell through. However, I've finally pulled the trigger and bought the components from NewEgg. Except I went ahead and ordered a Phenom II X2 550be for the CPU.

Then I'll tinker with them to my little hearts content.


Interestingly I was able to use that time (Nov to Feb) to tweak my existing rigs, plan out my home computing environment, allocate the best rigs for each chore, and reallocate the components to get the best performance for each job.

Plus I acquired a used rig from a friend who had allowed it to become hopelessly infected with a variety of malware. This used system's motherboard and CPU was about on-par with my best desktop (Athlon XP 2400+) but hopelessly outclassed on memory (only 512 MB) and video card (geForce 4). With the reallocation of various other components from other retired rigs and spare parts I was able to juice this up to Radeon 9800 & 1 GB memory.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it now that I ordered the "modern" components :) 

I'll post again with the results of my tinkering. I fully intend to attempt to unlock the 2 other cores and overclock them as well. I have a really nice heatsink with heatpipes and a large diameter but low rpm fan (quiet systems are REALLY nice) for the cpu cooler. I'll just have to wait and see how it all fits together and runs.
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February 16, 2010 7:17:45 PM

Here's a list of what I bought:

2x 2GB GSkills (mentioned earlier)
1x Phenom II X2 550be
1x GA-MA790GPT-UD3H (mentioned earlier)

Incidentals (cables, wireless n card, etc.)

Here's a list of what I already had:
awesome Cooler Master heat sink & cooler (with 6 heat pipes)
WinXP
Win7 (upgrade only)
SATA 160 GB HD (it was only a 150)
380W Antec EarthPower power supply
ATX aluminum case
DVD ROM

The Cooler Master heatsink doesn't have the right adapter for this board so I've been forced to stick with the provided stock cooler for now.

I threw the thing together and first fiddled with the RAM tuning. This is the best I've been able to get to work reliably (but I have NOT yet played with upping the RAM voltage):

x8 (1600) running with these timings: 9-9-8-24

I was able to set the MB BIOS ACC's CPU settings to "Hybrid" and "Auto" this DID unlock the other 4 cores so I now have a very nice Phenom II X4 850 running very reliably. :) 

After installing first the WinXP install and then upgrading to 64bit Win7, I downloaded and ran AMD's OverDrive utility. This was able to raise the FSB timing ~4% and the CPU multiplier by 10%. Unfortunately, the system isn't terribly stable at this setting.

So I plan to reset the timings to the defaults until I'm able to replace my stock cooler. At that time, I'll allow the AOD utility to retune the system. Once it selects the right timings, then I may apply some increased voltages to increase the stability.
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February 16, 2010 7:39:16 PM

FYI, my heatsink looks like this one:
http://www.coolermaster.com/product.php?product_id=6602

Only the heatsink itself is all copper while the cooling fins are aluminum. You can see on the bottom that it has "legs" which extend out to the holes in the MB. It is these legs that I lack. The cooler is designed to have interchangeable legs but my model was designed for the socket 462 boards and the hole spacings are wrong.

I need to find legs/adapters to use this cooler on that board.
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