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Low Budget Gaming Upgrade - Suggestions Appreciated!

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February 5, 2010 4:30:58 AM

Hello everyone, new poster/old lurker looking for some suggestions on a system upgrade.

Let me preface by saying I don't have much of a tech background - what little I have I've cobbled together from browsing sites like Toms in my freetime.

So I'm planning on upgrading my *aging* system with some following needs and restrictions.

Needs - Outside of the normal web surfing/word processin' stuff, I don't have a highend taste in graphic games (give me gameplay anyday). That being said, I like the ability to at least run most anything out there, but I dont need 80 FPS at Crysis on max settings. Give me TF2 all day, any day. I also don't play MMOs (anymore) so no SSDs. I'm mostly looking for something that will give me a snappy operating environment with the ability to comfortably play most newish games.

Restrictions - This is a budget *upgrade* When I'm doing accumulating (and paying off) my student debt I'll build a new system, ground up. For now, I'll be reusing the following pieces of hardware, which will put some limitations on how much I want to spend elsewhere. Please don't tell me just to build a new rig for a few hundred more -- When that time comes, hopefully soon, I'd like to have a second capable machine for playing games with friends when they visit. So, the following pieces of hardware will be re-used.

Case
HD - 250 gb 16 mbcache WD, SATA -- http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Power Supply - 350 WATTS
Monitor - MAX 1280x1024 RES -- http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Thats it -- I'm not looking to purchase a new case/PSU OR a new monitor. When I do buy a new monitor and case/psu it will be for a full build. I know I can get better HDs on the cheap, but I'm fine with the limited space and the 16mb cache. The 350 watt PSU and the monitors max res will obviously limit how much I should be spending. As far as I can tell, the PSU shouldn't be too much of a problem, because the monitor's max res means I won't be needing a power hungry card. Thus, my planned upgrade looks like this.

Phenom II x2 550 BE

Cheap Asus Board, microATX (needed) and hopefully able to unlock a 3rd core on the 550
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Sapphire 4670 1gig -- Good enough to run anything I want smoothly AT 1280x1024? Low power, low cost. Don't care for DX11
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

4GB DDR3 1333 -- Should be plenty for my needs
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

That's it, coming in a bit over ~$300.

So I'm wondering if (1) I'm going overboard on the CPU/RAM (2) the PSU will be able to handle the load, after hopefully unlocking a 3rd core and (3) whether there are any obvious bottlenecks. Please keep in mind the monitors max res when thinking GPU - I'm not buying another monitor until I build a serious $ machine. Also, whether there are any future price-drops, etc that would dictate holding off a few weeks on the purchase. Comments welcome and appreciate, thanks!

* I should note, I'm not looking for a lot of upgrade ability in this. Just looking for something that can reasonably handle most new games and will make a decent backup/2nd machine for buddies to use.
February 5, 2010 5:53:11 AM

Looks good to me I like the 4670.

Only thing is PSUs can vary widely even for a given watt rating because some manufacturers only include the 12v in that rating (which is good) and some don't (which is not as good).
a b B Homebuilt system
February 5, 2010 4:03:01 PM

The HD4670 will be fine at that resolution, or even a little higher.
Take a look at the Athlon II X3 435 for $16 less.
Here's some $14 cheaper RAM that should do just fine for you: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
What PSU do you have? A 350W PSU should be enough, but if you've got a generic, it might be overrated.
You can pick up a 380W Antec Earthwatts for $45, money well spent if what you have now is a fecal generic. With the money you save on the other parts, that's only another $15.
Related resources
February 5, 2010 4:26:12 PM

You don't need a 1 Gig card for that resolution. And that card uses DDR3, not GDDR3. This version costs $5 more, but the faster memory would get you a bit more fps.
February 5, 2010 4:31:55 PM

Thats for the suggestions.

A bit more info - the PSU is an older antec smartpower that came with the case. the 12V rail is rated at 16A, so 192w available on the 12v.

like i mentioned, i'm REALLY stressing on keeping $$$ down, so not looking to purchase a new PSU but rather on focusing on a lower power build
that the PSU can handle. i'd like to keep the 4670, so if the unlocked the 550 looks to be a power problem id be happy settling with either the x3 435 or the x2 250. from what little i've read it sounds like the 2->3 core bump is the noticeable one for gaming, as most aren't optimized for more than 2 cores, so the x3 435 would certainly be preferable. i'm dont have much unlock/overclocking knowledge, but can you unlock just *one* of the cores on the 550, even if the 4th is unlockable? ie, assuming no 'bad' cores, are you either looking at a locked dual core or an unlocked quad, with no middle ground? if thats the case, and power will be dicey, i certainly wouldn't mind settling on the cheaper x3 435 and leave it locked.

as for the x2 555 BE suggestion - would the extra bump over the 550 really be worth it considering the PSU, GPU and monitor limitations? (i dont know)
as far as i know, the asus board i listed can unlock the 550 just fine and fits nicely into my budget.

thanks for input - apologies if i sound like a ramblin' fool
February 5, 2010 4:49:09 PM

My most recent personal build was a HTPC/"light gaming" pc hybrid with very similar specs:

1. Corsair 400w PSU
2. AMD Phenom II 720
3. Gigabyte 770 chipset MB (mine was ATX, however)
4. 8 GB of DDR3 1333 ram (with 7-7-7-20 timings) [Overboard on ram, but the pc should never be pulled from my entertainment system.]
5. Sapphire 4670 1 GB DDR3 card (Different model than your linked one since parts were ordered late last year.)
6. WD Caviar Black 750 GB HD (included only for reference for my pc)
7. Win 7 Home Premium 64 bit
8. 1280 x 720 (720p) resolution on the living room 37" LCD tv

With the above shown, and your post/links, my potential issues are the following:

1. You didn't mention an OS. (Remember, you cannot move an OEM copy of Windows from one motherboard to another. Only retail copies of OSs have this capability.)

2. The power supply issue...

I know you mentioned that you didn't want to upgrade the PSU, but you can get a:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

for only $40. (And, you won't be trusting your new components on a potential "no name" PSU.) Further, with a potential bad PSU, don't even try to overclock your computer. (Thus, the Black Edition processor really doesn't do you any good.)

3. If the case you are putting the computer into came from Dell, HP, etc... the MB holes will probably not line up with any new "form factor" MB.

As such, if I were to do your upgrade, I would do the following:

PSU: CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$40

CPU: AMD Athlon II X3 435 Rana 2.9GHz 3 x 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Processor - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$75

MB: MSI 760GM-E51 AM3 AMD 760G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$78

Ram: A-DATA Gaming Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model AX3U1600GB2G9-AG - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$99

GFX1: SAPPHIRE 100296HDMI Radeon HD 4670 1GB 128-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$70

Total: $362

GFX2: GIGABYTE GV-N220OC-1GI GeForce GT 220 1GB 128-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready Video Card - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
$65

Total: $357

Options (if needed):

1. Add $105 for Win 7 Home Premium OEM 64 Bit:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

2. Look at game reviews and determine whether the games you like to play run better on Nvidia or Ati hardware.
February 5, 2010 4:58:55 PM

OS will be a new license of win7 64 home premium. god bless student discounts.
a b B Homebuilt system
February 5, 2010 5:15:55 PM

Those older Antec PSUs have been turning up with bad capacitor problems. A Google search on "bad capacitors" will turn up links and images. Considering what that can do to the output quality of a PSU, replacing it would be a really good idea. The 400W Corsair that terr281 linked is another good choice, but is $50 unless you play the rebate game and win. The 380W Antec Earthwatts is $45; no games required.
Depending on what you have now, your resolution is low enough that you may be able to get by on the integrated video on that Asus board. Skip the video card until you find out, unless you know what you have now is better. Is it?
February 5, 2010 5:25:31 PM

Indeed, student discounts are wonderful. (My post was delayed due to getting the links and looking at prices.)

Info related to it:

CPU: I am of the opinion that no new computer built for gaming should have a duel "threaded" processor. As such, my minimum is a 3 core. (Thus, I would not pick the Phenom II BE in any regard.) I would at least go with the processor I selected due to it having a mid-high multiplier where you can overclock if you so choose. Further, it has a mid-high base clock rate in the event you don't. (This is why I would not choose the Athlon II X4 for $100.)

GFX: Although it is true that you don't need 1 GB of ram on a video card at our resolutions, due to A: Current pricing/offerings and B: The potential of a new, higher resolution down the road..... why not?

MB: I don't like MBs that only have 2 memory slots. (No upgradability.)

Ram: Due to the MB information, as well as my "minimum" requirement of 4 GB of ram for a gaming computer, I picked what appeared to be a good set of 2 x 2 GB of DDR3 with decent timings.

PSU: With you mentioning that your PSU is of Antec make with 16A 12v, there is a pretty good chance that it could handle the build I posted. (Making you not have to buy the Corsair PSU.) However, I would not try to overclock... thus the triple core CPU woudl be even better for you over the duel core Phenom II.

I would still buy the PSU though... even if it means 2 fewer "movie/dinner" nights, a couple of fewer nights at the bar, etc... It is always better to be safe than sorry on PSUs.

[Edit for jtt's post] I have never had any problems with any rebate for any hardware purchased from Newegg, and this includes the building of several computers. As such, I still go with the idea that I WILL get the rebate. (Just make sure to follow the instructions precisely... and keep copies of all documentation prior to mailing it.) Other people are not near as lucky, however.
February 5, 2010 5:28:09 PM

Current video card is a HD 2900 and will be getting the heave-ho.

again, no worries about the upgrade-ability. the next upgrade i do will involve buying a modern higher res resolution, but when that happens it will be when i build a system from the ground up. reason is - i have old friends that still like to game, but none of them have gaming laptops (or desktops). i'd like a 2nd one in the future so we can game together when they visit. thats what i somewhat envision this computer as - something that, 2 years down the road, can play most games smoothly at 1280x1024, as I plan on keeping my old monitor for that purpose.

we tend to stick to games 2-3 years behind their release dates, simply because at age 26 i feel like an old gaming geezer (quake TF anyone?) - my hardware tends to reflect that >.<
February 5, 2010 5:43:26 PM

The only reason I suggested the 555 BE was for unlocking the extra cores (seems to have a pretty reputable success rate).
February 5, 2010 6:01:55 PM

Sounds like the reason why I have no desire to upgrade my primary gaming computer. (Core 2 Duo E6750 (2.66) with 4 GB of DDR2 4-4-4-12 timings and a 9800 GT.)

In that case, you could save $5-10 dollars on a slightly cheaper MB and lock the computer at 4 GB of ram. And, if you did some more shopping around (especially Ebay, etc.), you could probably find a used 512 MB version of a ATI 4670, GeForce 9600 GT, etc. (A card in the same range... check:

http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-graphics-card,...

That would probably save you another $20 or so. Further, you could drop the CPU clock rate by .2 Ghz and save $10. (Buy the 2.7 instead of the 2.9.)

But, I would personally just save up the bit of extra money and go with the build I linked. The ability to add another 2 or 4 GB of ram in the future, if you later change your mind, is worth $10 to me. Further, buying a new video card instead of an unknown used one is worth $20. The same with .2 Ghz costing $10.

In the end, though, everyone has their own budgets and opinions. These are just my own.
February 5, 2010 6:42:18 PM

Haha, I feel you terr. It always seems like a great idea (a cheapo upgrade) and then I always find myself adding $10-20 here and there, and pretty soon I end up looking at what amounts to a new build altogether and I scrap the idea all together and find myself on a DOTA binge instead.
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