What should I upgrade? RAM, AM3 Lineup, ATI Lineup,,,

I was looking to upgrade my PC with somewhere about or below $200, and maybe in the $300 range if something will BLOW ME AWAY. I am in Ontario, Canada, so think USD but either with import tarrifs (NAFTA is only for the big guys I guess) or 13% sales tax.
I primarily use my PC for gaming, BUT the games I play most often do not challenge my GPU (Mostly Half Life 2 Mods, and Civilization 4) I do own and enjoy the occasional play through of Crysis.

If you could spot my systems' Achilles heel, let me know.
Here is my system:

Athlon II 250 X2 Regor 45 nm

Patriot Viper 1333 mhz DDR 3 ram clocked at 1066 because folks at the store didn't know about 'CPU - Ram Compatibility” and neither did I.

Gigabyte MA790Xt-UD4P
More or less locked into ATI (Crossfire potential) and AMD.

Video Card
Saphire HD 5770, can someone help me retrieve the serial number? It looks like this one, though: SAPPHIRE HD5770 1GB GDDR5 PCIE

2 x WD 250's in Raid, 500 GB seagate clunker, and an OCZ Vertex 60 GB SSD.

Monitor: Trooping it out on a 1024 x 768 CRT. Someone may upgrade that for me (gift) but times are tough, still might need the hardware to keep up with ~ 1600 x 900)

OCZ 1000 Watt, older than anything else but my wonderful 6 year old case and the WD Drives. Oh, and my DVD drive. Optical disks schmoptical disks.

Upgrade Choices
I was fixated on the 965 BE, but then I lost focus after wondering if an OC'd 955, 940 was equivalent to the stick 965 etc.
Also, I only really need the CPU for Civilization 4, and I have heard that it barely takes advantage of additional cores, so really only dual core (OS and background on one, game on the other) is important.

Video Card
Additionally I purchased an HD 5770 this summer, upgrading from a 9800 GT, and was underwhelmed by the performance upgrade, perhaps I should NewEgg RMA as it could be a broken one?
My system can CrossFire 8x (Second HD 5770?), but I've also heard good things about both Kijiji/ebay and the new HD 6000 series cards. Take the loss $40-60 of unnecessarily buying a $160 card and buy a $250 to $300 one that will smoke 2 of them combined. Probably HD 6870 = $300 – Selling HD 5700 $100 = $200 Max, versus a second HD 5770 which looks to be $170 still.

I get the feeling this may be holding the above two back, and two sticks of good 1600 2 GB is pretty cheap. If you suggest this, what is better, 2 x 4gb or 4x 2 gb? Will this system ever need to use 16gb ram? Will that rape my electric bill (Gotta love my inclusive rent - even the net! But I have to move out in 6 -18 months)
Meh, I delete, compress and Defrag, and I often encounter second hand drives. Drives are cheap but I'd rather just work around the inconvenience. My SSD does raid and has come down to $110, but its not really THAT fast anymore and not all my games need to load like lightning, especially ones I haven't touched in months.

Water Cooling
Being overwhelmed with all this choice of rapidly de-valuing electronics, maybe it is time for me to try water cooling. Even the CPU heatsink will be good for the Duration of AM3 motherboards, and AMD hardware has a long life. I know I do not fit the categories often cited as those who should water cool (Performance seekers and Quiet Enthusiasts) but I am a habitual tinkerer and am remotely considering making money on Custom P.C.s or repair in the future, so learning water cooling could be more than just fun. Besides, this stuff will cool a 1095 BE just the same as an Athlon II 250.

Screw Computers, Eat at Restaurants more...

Thoughts and suggestions appreciated.
Post refinement tips as well.

P.S. I've seen there is fanboyism on this site. I won't switch to intel unless I can get a 920 and mobo and ram for 200 bucks (realistically, less than that) :) In my own opinion, Intel is superior and AMD is what I can afford and is the only thing stopping a disastrous monopoly, so I root for them. :na:

RE: Below
In terms of what I want my computer to do better, I want it either to be a graphics beast or process "turns" in Civilization 4(or maybe 5) and its demanding python-based mods blazingly fast. Or potentially, be a fun and challenging project (the water cooling for the hell of it option)
11 answers Last reply
More about what upgrade lineup lineup
  1. I'm confused about your RAM. 1024 as in 1024MB (1GB) or 1066DDR2?
    One is size the other is speed.
    You don't need 16 or 8 GB RAM. 4GB is more than enough.
    If you only have 1024MB RAM, that would be your upgrade path.
    Why do you want to upgrade? What do you want your computer to do better?
  2. For starters the Athlon x2 250 is deffinately the weakest point if your doing gaming. i currently have an x2 250 and its nothing compare to the same mobo ram +phenom II X4 955 Budget or 970 if u have it to spare. handles vastly better and doesnt seem to have any issues with the full scale gaming.

    and about your memory your BEST bet is

    DDR3 1600 Cas 7 or 8 . in a 2x2Gb configuration. IF you wish to spend for the 8 gigs"not worth it YET" u want to stick with 2x4GB config for lowest potential strain on the memcontroler
  3. Ok thanks, updated ram first post, its DDR3 1333, underclocked...

    Which CPU should I buy?
    You (poster above) recommended the 955 /975..
    In terms of AM3, what would I miss out on if I saved myself $60 and opted for 550 instead of 955 and saved "45 watts"? I'm not sure anything I do would make use of 4 cores (and with the Phenom 5__ series, I might get them anyway) .
    Or a 545 for that matter. A lot of the Phenom lineup seems identical except for clock. I think they must only actually manufacture like 5 types of CPUs then sort then in bins after doing a stability test XD

    Is the 965 worth $15 more than the 955, is the 970 worth $40 more than the other?

    At this point, I'll see if there is an article geared toward my problem, as it seems likely. But it may be out of date, but still I have a brain I can use.
    Any links to such an article would help, though.

    Thanks to the above and in advance for any other helpful posters.
  4. Phenom II X4 970T is OEM you won't be able to buy it unless you rip it out of an HP (or any company that uses that chip.

    The 955 is the best thing you can get for your system right now, an 965 is just a 955 with a high stock clock, not a big deal though. So get the 955.

    Don't upgrade to the 6xxx series, you don't need it. At that resolution you'll max out most games with a single 5770. Even a 5850 would be overkill for that res. But if you are going to get to 1600 x 900 monitor soon, just get an extra 5770 as you'll be able to run most games at max since 2x5770 = 1x5870 which runs most games on max.

    HDDs don't upgrade your good enough with the Vertex as your boot drive, just keep your HDDs from being 80-90% full thats the general percentage when HDDs start getting slow.

    I'll separate into 2 posts for easy reading
  5. Water cooling isn't even worth it unless you have a 220$ extra in your pocket to pay for a rad, a decent block and some fans. If you hear someone tell you to get a H50, H70, or Coolit product and say that that's "real water cooling" it's not, and requires just as much maintanince as all coolers. And it's just as loud as air coolers that perform equal to them.

    I'd go with the Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B super quiet as air coolers can be quiet, plus it's cheap. That or the Noctua products, I recommend the NH-U12P-SE2. All are good. But the Noctua's are more expensive than the Mugen, but better performance.

    As for ram, 4 gigs is all you'll need, most people won't use even 6-8 gigs for daily gaming or just normal use.
  6. Thanks alot!
    955 is starting to sound good.
    (btw 970 refered to This.)

    As for the RAM, my system monitor shows that in theory I could do less paging and more ramming. Windows 7 and not enough shut-downs I guess.
    --->8 GB ram was more a question of how to do it, since I'm not really considering it, only if I might get it if on sale, and take advantage of it using 'ram drive' and other 'preloading' software...

    Watercooling Ramble, feel free to TL DR.

    Yeah, I was only considering REAL water cooling, mostly for the hell of it. With a 955 I might want to OC it and feel better. Oh, and there is no AC in my house and my rig is right by the window, and doing something unconventional (perhaps even heretical, idiotic for a veteran much less an amateur) with my water loop - getting a stronger pump and sticking the rad outside of my house. Testing it for days OUTSIDE of my computer before hand, of course... I may kick myself in the nuts next summer, for buying the 125 watt CPU instead of that, but hey, maybe I'll get unbearably warm, get a job, and an air conditioner? Still the environmentalist in me says: why use extra energy to separate the heat from the air and condense it into a fluid, when you can just grab it off of the biggest heat source in the room, where it jumps quite willingly into the fluid.

    HMM, I wonder about the 910e. OC'd to 3.5 ghz it reaches only 50 degrees under max load. Unfortunately no ones tested its OC performance AND power consumption next to a stock 955 that I can see. I'll probably Keep it Simple stupid and Grab a 955 BE, and run cool and quiet and the Gigabyte Easy Energy Saver, probably save close to the same amount of Kilowatt hours, without stressing my chip, spending less money etc. I am overthinking this purchase. But in this economy, If I am going to part with 8 20's and a 10 for the tax man, what I exchange it for better make me happy, lol.
  7. OHHH, yeah no that 970 isn't worth it, it's basically a 955 with higher stock clocks. Not a big deal. As for temps, things like that. I think that a good case airflow as well as just a decent fan cooler should be sufficient.
  8. Ok thanks again.
    This thread is more or less solved, but feel free to post a contradicting or additional opinion.
    P.S., back to the RAM, 2x2 GB > 1x4GB , with the difference out-weighing the future-proofing, right? (of having 3 slots available, or more importantly, keeping the next ram expansion below 4 slots, not taxing the mem-controller)
  9. Well if you plan to get SB then 1x4 > 2x2 because SB is expected to offer quad-channel memory. However for now, with your build since AMD currently only runs dual channel, yes 2x2 is better.
  10. Got the CPU and the fan, works great, however in terms of performance for non-multithreaded applications (Civilization 4), clock clock, Athlon II x2 = Phenom II x4.
    For the difference in OC potential, I could probably save a 10 seconds on the minute though.
    At least my machines a bit more future proof and better at multi-tasking, and the 955 BE can handle my ram at it's proper clock.
    If only I hadn't screwed up my raid array during the install. That's what I get for using old carp with adapters. Probably can set it straight when I have enough time on my hands, though.
  11. I vote for 2*2, It will be faster, cheaper, and you will be able to add 4*2 in the future, for a total of 12GB.
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