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Upgrade or replace older whitebox PC?

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November 30, 2009 5:43:51 AM

Hi, first-time post on THW. I'd appreciate some opinions on the sanity of upgrading my teenagers' PC.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: next couple of weeks

BUDGET RANGE: CAD$300 to $400, after rebates

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: web surfing, iTunes, word processing/presentations/homework, web games

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: case, power supply, keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS, HD, CD-RW

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: newegg.ca

PARTS PREFERENCES: No preferences

OVERCLOCKING: Not likely

MONITOR RESOLUTION: will be replacing old Dell Trinitron CRT with a flat-panel LCD around CAD$150, e.g. ASUS VH198T Black 19" 5ms Widescreen LCD Monitor.

MY SKILL LEVEL: advanced PC user; have done some simple hardware upgrades, e.g. RAM, HD, CD

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: want a quiet system!

The whine of the CPU fan in my teenagers' PC is driving me nuts! I was told by a parts vendor the fan on this particular motherboard (ECS L7VMM3 Rev 1.0c Micro ATX, which has an on-board AMD Athlon 1600 Mhz XP-M CPU) can't be replaced. I am now considering upgrading the motherboard/CPU/RAM, to a) get a quieter fan! and b) hopefully get a couple more years useful life out of the system.

Here's what I'm thinking of putting into it, for about CAD$350:

Motherboard/CPU combo
GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM-US2H AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard

AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor

RAM: Kingston 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model KVR667D2K2/2GR

I will keep the following components:

Power supply: Youngyear model PSIV-400-1 300W, about 5 years old

Hard drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 160Gb model ST3160815A, PATA interface, about 1 year old

LG CD-RW drive, about 4 years old, IDE - I have a second CD drive that I'd like to keep, but all motherboards appear to have only one PATA/IDE interface nowadays. Can I use a CAD$9 adapter like this one to attach the second CD drive to the GIGABYTE GA-MA785GM board specified above?

But then again, for CAD$30 more, I may consider ditching the CD-RW for this LITE-ON SATA DVD burner!

PS2 Keyboard
USB mouse
small USB Wacom graphics tablet
speakers
USB printer

OS: Windows XP Home - I will probably do a fresh install.

Thanks for your help!

Philip
a b B Homebuilt system
November 30, 2009 6:52:15 AM

For just basic Internet/music use, that will work fine. But then again, so will your existing computer.

Are you SURE you can't replace the CPU fan? It looks like your particular motherboard has a weird setup where the CPU itself is permanently attached to the socket and cannot be replaced, and maybe the heatsink can't be removed either. But if this picture is to be believed, that looks like a standard 80mm case fan that's just screwed in on top of the heatsink, and there should be no problem swapping that out with a quieter one for $10-$20 if what my eyes are telling me is right.

I would take it to a different repair person and ask them if what I'm talking about is possible -- I bet the one you talked to just looked at a spec sheet and wrote it off because they thought you wanted to replace the whole fan/heatsink assembly, which isn't possible. If it's the CPU fan noise that's bothering you, it looks like the one you've got is cheap, Chinese and installed with minimum effort ... which means you should be able to replace it in seconds with standard parts. Just make sure that when you do, the air is blowing the same direction as the old fan.

Also, if it's fan noise you're worried about, are you sure it's the CPU fan and not the case fans? Just be sure you've pinpointed the problem first, because it'd be a shame to go to all he trouble and expense of building a new system and reinstalling the OS if it just turned out to be the bearings wearing out in a case fan or something.
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a c 122 B Homebuilt system
November 30, 2009 2:08:29 PM

Your PSU is one step above junk. Replace it with something like this:
Corsair 400CX:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

On an admittedly limited sample of 1, my Lite-On DVD/RW failed in 9 months on one of my computers. My Samsungs and LG's have been running for three years or more.

"But then again, for CAD$30 more, I may consider ditching the CD-RW for this LITE-ON SATA DVD burner! "

If you are changing to a SATA DVD drive, you do not need the adapter. And there really is no need for more than one optical drive in a computer.
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November 30, 2009 6:23:50 PM

My kids are complaining that the system is getting too slow. That's why I was considering upgrading the hardware. Maybe it just needs a reinstall of the OS? I've heard that can speed things up, but I'm a bit dubious.

As far as the fan goes, yes, it is the same one depicted in the photo, just screwed into the radiator fins. I'm pretty sure the CPU fan is the culprit. When I take the side off and listen really closely to both fans, it's definitely the CPU fan that makes the lovely whooshing noise. According to a software fan control utility I put on the system at one point, it runs at about 5400 rpm, just the right pitch to irritate me.

The last time I tried to deal with this, I didn't take the PC into a local repair shop. I sent close-up photos to an online fan supplier, who didn't think it was replaceable.

So if I'm going to put in a new fan, would it mount the same way as the existing one, i.e. 4 screws into the radiator fins, as long as its the same diameter as the existing fan? Or do I have to replace the radiator along with the fan?

This seems such a dead-simple fix, that shouldn't be harder than replacing a light bulb :) 

Thanks for your help,

Philip

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November 30, 2009 6:39:15 PM

jsc said:
Your PSU is one step above junk.


Yes, I thought so <shame>. It came along with a PC upgrade kit (case, psu, mobo) that I bought from a local shop (since gone out of business) for about $250, 5 years ago. It has served its purpose well, but now the kids complain that it's too slow.

If I replace the PSU as well as the mobo, CPU, RAM, CD drive, i.e. virtually everything except the HD, and I'm just looking for a basic mainstream PC for entertainment, light gaming and homework stuff, am I not better off buying a new Xmas bundle from BestBuy or wherever? I admit the engineer tinkerer in me would love to build it from scratch, but in the end I just want a quieter PC that will suit my kids needs for a couple more years. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty, I just want to be sure all the pieces will work together, else I'm out a few hundred bucks and have a pretty pile of non-functioning hardware to look at :) 

Quote:
On an admittedly limited sample of 1, my Lite-On DVD/RW failed in 9 months on one of my computers. My Samsungs and LG's have been running for three years or more.


I suspected as much, I'll go with a respected brand name.

Quote:
If you are changing to a SATA DVD drive, you do not need the adapter. And there really is no need for more than one optical drive in a computer.


Good point.

Thanks for the help!
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a b B Homebuilt system
November 30, 2009 7:54:37 PM

phipster said:
My kids are complaining that the system is getting too slow. That's why I was considering upgrading the hardware. Maybe it just needs a reinstall of the OS? I've heard that can speed things up, but I'm a bit dubious.

As far as the fan goes, yes, it is the same one depicted in the photo, just screwed into the radiator fins. I'm pretty sure the CPU fan is the culprit. When I take the side off and listen really closely to both fans, it's definitely the CPU fan that makes the lovely whooshing noise. According to a software fan control utility I put on the system at one point, it runs at about 5400 rpm, just the right pitch to irritate me.

The last time I tried to deal with this, I didn't take the PC into a local repair shop. I sent close-up photos to an online fan supplier, who didn't think it was replaceable.

So if I'm going to put in a new fan, would it mount the same way as the existing one, i.e. 4 screws into the radiator fins, as long as its the same diameter as the existing fan? Or do I have to replace the radiator along with the fan?

This seems such a dead-simple fix, that shouldn't be harder than replacing a light bulb :) 

Thanks for your help,

Philip


OK, first, has the CPU fan always been running that fast? 5400 rpm sounds pretty high to me. If it's only been doing that recently, it could mean it's not a problem with the CPU fan at all -- you could be having a general heat problem and the machine is trying to compensate by blowing the fan faster. I'd check for obstructed airflow inside the case, excessive dust, etc., and see if that helps. Also, putting in a more powerful case fan to increase the airflow may cool things down sufficiently to take the load off the CPU fan.

What's more, if it is a general heat issue, a new CPU fan might not help with the noise -- if it's still hot inside the case, the new CPU fan will still be blowing hard. So definitely look at that first.

Replacing the CPU fan is a bit more tricky than a case fan: As long as you can find a fan that's the same size with the right power connectors, you shouldn't have to replace the heatsink. But you'll want to make sure to buy a fan that was either intended for use as a CPU fan -- or if you do use a regular case fan, make sure it supports having its speed adjusted either by the motherboard directly, or by software. Case fans can be used as CPU fans, but you'll just need to do a little research first to find something that will work (this thread provides a couple of good starting points).

And yes ... reinstalling the OS will often make a computer run faster all by itself. If you've had a machine for 2-3 years, you can expect a good amount of "Windows rot" to build up for the simple reason that programs often don't install and uninstall themselves perfectly cleanly, and all the leftover garbage can make your system chug and churn unnecessarily.

Another couple of issues that can slow your machine down are a full (or nearly full) hard drive, and hard drive fragmentation. If your hard drive gets above maybe 75-80 percent of capacity, searching/loading/writing times can start to increase, and same thing if you haven't defragmented your disk in a long time. I mean, this machine is not going to be breaking any speed records to begin with, but if any/all of these methods help improve the performance, you can probably get a little more life out of it.



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November 30, 2009 8:55:52 PM

Quote:
OK, first, has the CPU fan always been running that fast? 5400 rpm sounds pretty high to me.


Yes, I think the fan's been running like that since I got the machine. The fan speed utility showed a "reasonable" CPU temperature, around 34 degrees C (IIRC, wish I could recall the name of the utility, it was a freeware thing, "fanspeed"?), so I wasn't too concerned about heat buildup at the time. I keep the insides fairly dust-free. It does need a cleaning now, but even after I've given it a good dusting the fan still runs pretty loud.

There is no case fan, just the power supply and CPU fans. I've tried running it with the case side panel removed for a while, just to see if the extra airflow would help, but it didn't make any difference to the fan. It just runs at the same speed all the time.

I reinstalled the OS last December when I installed the Seagate drive, and I haven't installed many new apps since then. It didn't feel appreciably faster right after the OS install than it does now. I can try defragging, I haven't done it for at least six months, that might make some difference.

I think it's just the march of time - Windows gets patched, browsers and iTunes gets updated, and other apps get updated with the expectation of running on newer/faster hardware, so my system, which was fast enough 5 years ago, feels slower.

I'm sure for example the current Flash Player requires more resources than Flash Player from 2 or 3 years ago, so web games that used to run OK now feel sluggish. Same thing even with images, CSS and JavaScript on plain vanilla web pages, as machines get bigger and faster, developers take advantage of the increased horsepower.

So in the case that I can't replace the fan, in your opinion is it worth putting new parts into this old case? Or am I better off starting from scratch, or even buying a prebuilt home PC e.g. from BestBuy?
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a b B Homebuilt system
November 30, 2009 9:45:33 PM

Hmm. So there's not even a place to mount a case fan? In that case, it sounds like the CPU fan may be stuck doing all the work and will run at high RPMs no matter whether you put in a new fan or not.

Or, since your CPU temps seem pretty reasonable, I wonder if the issue is just that your motherboard's default BIOS setting is to run the fan at max speed no matter what, regardless of whether it needs to? Have you checked in the BIOS to see if there's a fan speed option that will either let it auto-control the fan based on the temperature, or let you adjust the speed manually? That's my next guess.

As far as general performance, yeah, a lot of your issues are probably just because it's an old machine. Since you reinstalled Windows not long ago, it doesn't sound like a gummed-up OS is the problem. It may just be getting too old and slow for the more modern programs.

I probably wouldn't spend any money on new components for the old machine; you're not going to get a whole lot more performance out of it, especially since you're stuck with a 5-year-old CPU no matter what. Basically, it comes down to: Can you live with its current performance if the fan quiets down? If so, just use it as-is; if not, it's time for a new system. Five years is a pretty good run.

As far as what to replace it with ... I would say that what you've picked out is probably going to be better than a budget PC you could get pre-built for the same amount of money. Plus, this leaves you some room to upgrade later, and a lot of lower-end pre-built PCs make that difficult.


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December 4, 2009 4:04:15 AM

Thanks for all your suggestions, it's been very helpful. I've decided to build a new system, rather than put new parts into the old box, since the only thing that's near worth keeping is the HD.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 4, 2009 7:31:14 AM

If you're building a new system, I would not keep the HD. You definitely want to go all SATA -- PATA is a last-gen technology that's being phased out with most modern systems, and is a lot slower on top of it. So if you build a new system, that hard drive will drag you down. I'd say get any important data off it and go with a bigger SATA hard drive. You can get an ok 500GB hard drive for about $50 these days.
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December 4, 2009 2:33:01 PM

capt_taco said:
If you're building a new system, I would not keep the HD.


Yup, that's why I said "near" worth keeping :D 
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