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Best CPU for the way I use my computer

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September 16, 2010 3:49:15 PM

Hello,
I am getting ready to upgrade my old system. Basics as follows.

Intel E6600 2.4ghz overclocked to 3.0
4GB Ram (DDR2 667, PC2 5300)
Intel DX38BT MB
2- ATI Radeon HD 3800 in the two PCIe-16 slots
Win7, 32bit
nothing fancy on the SATA HD's

I was quite fine in 2006, but now I run four monitors and typically have open the following.

IE or Firefox with six to eight web pages open.
Word processor (WordPerfect) with three 4mb files.
Outlook 2010
Remote Desktop to another PC (just to take some of the pressure of the main system)
Delorme mapping program
Picasa photo manager
Photofiltre grapics editor with six or so photo files
Background indexing by Windows and/or Copernic
Excel with pretty large files
and I forgot when I first posted this - Dragon Naturally Speaking, a huge resource hog - but only used about 20% of the time

Long story short is I switch back and forth a lot, as I do web based research and put together Wordpefect reports with photos, maps, text etc.

I have found my CPU usage is typically 60% or higher, on average (like as I type this) and often zooms up to 100%. Likewise memory is populated at 4GB, and on average 2GB are used (in task manager, 32bit windows only shows 3GB of the total 4GB installed), with it spiking to over 3GB or 100% and a Commit(MB) page file in use at 2.6GB, of the 6GB total pagefile.

I do demanding games, but rarely.

I need my typical setup to run faster.

1. So, do I need more cores or fewer faster cores? Which CPU for less than $250ish
2. Will Win7 64, with 8-12 GB be a big boost in performance?
3. Would SSD drive be a larger performance boost than an upgrade of the OS and CPU?

Where to spend the money?

The various system projects here on the Tom's Hardware site seem to target systems that are far more than I need or to little, without much insights for someone running a lot of programs and doing a lot of switching, such as that allowed by the four monitors.

Thanks very much for any help.

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a b à CPUs
September 16, 2010 6:05:37 PM

You should install the 64-bit version of Windows 7 for sure. Your should be able to re-install with the same product key, so its not like your have to buy another copy. 64-bits will open up all your 4GB of memory (and more if you choose to upgrade). There's no real penalty for running 32-bit applications on the 64-bit os, as the 64-bit version comes with 32-bit DLLs (so its not likes it's emulating 32-bit).

You do a lot at once, but nothing that is individually very demanding. I would definately go quad-core on the CPU. Avoid SSD, that's not really cost-effective, and I doubt you'd see too much performance increase (and besides, can you work with only 64GB or 128GB?).

My order of operations would be:

1) Install 64-bit Windows, maybe that extra GB of memory is all you need.

2) If still slow/choppy, upgrade to a quad-core CPU (either a Core 2-Quad, or a whole new LGA-1156 or AM3 system, with AM3 you could get a hexa-core Phenom). You run a lot of things simultaneously, so the more threads you can crank out the better.

3) Increase your memory if you still need some headroom. You currently run 4GB, even if you got a new motherboard, I might still stick with 4GB at first. But if 4GB is clearly not enough (after upgrading windows and your CPU), definately step up to 6GB or 8GB. You shouldn't need more than 8GB, as your current setup doesn't use that much even with the page file. To go beyond 8GB, you would need a new motherboard.

You mention you want a CPU for $250-ish, but are you considering upgrading your mobo as well? If you stick with your current mobo you'll be stuck with Core 2 Quad (which might still suffice), but if you want a newer CPU, you'll need the motherboard and memory to go with it (which could triple the price). Core 2 Quads are going from $160 - $330, so you'll have your pick.

If you have the budget for a system upgrade, you might want to look into either a Core-i5 or go with an Athlon II X4 or a Phenom II X4 or X6. They are all under $250 (AMD significantly so), but you would need another $100-$150+ for a motherboard and $100-$200 for 4GB to 8GB of memory.
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a c 120 à CPUs
September 16, 2010 6:14:26 PM

Base your build off either a i7 800 series cpu or an AMDx6 1055t.
Otherwise wait about 4 months or so and see whats around the corner in 2011.
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a c 131 à CPUs
September 16, 2010 6:25:01 PM

How much do you have to spend in total?
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September 16, 2010 10:03:08 PM

Thanks very much folks. I had contemplated a MB and memory upgrade to go along with the CPU upgrade. I have no set budget, but was targeting around $500 to get those three components taken care of, if it requires a little more, so be it. The only shopping I had done was the CPU, that is why I mentioned a budget in that regard.

Sounds like you folks have no argument that more cores is better for me, with the way I work, and that was a big issue for me. More memory also seems the way to go, but please continue to wade in on the question.

Note I added Dragon Naturally Speaking to the list of applications. It is a real resource hog.

Thanks again!
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a b à CPUs
September 16, 2010 10:20:32 PM

You could hold your breath and wait for Sandy Bridge, but Intel tends to overprice their newly-released CPUs, and that's 4 months away, and if you wait that long, Core i5s and i7s would be even cheaper, but then why not wait a few more months for Bulldozer from AMD?

Here's the thing, you can upgrade your Core 2 system to a quad-core CPU for the cost of the CPU. But your LGA-776 platform is already obsolete (Intel will release ANOTHER socket with Sandy Bridge, and yours is already 2 gens old). Plus if you want more memory you're stuck with DDR2. There's zero upgrade path for those techs.

Otherwise, you need a new motherboard added on top, along with brand new memory (as new systems use DDR3). Therefore, even if you stuck with 4GB, going the Core-i5/i7 or Phenom route would mean probably another $250+ (in addition to the CPU). If you can spend around $500, this is probably worthwhile. A faster Core i5-700 is definately within range (a Core i7-800 series might push you past $600).

Here are my thoughts on prices:

8GB of Memory (2x4GB kit) DDR3 = roughly $180

You could get an Athlon II X4 (they start around $80), but might as well go for a Phenom II 965 X4 ($170) or Phenom II 1055T X6 = $200

AMD 890GX MoBo w/ crossfire = $100 to $150

Total : maybe $500 to $530, you get a faster 4 or 6-core machine, 8gigs of memory (with room to upgrade).

Or, go Intel:

Core i7 760 - $210

LGA-1156 Mobo with Crossfire - $100 - $170

(same memory).

Total: about $550. You get a quad-core Intel (faster core-for-core than Phenom), but fewer cores (really though, how much "background processing" are you doing versus simple task switching).

Those are my suggestions, others might disagree.
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September 17, 2010 12:02:44 AM

Depending on where you live you might be able to grab an i7-930 from Microcenter for only $200.



I was also looking around on Newegg and saw that the Gigabyte UDR3 (an excellent Mobo) has a combo going with some OCZ ram (3x2gb) for about $350.



So for $550 you'd get a good quad core processor, a mobo with USB 3.0 as well as SATA 6 GB/s (if either of those matter to you), and 6gb of DDR3 ram. Also, you'd have a bit more of an upgrade path (although I somehow doubt the 980X's price will ever go down much).

Just my suggestion and it really hinges on living close enough to a Microcenter to take advantage of that deal. Otherwise I'd agree with Hellwig and go with one of the upgrade paths he suggested.
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a c 309 à CPUs
September 17, 2010 12:10:32 AM

How urgent is your need to improve?

Sandy bridge will be a blockbuster in january.

Closer in, we should see gen 3 SSD's in a month or two.

With all the open tasks you have, I see a compelling need for more ram to be available. 64 bit windows 7 will unlock the rest of your 4gb. But, more ram, like 8gb will be much better. You want to hold all of your active tasks in ram for best responsiveness.

The E6600, even at 3.0 is lacking by today's standards. Each new generation will be 10-30% faster, clock for clock. Newer chips will have more cores, or, at least hyperthreading. You could upgrade to a Q9650 to good effect on your current motherboard, but even used, they cost $250. Today, any one of the 32nm clarkdale duo processors would be an improvement, including the lowly G6950 @2.8. The 655K is the unlocked multiplier $200 3.2ghz part with hyperthreading.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
That said, I think I would go for a true 4 core processor like the $210 i5-760 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
It also overclocks well. If you can, wait for sandy bridge. The slowest quad starts at 3.1, and the 3.3 2500K unlocked multiplier is supposed to be a $200 part.
Clock for clock, they are 10-30% faster. http://www.anandtech.com/show/3871/the-sandy-bridge-pre...

AMD makes good cpu's and they are priced to compete. But, they seem to lose out in comparisons with equally clocked intel processors, particularly when overclocked. I see no reason for a 6 core cpu here.

I think you are a prime candidate for a SSD. If you can hold all your data on one, that is great. If not, get something in the 160gb range , and put your OS and frequently used apps ton it, and use a larger hard drive for storage. It truly makes everything snappier. Do some research on the controller and the "trim command". Early models suffered degradation after usage. I know today that the Intel X250M 160gb is a safe choice. I use one. Some others may be a bit better. It is impossible to judge how one would do for you by the benchmarks. In general, the small record random i/o operations are the best indicators.
The Gen 3 SSD drives will be out this fall. They will use 25nm nand construction, making the drives larger, cheaper and faster. It is best to wait a bit if you can.
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September 17, 2010 12:41:04 PM

Excellent feedback. Thanks very much to all. I am seriously considering waiting on the hardware and for now, going to 64bit version of Win7 and adding some RAM. A quick improvement, by all indications, for the cost of the RAM, assuming I can move to 64bit with no charge (not sure about that - as my OEM Win7 only came in 32bit version).

By waiting until December or January, I may score big on price reductions as new CPU and SSD roll outs come online.

Thanks again.
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September 17, 2010 3:12:57 PM

This is task managers perspective of my current system. Do you folks think that adding more RAM will cut down on the size of the swap file in use? At over 3GB, does that imply a lot of trips to the HD?

I also show the processes below. Does this data provide any further insights to which direction I should go? Thanks again.



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a c 309 à CPUs
September 17, 2010 3:16:26 PM

rrape said:
Excellent feedback. Thanks very much to all. I am seriously considering waiting on the hardware and for now, going to 64bit version of Win7 and adding some RAM. A quick improvement, by all indications, for the cost of the RAM, assuming I can move to 64bit with no charge (not sure about that - as my OEM Win7 only came in 32bit version).

By waiting until December or January, I may score big on price reductions as new CPU and SSD roll outs come online.

Thanks again.


From an activation point of view, your oem 32 bit license key will work fine. I have successfully done that. You need to borrow a 64 bit dvd of any type(they are all the same) in order to make the change, then activate using the oem key. You will require a clean install.

As a suggestion, before the clean install, specify sata mode in the bios as AHCI(not raid or ide). Windows 7 drivers will enable the use of trim for a ssd. It is very difficult to change this spec later without a reinstall. You might carve out a 160gb partition for the install. Whenever you get a SSD, you can then clone that partition.
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a c 309 à CPUs
September 17, 2010 3:29:20 PM

A more useful display would be the resource monitor/memory section. Look at the hard faults per second, and the working set numbers.

The fact that you are filling up the page file tells me that there is lots of overhead involved in that activity. If there is a major amount of this, the system will "thrash" or flail about doing little useful work. Working set is (my definition) how much ram you need to keep most of the task in ram without demand paging.

Addding 64 bit W7 is a good no cost step.

Adding 4gb of ram is also a good idea. Whenever you rebuild, you can recover most of the cost of ram on e-bay.

Once you think you can afford a SSD, go for it. It really makes everything seem faster. How much storage do you need?

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September 17, 2010 4:13:45 PM

geofelt, Thanks for the tips on resource mgr.

About 200 GB on main drive for now, but I could cut it down to less by moving more data to the other installed drives. When I do pull the tirgger on SSD, I will likely target 250-500, so if prices fall with the new technology in a few months, that would help me quite a bit.
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September 23, 2010 3:05:54 PM

8GB of memory and 64bit Win7 in hand. Fresh install is needed. Should I place OS on one drive and programs on another, or should OS and programs be on the same drive and just keep data files on another? I ask with a view toward transferring images to SSD when I have the bucks to invest in one.

In short, what is the most effective install for OS, application files and data files if one drive is clearly faster, on a multi-drive system.
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a b à CPUs
September 23, 2010 6:07:10 PM

SSD only shows a benefit for the data installed to it. Therefore, your OS and Applications typically only benefit when they are first loaded (i.e. booted/run/executed). During execution, your applications and OS reside in memory (that's why you got 8GB). Windows 7 can also use a USB flash drive for Ready Boost. That is, you insert a USB drive (probably 2GB+), then tell windows to use it for ready boost. Then, it copies your most often used applications to the drive so that they can be loaded faster. A 16GB thumb drive is like $40 and should help with most of your applications.

The one exception is large games that typically have to load new content from the harddrive every so often. This usually happens during a splash-screen, though some games do it dynamically while you are playing.

Anyway, long story short, if you must have an SSD, I would use the SSD for any data your are processing, and any games you want to play. I wouldn't bother installing your OS to the drive unless you really need another 15-20 seconds cut off the already short Windows 7 boot time.

edit: I forgot about caching. Regardless of how much memory you have, many applications use cache (IE uses it for webpages for example). If possible, you'll want to tell windows to put temporary files on your SSD (I assume you can do this after install, I was able to move my "My Documents" afterwards, just don't ask me how to move the temp files folder).
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a c 309 à CPUs
September 23, 2010 8:29:40 PM

rrape said:
8GB of memory and 64bit Win7 in hand. Fresh install is needed. Should I place OS on one drive and programs on another, or should OS and programs be on the same drive and just keep data files on another? I ask with a view toward transferring images to SSD when I have the bucks to invest in one.

In short, what is the most effective install for OS, application files and data files if one drive is clearly faster, on a multi-drive system.


For future preparation, put the OS and apps on one drive, and data on the other.
The OS does lots of small reads and writes, so the faster drive is probably best for it.
You can use acronis true image to clone it to the new SSD. That is what I have done successfully a couple of times. You can download a 30 day free trial which will work. They hope you will buy the product, and you should; it is a good one.

With the introduction of SSD's, I see little use for readyboost.
Readyboost is really not that helpful, and it is often misunderstood.
It is simple enough. You take a suitably fast usb drive, and allocate up to 4gb of it to ready boost.
windows will then look for small modules that it can load faster from a usb drive than it can from the underlying hard drive.
A usb drive has minimal access time, like a SSD, but the data transfer time is much longer than from a hard drive or a SSD.
Windows will create a list of those modules that you use, and pre-load them on to the readyboost drive.

When you need such a module, it will fetch it from the ready boost drive. If the module is updated, it will be written to both places.
If you unplug the usb stick, the official data is still on the hard drive.

It is not that helpful because it improves the fetch time of small modules only, and they already took minimal time.

It probably does not hurt, but it seems pointless if you have a SSD.

It is NOT any kind of a substitute for ram or a paging device.
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September 30, 2010 3:50:27 PM

Win7 64bit installed with 8GB RAM. The system is definitely faster. CPU is still overstressed at times and will continue to be so, until I upgrade that component, but things are faster now. I noticed that the OS caches to memory big time. I typically have 0MB to very few MB of "free memory" due to this. So a lot of the stuff that was coming from the HD via the page file is now in RAM.

In short, I have no 64bit apps to speak of, but big time memory requirements with all the open applications, so the ability to address more memory by the OS was a BIG performance gain.

Thanks to all for the advice. Great forum!

Rick
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a b à CPUs
October 1, 2010 4:08:31 AM

Honestly, for what you do, an Athlon X3 or X4 will do the job just fine and it gives you the ability to upgrade to the PhIIx6 series on the same mobo. Increase your RAM to at least 8GB and run Win7 x64 to take advantage of it. It really is just that simple.
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