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Upgrading advice for lower end system

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January 15, 2010 2:24:19 AM

i'm running

processor: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4050e 2.1ghz MMX, 3DNOW, SSE(1,2,3) X86-64, AMD-V
200mhz bus speed
caches: L1 D- 64kb x2 , L1-I 64kb x2, L2 512kb x2
mobo: Acer RS740DVF with PCIE 16x graphics interface
RAM: 3gb DDR2 running at 330mhz
graphics: GEFORCE 9400 GT 512mb DDR2 , 128bits bus width
psu: 465watt , 12v1 - 16amps
os: windows xp

I was thinking of getting a decent mid-level video card , converting to a 64 bit os like windows 7 and cramming a bunch of faster ram into it. and depending on my video card, getting a more powerful psu. So for starters, If I did this, would I see any noticeable improvements? Ideally i want to play new games in high res on this machine. I realize that my processor might be a bit of a bottleneck but as of now i can run most games in high settings, its just recently ive come across a few i need to tone it down to medium settings for which spurred me to look into upgrading.

I guess I'm just looking for some advice on options, I'm not looking to spend too much money (maybe 200ish tops) if i could do it for less, even better. I'm kind of fuzzy on what kind of ram, videocard and power supply options are available to me.

on a related note, i was also thinking of upgrading my harddrive. i've seen a lot of external usb drives available, and I'm wondering what the speed difference is on these compared to internals? is there something i should watch out for when buying? I don't mind it being a bit slower than my internal sata drive but i'd hate to buy a 1tb drive and have it transfer as slow as my dirty old flash drive that also uses USB technology, but i do like the idea of a portable hard drive.

any help would be appreciated.
January 15, 2010 2:42:09 AM

$200 USD?

Humm.... Well let me see if i can break it down here.

1. Moving to 64bit windows 7 IMO won't net you any real gains except that you will have the newest MS operating system. I mean it's better yes, but that much better? "eh".

2. Video card upgrade, ya I can see that now... What brand name and, more specifically, what are the detailed specs of your power supply?

3. Improvements... With Windows 7 over XP? No, better support for the newer stuff out there is your biggest gain. With a new video card, potentially... What resolution is your monitor?

4. You didn't mention your hard drive in your parts list, when you mean upgrdade... Do you mean go larger? And definately NEVER substitute a USB drive in place of an internal drive.

5. Your DDR2 memory is definately not 330, I'm guessing that it's probably 667 if you were able to find 330 somewhere or another. You could go for a pair of 2GB sticks of DDR2 800, you won't see much though.
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January 15, 2010 3:13:15 AM

Yeah, really the only thing you should be considering upgrading is the graphics card. I would suggest a 4850 for $99, which your power supply should handle easily and is probably about the most your processor can really drive well. Other than that you have little to gain with memory and OS upgrades on an older platform. Wait until you are ready to upgrade the whole thing, then you can go to DDR3 memory, a quad core cpu on a modern platform, ect, ect....
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January 15, 2010 3:16:35 AM

Oh, I completely forgot about the HDD. An external hard drive can be a nice way to store files like music, movies, ect....but don't put any programs on them. The nice thing for your situation is that the external HDD could make an eventual switch to another PC a little less painless because you wouldn't have to manually transfer all you old files over...all you have to do is plug your external drive into any PC and its good to go.
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a b B Homebuilt system
January 15, 2010 5:58:50 AM

Yeah graphics is pretty much it for that one. Since that's one of the cool and low power cpus' you can try to overclock it so that its not too much of a bottleneck. My 4600+ x2 2.4 gigahertz bottlenecked my HD 4850 quite a bit. The highest you could go without bottlenecking is maybe the 4670. (at least, when I put my 4600+ with it it seems to be doing well, I even tried overclocking to not much improvement in dawn of war 2) This is a good cheap card and *checks* is 10 tiers higher on the list for graphics cards. That alone is a huge amount.


As far as the hard drive goes, an external drive is only as fast as it's connection method allows it to be. USB is pretty slow. You may want to just buy a hard drive and an enclosure (preferably one that also does esata if your comp can).
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a b B Homebuilt system
January 15, 2010 1:15:08 PM

Your system is pretty outdated, but I can understand your desire to be frugal and make it last.
In my "Green Gamer" project I found that a 4850e will bottleneck a 4670; your even slower 4050e has to be upgraded if you hope to make a real difference.

With a max budget of $200, this is what I would do:

1. Your mobo is AM2. Chances are, it won't support 125W CPUs; maybe not even 95W models. So, put an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ Brisbane 2.9GHz Socket AM2 65W Dual-Core Processor Model ADO5600IAA5DO on it for $51.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

2. Your PSU sounds like a generic. I would be surprised if it even has a PCIE power connector on it. The strongest GPU you can reasonably hope to power is either a low-power 9800GT like this ZOTAC ZT-98GES3G-FSL GeForce 9800 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card for $93 ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ) or a HD4670 like this GIGABYTE GV-R467ZL-1GI Radeon HD 4670 1GB 128-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card for $70 ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ).

3. Your BIOS is probably locked, limiting your overclocking, so you may be able to re-use your existing CPU cooler. Otherwise, pick up a cheap CPU cooler for $15-$20 and overclock your CPU; you ought to be able to hit 3.2GHz, but might not get much more. The cooler on your 45W 4050e probably won't be good enough.

This may cost as little as $121 if you get the 4670 and re-use your cooler, or as much as $164 if you get the more powerful 9800GT and need a new cooler.

If you have enough flexibility, it might be tempting to pick up a 380W Antec Earthwatts PSU ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ) for a mere $39 in order to power a $100 HD4850, but I think it would be bottlenecked in some games even by the X2 5600+. Consider doing that only if you might re-use those parts in a new mid-range build later, although you may want to get the 430W Earthwatts or 520W Neo Eco for $60 so you can run a more powerful GPU and have better headroom for overclocking, multiple drives, etc.
I think you should spend the least amount of money possible in order to get a "sufferable" experience, and save for a rebuild. A budget of $500-$600 would be a remarkable improvement all around, with room for upgrades.

I agree with belial on the HDD. Don't do it, unless you want to use it as a data drive.
Although you'll want a 64bit OS and 4+ GB of RAM in your next build, for now it wouldn't matter, especially for the price.
I don't see the resolution of your monitor up there; if you're running at 1280x1024 or 1440x900, I think you'd be happy with the HD4670.
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January 15, 2010 2:30:00 PM

Good points, but I'm sure the PSU will run the 4850. It has a pretty low power draw. I've put it into many lower powered systems from Dell, HP, Gateway, ect without issue for a cheap upgrade for people looking to get decent gaming graphics.
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a b B Homebuilt system
January 15, 2010 7:23:51 PM

If that "465W" PSU is a quality model, then yeah, it should be able to run a HD4850; after all, a 380W Earthwatts can do it. If it's a generic, with only 16A on its label at that, I'd expect to see fireworks when he cranks up a 3D game.
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January 15, 2010 8:28:17 PM

thanks for all of the responses so far.
Here's some more information
my psu is http://shop.listingsca.com/shop/product--catId_1001612_... this one
i'm pretty sure it's a generic brand since i've never heard of 'retail plus'
it also has a diagram in the manual saying stats for all 6 of it's outputs. I thought that 12V was the only relevant one but here's the max load amps all 6 DC outputs:
5V - 30A
12V1 - 16A
12V2 - 15A
-12V - 1A
3.3V - 25A
5Vsb - 2.5A
and according to the manual, it does have PCIE

my ram - i've got 1 gig stick of PC2-6400 (400mhz) and a 2gig stick of PC2-5300 (333mhz) and my overall DRAM Frequency is 299mhz according to cpu-z. I realize that I'm running at the lowest common denominator , which I'm assuming is the 299mhz

also according to cpu-z here's some other specs on my video card
clocks- core:550mhz, shaders:1375mhz, memory: 400mhz

my video display is 1680x1050 on a 22" flatron by LG, which is as high as it will go on my current video card.

and here is my hard drive ST3160815AS [Hard drive] (160.04 GB) -- drive 0, SMART Status: Healthy

I've got no problems with my current hard drive beyond it's space, I was mainly looking into an extra external for storage and to back up my school files. I am just concerned about it taking 5 hours to load 50 gigs onto it. I like the idea of a USB connected hard drive so I guess more specifically my question regarding that is if there is a certain type of USB technology that I should shoot for that's faster data transfer , or any types i should avoid.

once again thanks for the information. I'm definitely learning as I go

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January 15, 2010 8:54:34 PM

You are probably hurting performance more than helping it by mixing ram...Remove the 1gb stick and leave the 2gb stick.
As I said before I've put a 4850 on 400w PSUs in OEM systems, and it runs fine. That card doesn't draw very much power even under max load...but you can save a little cash and not worry by going with the 4670...it is a decent card and unless you upgrade the cpu probably won't do much worse than the 4850.
Your MB probably has USB 1.1 connectors which are not going to set any speed records, but it shouldn't take 5hrs to transfer 50gb. When I transfer 4gb of small files to an external drive it takes about 10 minutes on average.
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a b B Homebuilt system
January 15, 2010 8:57:31 PM

uh the 2 gig stick is slower. Having that extra faster stick can't make anything slower and would just add to how much system ram he has.
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January 15, 2010 9:26:13 PM

when you mix ram with different speeds and timings it creates all sorts of issues which ends up, more often than not, hurting performance more than it helps.
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a b B Homebuilt system
January 15, 2010 9:34:37 PM

Well, it looks like a generic, but with two +12V rails. As we all know, they won't be additive, but still may be enough now for that HD4850.
Overall, I'll stand by my first post on what I'd do with $200. On the memory, I'd expect even a mixed 3GB will be faster than 2GB, but if you can find another 2GB stick that matches what you have for a reasonable price, it might be worthwhile.
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January 15, 2010 11:48:06 PM

thanks again for the input
I think I will buy the 4850 and give that a shot.
I understand that I can't run DDR3 ram , and boonality mentioned DDR2 800 , which I've found a good price for 2 - 2 gig sticks. Would this be a significant increase since i've discovered that i'm currently running at less than 300mhz? or is there any reason that my mobo wouldn't support this speed?

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a b B Homebuilt system
January 16, 2010 12:04:07 AM

It might not be huge, but you'd probably see some difference, if only from the additional half GB that Windows could use.
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January 16, 2010 12:19:21 AM

tmancanada said:
thanks again for the input
I think I will buy the 4850 and give that a shot.
I understand that I can't run DDR3 ram , and boonality mentioned DDR2 800 , which I've found a good price for 2 - 2 gig sticks. Would this be a significant increase since i've discovered that i'm currently running at less than 300mhz? or is there any reason that my mobo wouldn't support this speed?


PC2-6400 is 800mhz and PC2-5300 is 667 mhz...you are forgetting the ram multiplier is x2. the reason your memory is currently showing as 299mhz (600 mhz) is because the memory controller is having a hard time dealing with mixed ram. This is why I said mixing ram can do more harm than good. It is probably really hurting the timings also. If you can match the PC 5300 you already have with another 2gb it might be your cheapest route. You should ideally match the product number for an exact match. You might be able to find this on ebay cheap, or you might check newegg if they have an exact match. (I don't know how long ago you got the ram)...If you cannot find the exact match you are better off selling the ram you have and getting the 800mhz 4gb kit
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January 16, 2010 1:44:29 AM

ahh, thanks for clearing that up.

if anyone is interested, I've actually been fooling around with overclocking my 9400gt card while mulling all of this over and here are the results:

I brought my core from 550mhz to 753mhz
shaders 1375mhz to 1706mhz
memory 400mhz to 499mhz
so overall I increased the performance by about 25%


my idle temperature was 60C beforehand, now it idles at 63C
during intense gaming after 20-30 minutes, my temperature had reached 75C with no artifacts or problems. It basically resulted in me playing at the same FPS in high settings as I was getting in medium settings

I'm curious if I should dare going any farther overclocking it since this is my first time doing this kind of thing. I've read that most video cards won't overheat until they get into the 120C range, and I'm nowhere close to that. Is that a lot of untapped potential? The program that I'm using basically will allow me to take my memory to 640, shader to 2200, and core to 880 as it's 'max' settings

Either way I think that this simple act has actually solved my video card problem.



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January 16, 2010 1:50:22 AM

nothing beats a free upgrade!
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January 16, 2010 2:12:29 AM

yes sir
I looked into overclocking my PC as well but my BIOS has those features locked (it's an acer pre-built system) and I don't think it's worth the risk of digging into hacking the bios.
I think if like you say i match the pc-5300 stick, this might end up being a relatively painless upgrade
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a b B Homebuilt system
January 16, 2010 11:44:56 AM

Free upgrades are the best kind. Still, even if your OC has moved your 9400GT up a couple of tiers in the GPU hierarchy, you'll still get eight more with a 4670. Of course, that's another $70 toward your next rig...

Oh, one more little detail. If you're going to re-use your CPU cooler, you'll need to pick up some thermal paste. Arctic Silver AS5 has long been a favorite, and will be fine, but is no longer the best. This one is a little better, and is cheaper: http://www.newegg.com/Product/NewProduct.aspx?Item=N82E...
Clean all the old paste off the heatsink, then apply the thinnest possible layer of the new stuff to the top of your CPU. Use your finger in a plastic bag to spread it on.
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