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Best upgrade for $500-$800?

Last response: in Systems
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January 18, 2011 6:01:41 PM

Guys,

I built myself a computer about a year ago, have some extra funds, and am thinking about an upgrade (or two). The budget is $500-$800.

System specs:

  • Case: Antec 900
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-920, OC'd to 3.5 GHz (175 BCLK x 20)
  • CPU Cooler: Cooler Master V8
  • Motherboard: Asus Rampage II Gene
  • RAM: 9 GB DDR3, 1066 MHz (3x2GB + 3x1GB)
  • GPU: Asus EAH5870 1GB + Diamond 5870 1GB in Crossfire
  • PSU: Antec TruePower 750W
  • Main hard drive: 1 TB, 7200 RPM SATA (has 2 partitions: OS and Data)
  • Backup hard drive 2 TB, 5400 RPM SATA (stores daily backups for 2 desktops and a laptop)
  • Speakers: M-Audio BX5a monitors
  • Headphones: UE Superfi 5 Pro


    (My monitor and speaker setup.)


    (My tower.)

    I use this computer mainly for gaming, browsing, and listening to music. I grew up exposed to a lot of music, so I have fairly discerning ears and like my media to sound good. Thus the nice speakers and headphones. I also have a PS3 that I use the monitor with, and which I've plugged into the line-in port of the computer's sound card to get sound from the speakers.

    Here are potential upgrades I'm considering for the system, mixed in with the issues and comments that are motivating that upgrade. The upgrades are in no particular order. I'd like to get feedback about all this from you guys, along with recommendations about what to do and not do.

  • Hard drive. My Windows Experience Index gives me a rating of about 7.5 for all components of the system, except the hard drive, which rates in at a 5.9. The system doesn't seem slow to me, but I've read good things about Crucial's RealSSD C300, including that system boot-up times and level loads in games become lightning fast with one of these things. The 128 GB SSD is something I'm considering.
  • Desktop ergonomics. You'll notice from the photo above that neither the monitor, nor the speakers are high enough when sitting on the desk, so I've resorted to piling books under them to raise their level. It would be really nice to find adjustable speaker stands that go from about 8" to about 16" for the speakers, and it would be nice to either get a monitor stand for the monitor, or replace the monitor with a height-adjustable one (see next point). Unfortunately, I don't know where to find the kind of speaker stands that I'm talking about.
  • Monitor. Lots of people focus on what's inside the computer tower, but I think it's also useful to consider what I stare at for multiple hours each day. Is my current monitor a good one? I found it at Best Buy at a decent price, and it had the ports (DVI for PC + HDMI for PS3) that I needed. It doesn't bother me to look at, though it takes about 8-10 seconds to come on whenever I boot up the system or wake it from sleep. It means that I never see the POST messages when booting up. I also like more pixels at a higher density, and know that LED & IPS monitors are good monitors, so if there's a good monitor that's physically larger, is height-adjustable, has a higher resolution (higher than 1920x1080) AND is a decent price, I want to consider it.
  • Sound. While the speakers and the headphones are good, the built-in sound card on the computer is not very good, if for no other reason than that there's a lot of annoying background hiss that you can hear when there's not much else going on. It's especially bad with the headphones. I'd like to get a dedicated sound card, audio interface, or stereo receiver that gets rid of the background hiss, has outputs for the desk speakers and headphones, and has inputs for the computer and the PS3. Any suggestions? The sheer number of products (especially receivers) makes choosing one very difficult.
  • Motherboard. While my motherboard has been solid, and worked very well for me, I have two complaints with it (things I didn't anticipate when I bought it). First, the GPUs sit right on top of each other, which means they don't have much room for ventilation (especially the top one). They get pretty hot when under a heavy load. Second, the rest of the PCI slots are completely covered by the GPUs. That means that if I want a PCI add-in card, like a TV tuner (I don't own a TV) or a sound card, I'm out of luck. Is it worth it to look at an X58 motherboard that fixes both of these problems? Does one even exist? I looked at the Asus Sabertooth, Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R, and Asus P6X58D Premium but from customer reviews, it looks like all three have the same issues I'm facing. Suggestions?
  • CPU. No need to "sidegrade" my CPU, as per mdd1963's post below. I've toyed with the idea of "upgrading" to Sandy Bridge, but I've read that it wouldn't really be an upgrade (link). If a SB CPU can easily achieve a 4.5 GHz overclock, though, it seems like that'd be a nice upgrade from my 3.5 GHz overclock, especially with reports that SB is more efficient on a clock-by-clock basis than Nehalem. What are everyone's thoughts on this? I'd probably do the Core i5-2500K with the Asus P8P67 Deluxe if I was to do anything.
  • CPU cooler. The V8 is big and really bulky. Is it worth it to upgrade to something that's either smaller or more efficient (or both)?
  • RAM. Am I being held back by RAM that's only running at 1066 MHz?

    I know that this is a lot of information in a single post. Maybe I should split it between multiple posts...?

    Either way, thanks for your feedback on this. I'd like to make this an upgrade that resolves all issues/complaints I have with the system, so that I don't have to upgrade again for several years.

    Phillip
  • More about : upgrade 500 800

    a b B Homebuilt system
    January 18, 2011 6:09:50 PM

    As you already have two Crossfired video cards, I'd expect any lateral jump in CPU to be virtually undetectable.....

    Jumping from 60 to 63 fps at 1920x1200 in gaming for a $500 cpu/mb upgrade hardly seems worthwhile, IMO....; cpu scaling scaling at 1920x1200 does occur, but is very minimal. At 2560x1600, it is even worse/less.
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    January 18, 2011 10:06:23 PM

    mdd1963 said:
    As you already have two Crossfired video cards, I'd expect any lateral jump in CPU to be virtually undetectable.....

    Jumping from 60 to 63 fps at 1920x1200 in gaming for a $500 cpu/mb upgrade hardly seems worthwhile, IMO....; cpu scaling scaling at 1920x1200 does occur, but is very minimal. At 2560x1600, it is even worse/less.


    Yeah. Thanks for confirming what others have already said. Scratch a switch to Sandy Bridge off the list. Will update the original post to reflect that.

    Any other takers on this? If there's no upgrade that will justify the money that I'd have to spend, then go ahead and say that too. :) 
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