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Rethinking my upgrade plans

Last response: in Systems
January 10, 2011 1:49:52 AM

At present my desktop is a five year old system based on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+. It's served well but as S/W tends to grow to utilize modern H/W, this system is becoming dated and feels a bit sluggish. (In the mean time, I tend to use a Thinkpad T500 w/ Core 2 Duo T9400 a lot more.) But I like a big screen and I'd like to bring the desktop up to modern standards. I studied recommended builds and priced parts at Newegg and was thinking that an AMD based system would be a nice upgrade. For a metric, I used the PassMark scores posted at as a comparison among CPUs. The upgrade was to be an AMD Phenom II 555, ASRock 770 Extreme3 and 8GB of DDR3 1600 RAM. I chose that mobo because it had both SATA III and USB 3.0 which I wanted for future proofing. I'm not looking for gaming performance so I didn't choose a mobo that would support high end graphics. Working the numbers (PassMark score) Here is what I'm looking at:

AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ 1045 (present desktop)
T500 w/Core 2 Duo T9400 1759 (present laptop)
Phenom II X2 555 1956 (processor/MB/RAM => $275 US.)

That provides a modest bump in processing HP. Actually... When I bring the laptop into the comparison, it doesn't look like much at all. But every time I look at an Intel based upgrade, I'm turned off by the price. Maybe I should look deeper. A low end Intel processor would be a Core I3 540 with a PassMark of 2820. It's pricier than the AMD part but scores 44% higher. Moreover, I don't see a 2 core AMD CPU with equivalent processing power. I know I could add more cores, but for single threaded work loads, that provides little benefit. Choosing a M/B that supports SATA III and USB 3 gets me the ASUS P7P55D-E LX LGA. Again, a bit more expensive than the AMD choice. Rounding out the package with 8GB of DDR3 1600 RAM gets me:

Core I3 540 2820 (processor/MB/RAM => $355 US.)

That's a 44% improvement (over the AMD upgrade) for a 29% price premium. Seems like a cost effective deal. In addition, I think there's a lot more headroom for improvement with Intel when it comes to possible future CPU upgrades. The 2 core I3 560 scores at 3353 - 18% better than the I3 540. I'm also aware that the AM3 socket is probably not going to get anything better than what is already available for it. Bulldozer will likely require a different socket. (I'm not sure if the introduction of Sandy Bridge carries similar implications for the 1156 socket used by the Core I3.)

And speaking of Sandy Bridge... That's the wild card in this mix. Released today, I can price out a processor, MB and RAM for it. Selecting the ASUS P8H67-M LE gets me SATA III and USB 3.0. At the moment, it is impossible to get a more modern socket than 1155. And as a side benefit, this board supports the on chip video and only requires DDR3 1333 RAM. I see no I3 cores on Newegg's site but the Core i5-2400 seems like a good price/performance point. That comes to $381. That's a pretty nice bump in processing power over the Core I3 system for just a few $$$ more. If I can justify the Core I3 system, it's a small jump to the Sandy Bridge system.

But SB is new. I should wait to see what it does to the market. Since existing systems come up short compared to SB, there could be price cuts. And eventually there could be even more cost effective SB combos as the market develops. I should study Intel's road map to see what's to come.

The question I have is what other aspects of the system I could be overlooking WRT future proofing it. I haven't looked a lot at PCI Express slots so I'm pretty ignorant about what I might want to use that for some day. I could imagine a video card for a second monitor, but again, I'm not looking for gaming performance so I think that most any M/B that meets my other requirements are going to handle that.

Particular questions I have are:

Is the PassMark score a reasonable way to compare processing power? I understand that multiple cores will result in a higher score that won't translate to corresponding single threaded performance, but aside from that is it a reasonable number?

Another aspect of this is overclocking and unlocking additional cores. I have not overclocked in the past, but it seems to me that today's systems are designed to be pushed past their guaranteed specs. I can't imagine that I'll be participating in the extreme aspects of overclocking, but I could see installing better cooling and nudging things up a bit for some additional performance. (I should probably look into what I can wring from my existing system before I abandon it.)

What else should I be thinking about when picking something I'd like to use for a while? I realize we can't predict too far into the future, but I'd like to accommodate what we can see on our immediate horizon.

Feel free to comment further or point out anything I've overlooked.


a b B Homebuilt system
a b À AMD
January 10, 2011 2:06:10 AM
a b B Homebuilt system
a b À AMD
January 10, 2011 2:54:33 AM

OP is apparently not a gamer, so a massive PSU and gaming video card(s) won't be needed. A $45 380W Antec Earthwatts will suffice. There are other reasons than games to get a discrete video card, but something like a HD5550 would be enough.
A third or fourth core will help in background tasks like your anti-virus and other security software, plus whatever your OS is doing.
I would expect the prices of LGA1156-based parts to drop at least some, while offering a substantial improvement over what you have now. I'm not sure how much room there is for AMD parts to drop, at least not until Bulldozer arrives.
If it matters, keep in mind that Intel is currently offering superior performance while using less power.