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Is my processor the bottleneck? If so, what should I get?

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May 20, 2011 8:56:16 AM

I have an Athlon 64 3000+, 2 gigs of RAM, and recently upgraded my video card to an EVGA Geforce 460 GTX. I would like to be able to play the latest games, but never considered the processor to be a bottleneck. But I am getting quite dismal results for the Heaven benchmark (14 fps with DirectX 11, standard settings, 1920x1080) as well as CS Source stress test (35 fps) and noticing my CPU load shoots to the top when running games or benchmarks, I wonder if it is time to upgrade motherboard+ram+cpu. I guess I don't really understand what is using the processor so much, all graphics and physics should be the work of the video card, no? So in a benchmark like Heaven, what is the processor doing?

Also, to make matters more complicated, I would like to be able to throw a Geforce 6600 in there and run old games (such as Quake 3) on three monitors, using the 460 GTX for two of them and the 6600 for the third. Eventually, I would like get another 460 GTX and run modern games on all three monitors. No SLI business, just three monitors. Is this even possible? Basically I want windows to think that I have one 5760x1080 display, and that resolution option would show up in my game.

Do I need a new motherboard+processor+ram? What should I get? Looking to spend maybe $200 for those three things, just to get Crysis running, but would be willing to shell out maybe $200 more for a new processor in a year or two.

Thanks for the help!

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a b à CPUs
May 20, 2011 9:23:35 AM

If your CPU load is maxing out, it’s an indication that it’s holding your system back. For a gaming machine nowadays, it’s probably not ideal. Your RAM is also holding you back a bit as well. However, you’re noticing performance issues during benchmarks tests. Have you tried running any games? Before you shell out, you may want to try that and see if you’re happy with its performance there. Regarding Crysis, check out some reviews of the GTX 460 as they use Crysis as part of the process. I know you can get reasonable motherboard+RAM+processor bundle deals for £200 over this side of the pond…you may get some for $200 in your neck of the woods.

I’m not sure if you can put two different types of graphics card in your system and run them independently, or even two of the same and run them non-SLI. If you’re eventually aiming at two 460s, why would you not want to SLI them? You can run three monitors on that type of setup. Not all games recognise it yet, but Nvidia (Surround) and ATI (Eyefinity) are now pushing this type of technology so if you want it, I’d suggest going with what they design for.
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May 20, 2011 9:33:10 AM

Thanks for the help!

I was totally happy with the 460 GTX benchmarks when I bought it, but I didn't expect there to be CPU issues. I've tried running Garry's mod and the original Portal, and was unhappy with performance. (Settings are maxed, but that should be no problem for a GTX 460, right?) I realized now that I have the option of getting new mobo+cpu+ram or I can get a 4800+ X2 which is I think the fastest socket 939 they made. Problem is, will that be fast enough?

My ram is holding me back? How so? I know nothing really about how RAM affects performance other than you need enough to be free to run the game. Something about timings maybe? Bus speed?

Thanks for the info about SLI! That makes sense. Do you know what games can be run across three monitors? The technology is called Nvidia Surround? I would like to run, say UT2K4 or HL2 across three monitors.
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a b à CPUs
May 20, 2011 9:49:48 AM

Portal should be playable on the GTX 460…I’m not sure about max settings, but it’s not a particularly demanding game so I doubt your graphics card is holding you back. How you upgrade depends on your budget. A better processor will see you making some gains, but you may be better advised to wait until you can afford a much newer set of components. An X2 may improve performance, but you may end up in the same place 6-12 months down the road. It’s very much dependant on what you want to play. However, you mention Unreal Tournament and Half-Life 2. An older system should handle them fine.

2GB of RAM is OK for loading the OS and basic applications. However, if you want to game as well, you probably want more to increase performance as not much will be left on that 2GB for any other intensive applications. As RAM runs out, Windows will start to use HDD space to compensate, which has much slower access times than RAM and consequently slows your system down. You’d be surprised at the difference an extra 2GB or RAM would make, and memory is dirt cheap anyway.

I’m not sure if those games would work too well on Surround as they’re not designed for it. There will be mods and patches (if not now, then probably in the future) that will address this, but I wouldn’t bet on it out of the box. That’s speculation though, others may know more about that than me.
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a b à CPUs
May 20, 2011 9:53:01 AM

$200 is not much for the "upgrades" you need especially not when you want to be running 2 pci-e cards.
If you plan on not going multi video cards i came to the following in your current budget:

AMD Phenom II X4 925 $99,25

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Asus M4A88T-M LE $60,99

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Crucial 2x2Gb DDR3 memory $40,99

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

$40,99 + $60,99 + $99,25 = $201,23

This should have you playing for those two years.


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a b à CPUs
May 20, 2011 10:58:28 AM

If so that he still has a decent AM2/+ board i would still stick another 2gb of ram.
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a c 119 à CPUs
May 20, 2011 11:36:41 AM

your cpu is a major bottleneck. the 3000+x2 isnt strong enough to run a 88gt without crippling its performance and the 460 is x2 that card.
you will want a minimum of a 2.6 tri core if you want to see anything that rezembles the best from that card or better still a 2.4 quad.
as your on a really limited budget get the cheapest mobo and ram.
above has posted a decent low budget setup but i would have recommended the AMD Phenom II X4 840 its only $5 and about 10% more performance
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

as for the ram i would recomend this
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

yes its slower but its cas 7 which means over all it will give better perfomance as lower latency is always better than hz speed especially when there's only 266hz difference. it will be as good as having ddr3 1600mhz c9 ram
i cant fault the motherboard though. its a bargain at that price. over all i would come in at around $7 more but your gonna get about 10 percent for that 7 dollars.

but really 400 would put you into true midrange gaming. with an i5 setup
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a b à CPUs
May 20, 2011 11:56:17 AM

I think the OP is after a budget solution. As much as an i5 would be good, it might be a shame to tempt him with that! ;) 

Fair point re X2 -> X4 though. At any rate, and X2 would be an improvement if the OP is upgrading later on also. Whilst it would make more sense to hold off until then and do one big upgrade, coping with a choked system in the interim would be a struggle.
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May 26, 2011 10:44:22 AM

It's a socket 939, I think the best processor I can put in there is like X2 4800+ or so, which I can find for about $50 on ebay. So the question is, will that be enough for say, Crysis, Quake 4, CS Source, Bioshock, and Unreal Tournament 3? Still wondering how my processor is the bottleneck. What is a benchmark like Heaven using the CPU for? Isn't all the work being done on the video card? CPU load definitely spikes to 100% when running that benchmark. Anyone know a good benchmark that tests just the video card, but won't tax the CPU? Thanks!
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a b à CPUs
May 26, 2011 10:55:22 AM

foulowl said:
So the question is, will that be enough for say, Crysis, Quake 4, CS Source, Bioshock, and Unreal Tournament 3?


Crysis, likely not. It taxes systems even to this day. The others? Perhaps. Google the game specs...check out http://www.game-debate.com/ and compare them to the system you intend to use.

foulowl said:
Still wondering how my processor is the bottleneck.


All the graphics card does is draw the pictures and detail how objects move in explosions etc. It still needs to be told what to do, and that's the job of the CPU. A game will load up a CPU to a certain extent which will stay more or less constant. The CPU then spits out work to the GPU, soundcard etc as per the game programming. The newer a game, the more taxing it'll be on the processor, so there comes a point where the load that a game will put on a CPU exceeds the capability of that CPU. Hence it bottlenecks your system.

foulowl said:
Anyone know a good benchmark that tests just the video card, but won't tax the CPU?


A benchmark that does this will not represent real-life gaming, as it likely won't utilise your system in the same way as a game.
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a c 119 à CPUs
May 26, 2011 12:14:23 PM

i had an amd 6000x2 and what your asking would tax that with a 98gt never mind a card with x2 the power.
the 4800 is in no way strong enough to run that card even on gpu orientated games...
your system as a whole just doesnt have the bandwidth to cope with it.

you really do need a mid range i5 quad or better. for 250 pounds you could join the 1155 club with a 2400 and an h61 chipset with 4 gigs of ddr3 ram.
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a b à CPUs
May 26, 2011 9:59:30 PM

An i3-2100/H61 would be a major speed/framerate boost on a budget; the socket 939 3000+ is at least 5 years too old for modern games.....
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November 25, 2011 7:00:07 AM

I have been still considering my decision since I started this thread haha. I've noticed that all the processors that aren't crippled in some way are going to run me at least $90. Couldn't I just get some sort of top of the line processor from the previous gen, used on ebay or something?

I found this on newegg: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Will that do the trick? Or is it crippled?

Also, where can I find some sort of comprehensive benchmark charts? tom's and anandtech both don't seem to have the processors I need. I want something comprehensive!

Any black friday deals I should look at?

Basically, I'm just trying to spend about $50 on a processor, $50 on a mobo, and $30 on ram. Shouldn't be too hard to do, right?

Thanks!! :) 
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a b à CPUs
November 25, 2011 7:18:26 AM

Crippled, I'd say. A single-core CPU wouldn't be any good for modern games and the likes, assuming you still want a system to play the latest ones. For a budget gaming PC, you'll want a dual-core CPU as a minimum.
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December 14, 2011 11:43:38 PM

Alright, I had to reformat for some reason, but I've been trying to play steam games some more.

I can't even play Team Fortress Classic without getting about 20 fps or so. You would think my motherboard and processor, purchased in 2005, and my video card (purchased in 2010) would be able to handle a game released in 1998.

If I play a map by myself I get 60 fps @ 1920*1080 in TFC. When I play on an internet server, I get about 40 fps walking through hallways and such, then when I get into combat my fps drops to a dysmal 10-20 fps.

I am taking this up with Valve, but for the time being I was wondering if I could get some more insight.

I usually just play Valve's games, but I will try some open source games to see if it is the game or what.

I have also tried every Windows 7 speedup I could find, but didn't seem to have much of an effect.

I am running a triple monitor setup here, and have tried disabling the other two screens but no effect. Perhaps I will have to remove my other card from the slot in order to see a speedup?

Also: since I have not decided to purchase a new motherboard, ram, and processor, my goal has changed from "Be able to play Crysis" to "Be able to play CS Source at 80 fps"

Finally: I have two hard drives in a RAID 1 setup, and I would like to test RAID recovery and such. Both drives are on a Sil 3114 sata raid controller. Since they are sata, can I just unplug the power or data to one of them while the computer is running to test if the RAID is working?

Thanks!!
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December 16, 2011 1:15:07 AM

mdd1963 said:
An i3-2100/H61 would be a major speed/framerate boost on a budget; the socket 939 3000+ is at least 5 years too old for modern games.....


That is still like $120 for the processor. My budget here is like $100 for motherboard, processor, and RAM. Maybe something used from 2008? What would you recommend?
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