Upgrade time!

Approximate Purchase Date: Next two weeks
Budget Range: $250 (including rebates)
System Usage from Most to Least Important: Gaming
Parts Not Required: Keyboard, Mouse, Monitor, Case, Hard Drive, CPU Fan (assuming AM2/3 platform), RAM (depends on motherboard)
Preferred Website(s) for Parts: Newegg
Country of Origin: US
Parts Preferences: N/A
Overclocking: Maybe
SLI or Crossfire: No
Monitor Resolution: 1600x1050
Additional Comments: Looking for most cost-efficient upgrade path

Hi. I'm considering upgrading my gaming PC, and I was wondering what suggestions the Tom's Hardware community might have. Generally speaking, I tend to stay a generation or two back (although this build seems to have held its own for an unusually long time) to be as cost-efficient as possible, and I'm happy buying used components when it'll save me money. I don't typically run the latest and greatest games, but I still run modern shooters and whatnot, albeit generally at medium settings (particularly lately). I don't need to max everything out, but it'd be nice to be in the high range again.

Anyway, here's what I have now (no laughing!):

Biostar TForce 550 SE with AMD Athlon X2 3600+ (AM2)
EVGA Nvidia GeForce 9600GT 512MB Superclocked Edition (purchased used about a year ago)
OCZ Gold Edition DDR2 4GB (2x2GB)
Maxtor 6L250R0 IDE Hard Drive
Solid ThermalTake ATX Case, CPU Fan (Arctic Freezer 7, I think) and Powersupply
Running Windows XP SP3

Already purchased:
Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 1GB SATA hard drive ready for the upgrade
and thinking about getting a 2nd matching one for RAID?

Based on the research I've done thus far, my CPU can't be upgraded much without buying a new motherboard -- so now I'm waffling between:

Scenario 1: Buy an AM2+ boards where I could use my DDR2 memory (since the articles that I have read suggested that DDR3 is only about 5-10% faster) and a top-of-the-line used Phenom or ???; it also looks like getting a board with SLI and another EVGA Nvidia GeForce 9600GT might make sense... this appears to be the cheaper option of the two, although I'll likely need to upgrade the motherboard and CPU again in a year or two.

In particular, I've been looking at older top-of-the-line boards like the XFX MDA72P7509 nForce 750a SLI, but those are weirdly hard to find at reasonable prices.

Scenario 2: Buy an AM3 boards where I would have to buy new DDR3 memory, but I could use some of the newest (but still cheap) chips like a mid-range Athlon II or Phenom II (heard really good things about the x3 Rana); also considering SLI setup here, since that seems to be more cost-efficient than buying a new video card

While I can put everything together myself and troubleshoot it just fine, I've never had much luck overclocking or tweaking, but I'd love to get a cost-efficient chip that can be easily overclocked by someone who can't spend hours playing with settings.

I'm also giving serious consideration to moving to Windows 7 64-bit. I avoided Vista and don't regret it a bit -- and my XP SP3 has been running smoothly for years now -- but I've been hearing good things about Windows 7 for gaming, so that's probably what I'll do!

Oh - and I'm not wedded to AMD, but that's what has always made more sense (from a cost-efficiency standpoint) in the past.

Thanks in advance for your comments and suggestions!
8 answers Last reply
More about upgrade time
  1. Anyone have any advice for me? I've studied the AMD Budget builds and see some good ideas there, but I don't know how to pull up the Newegg Combo Deals that I see in everyone's recommendations. They're all expired at this point.

    Could someone link me a good motherboard / CPU / RAM combo (not necessarily at Newegg)?
  2. With such tight $$ to work with and if the objective is better gaming performance - SLI and DDR3 is out and i'd reuse those perfectly working 4GB DDR2 on an AM2+ platform ^^

    Cost of upgrade: $239AR with free game hehe

    The fact that u have an aftermarket cooler means u can step up from Rana to Black Edition Heka @@
  3. Thanks Batuchka!

    Okay, so I really like the Black Edition Heka -- that looks just about right. So the Heka is basically a particularly overclockable Rana with a big L3 cache that might be helpful for gaming? I've been reading up on this stuff, but I'm overwhelmed with all the different makes and models of CPUs that are out at this point -- and I haven't even tried reading up on the Intel side.

    I don't think I'll upgrade the GPU just yet -- I'd first like to see how my EVGA 9600 GT Superclocked Edition does with the new motherboard and CPU.

    I'm waaaaay confused on motherboards. There's just too damn many options at this point! The only thing I'm sure about is that I don't need onboard video. In theory, I'd like to have USB 3.0, although I already have a ton of USB 2.0 external drives, so maybe I don't really need it.

    Could you suggest a couple of other motherboards that I could combine with the Heka that might be nice with some pros / cons? I'm going for cheap and reasonably fast -- and something I might be able to upgrade again later would be ideal.

    What about the idea of doing SLI with my current EVGA 9600 GT Superclocked edition with another one (looks like maybe $50-60 used on eBay?). It would seem like two of those SLI'd might be just as good, if not better, than the GPU that you suggested. Or maybe I'm deluding myself.

  4. Well if u need USB/SATA 3.0 then AM3 not AM2+ would be what u would be looking at With SLI on older boards: dun bother - you want PCIex16 gen 2.0 at least 8/8 as anything else/older isn't worth it so...
  5. What about this board?

    ASRock M3A770DE AM3 AMD 770 ATX AMD Motherboard

    I figured I can sell my DDR2 memory for about half the cost of getting similar DDR3 memory -- and I'll have to upgrade at some point, so maybe that's not such a bad deal...

    Your feedback has been really helpful Batuchka! I feel close to a decision now.

    Unfortunately, no combo deals at Newegg with the Hekas. The extra $17 combo discount with the Rana's was a nice bonus!
  6. Ya thats a decent entry level AM3 mobo - actually if you could settle for Ranas those come in rather juicy combos too hehe
  7. I've been trying to find a practical comparison of the Ranas versus the Hekas, but no luck thus far.

    So the Rana 445 is 3.1GHz for $75 (-$17 for combo, so $58 effectively), the Rana 450 is 3.2Ghz for $10 more and the Heka 740 is $89 (no combo deal), but 3.0Ghz and has 6MB of L3 cache (which is supposed to be useful for gaming).

    Would I notice a big difference between the Rana 445 and the Heka 740? $30 isn't a huge difference -- I'd happily pay that if it bought me some extra useful life -- but I'm not sure how much difference the L3 cache makes. And the "Black Edition" label means that I will be able to overclock it easier, right? So maybe I will end up with the Heka at 3.4Ghz or something like that?

    Heka vs. Rana
    AM3 board + new memory vs. AM2+ board + old memory

    How do you think the Heka with the AM2+ board and my old memory + my GeForce 9600GT would fare?

    If I don't upgrade the GPU, I'll probably do that in another six months or so.
  8. Well for some current games the CPU upgrade would help but ultimately for better performance in games the 9600GT has to go...
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