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Best low-profile card upgrade for casual but good quality gaming?

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January 24, 2011 8:03:58 AM

Hi Everyone,

After about 7 years away from gaming (2 kids, 2 inter-continental moves across the pond, etc.), I'm looking to get back into things and need to upgrade my graphics card.

Unfortunately the market has changed radically and I have no idea where to start. I've been reading some of the reviews here and elsewhere, but the sheer number of options is mind-boggling and I also have a few specific requirements that aren't always easy to tease out from lengthy reviews.

Detailed info below, but in a nutshell:
I want to enjoy the game-play so would like to use some decent settings, but I don't necessarily need all settings on high with max fps. Essentially looking for the best performance low-profile card that won't cause massive cooling issues, will work with the current 250W PSU (preferably), doesn't sound like a 747, and has an HDMI connector.

All help appreciated. Thanks!

Full details:

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: within the next month or so

BUDGET RANGE: Not a concern for the card - I'll be more constrained by other factors. For example, I am not looking to upgrade my case (a Dell slim-line case) or PSU (if possible).

USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT:
1) Playing media - PC is in the family room and is hooked up via 3 meter HDMI to the home theater system to play all my ripped digital content - a mix of DVD quality and some 720 and 1080 HD content.
2) Casual gaming - I'm borrowing a few titles from friends for now, but am looking to play Assassins Creed Brotherhood when it comes out in March and may like to get into an MMORPG like Warcraft or similar at some point. Probably around 8-10 hours gaming a week (if I'm lucky).
3) Basic PC use - It’s a shared PC, so is also used for basic Internet, MS Office, Photoshop, etc. via a DVI connection to my desktop monitor

CURRENT GPU AND POWER SUPPLY: ATI Radeon HD 3450 and a Dell 250W PSU that came with my Studio 540S. I have read in various forums that Dell underrates their CPUs a bit but have nothing to confirm this.

OTHER RELEVANT SYSTEM SPECS:
cpu: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 @ 2.66GHz
mem: 4GB
OS: currently Vista 32-bit, but may upgrade to Win 7 64-bit sometime this year probably.

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: No preference
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Currently in the UK, but I get back to the US a lot

PARTS PREFERENCES:
The case is a slimline case so only half height / low-profile cards will fit.

The slots are PCI-E 16x 2.0, but should be ok for a 2.1 card I believe.

Am familiar with the ATI drivers and catalyst settings and have my Harmony remote programmed to swap profiles, etc. so tempted to stick with ATI/AMD

Willing to consider NVidia cards as long as I can get both audio and video over a single HDMI connection (prob not an issue any more, but used to be IIRC)

Not looking for a dual-card solution (cross-fire, SLI) - I think that might be overkill for what I need. Also concerned about cooling that in the slimline case without it sounding like a wind tunnel.

I have two free slots next to each other, so a happy to consider a double width card that takes up two back plates – e.g. one for connections, one for ventilation

The PC is in the family room / lounge, so I don't want something that sounds like a 747 and will detract from watching movies. Quieter is better, but it doesn't have to be silent as there are also two NASs in the same room, though they do run pretty quiet themselves.

OVERCLOCKING: Not likely - too concerned about effect on cooling in the slimline case

MONITOR RESOLUTION: Desktop monitor is 1920x1200; Pioneer 50-inch plasma is 1920x1080

Thanks!

Kez
January 24, 2011 8:09:20 AM

If it helps, the +12v rail is rated at 16.0 Amps
January 24, 2011 11:10:53 AM

i think you should replace the psu first. check the size of the psu you have now ( on internet ) that would help. also are you planning on playing games at that resolution?
Related resources
a b U Graphics card
January 24, 2011 12:46:16 PM

there is a low pro 5770 but its expensive at about $180 us
a b U Graphics card
January 24, 2011 3:08:10 PM

The 4650's and 5570's are decent. They require a 400W PSU.
I think, in any case, you'll want to upgrade your PSU as that Dell is designed to run the on-board graphics only, part of how they keep system prices down.
January 24, 2011 5:52:40 PM

Thanks for the replies.

Ok, I'm accepting that I need to upgrade the PSU. Unfortunately, the current PSU is a TFX format PSU and there are not many options for upgrading.

There is a no name 400w PSU I found (see here)- but the page is light on technical details and I'm dubious about no-name components, especially when it comes to PSUs which can crap out other components if they are poorly regulated.

SeaSonic make a 300w TFX PSU that has had good reviews (see here) It's rated 80+ bronze, with amps as follows:

Seasonic SS-300TFX
+3.3V +5V +12V1 +12V2 -12V +5VSB
20A 20A 18A 18A 0.8A 2A

Would this be a sufficient upgrade for one of the 4650's and 5570's?

Thanks
a b U Graphics card
January 24, 2011 7:12:14 PM

That looks like it would work just fine. I'm running a 4650 in a system with a 460W PSU that has split 18amp 12V rails. No power issues whatsoever. You may also consider trying out a card first, then decide whether or not your current unit is inadequate.
January 25, 2011 7:42:09 AM

What would be the symptoms if the current is inadequate?

Also, just thinking about the PSU upgrade.... do options exist to replace the internal PSU with an external PSU block and just feed the cables into the case or something? Seems like that would make sense for micro and a slim cases.

If so, anyone have any recommendations in that space?

Thanks




a b U Graphics card
January 28, 2011 6:25:56 PM

Take a look at the Palit GTS 450 low profile. It's the only powered low profile card I know of with external exhaust. Anyways it's more of a curiosity. You need a new PSU for it. You could try an ATI 5550 but it will be dumping 40 watts of heat into your case. Your current card is a 3450 which uses about 25 watts. Unfortunately there's nothing between 20 watts and 40 watts on the market currently. Best thing might be to wait for 6350. Caicos is already released on the mobile side.

Best solution

a c 376 U Graphics card
January 28, 2011 7:31:55 PM
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Dell uses decent PSUs and a 250w by them should handle either an HD5570 or HD5670. Above that you will need a new PSU.
If you really want to use a card that is intended for high resolutions like you mentioned you would definitely be best off ditching the low profile case.
a b U Graphics card
January 28, 2011 7:42:01 PM

jyjjy said:
Dell uses decent PSUs and a 250w by them should handle either an HD5570 or HD5670. Above that you will need a new PSU.
If you really want to use a card that is intended for high resolutions like you mentioned you would definitely be best off ditching the low profile case.


HD5670 probably Best Answer
Low profile,low power
for light gaming HD4650 very very low power - I am running it on a Dell 280w PSU with a pin modded OCd E4300
I can play Crysis Warhead,BioShock 2 and Oblivion at reasonable settings.
Dont look at manafacturer recommended total wattage of PSU (they always overestimate)
Look at wattage draw of card only
this is the best PSU calculator I have used
http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp
Dell PSUs are underated.
Dont get card needing external power
go to dell support and see under power rating on tech sheet what wattage your PCI-E slot is.
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 28, 2011 7:46:32 PM

king smp said:
Dont get card needing external power

^basically that. Any card without a power connector comes in at under 75w necessarily. An ordinary 300w PSU can usually handle any card without a connector. Dell rates their PSUs for continuous usage rather than peak like most so a Dell 250w is probably at least as good as most 300w PSUs.
January 31, 2011 7:32:39 AM

Thanks for all the replies.

I've ordered a HD5670 low-profile card, which only comes in the 512MB flavour, so we'll see how it copes.

For anyone else looking for a similar solution, I only found low-profile HD 5670 cards from two manufacturers, MSI and Sapphire. Only the Sapphire card is available in the UK, and only from eBuyer.

There are a number of ordering options in the US for the MSI card, and in Austria and Germany for the Sapphire card.

Card should arrive today or tomorrow, and I'll try to post back some comments in a week or so on if and how well it worked out.
a c 376 U Graphics card
January 31, 2011 7:50:14 AM

Cool. It should be able to handle most games even at 1080p but for a lot of the more intensive current games you'll need to turn the setting down substantially.
February 7, 2011 8:54:23 AM

Well, the card works as advertised. No power issues at all with the 300W Dell PSU and I can run most games at reasonably high settings and get good frame rates for casual gaming, so quite happy from that perspective.

However, with the card being thicker due to bigger heatsinks + fans than my old HD3450, I noticed when I put it in that it sits right next to the southbridge chip and actually overhangs it a tiny bit. In typical Dell fashion , there was no heatsink on the southbridge, and probably barely room for one with the new card installed, so I thought I'd better install a monitor to check temps.

Idle temps:
With HD3450: southbridge idles at 50C
With HD5670B south bridge now idles 10 degrees hotter at 60C
CPU and northbridge temps pretty much unchanged

Temps under load: (While playing Assassin's Creed)
HD3450 - Southbridge temp hit 63 - a 12 degree C rise from idle
HD5670 - Temp hit 85C (a 25 degree C rise) pretty quickly, at which point I got concerned, stopped playing and opened the case to cool it off.

Aside from there not being a heatsink on the southbridge, I think the main problem is lack of fresh airflow on the GPU side of the case which is pretty closed of from the main part of the case due to the card and cables from the PSU.

By removing the blanking plates on bottom three expansion slots the idle temp with the HD5670 dropped 4 degrees to 56C.

I temporarliy mounted an 80mm fan on the outside of expansion slots to see if I could get the temps down more. Wasn't sure if I should have it blow in or out, so tried it both ways.
Blowing out: idle SB temp dropped to 51C
Blowing in: SB temp dropped to 47C

However, in that config the fan was way too loud. Too much of a pain to mod the 540s case as there is a wide stabilsation bar that goes front to back across the top of the cards and SB chip.

So - thinking about moving everything into a slighly larger, better ventilated micro ATX case - but if I'm going to do that, I may as well get a bigger PSU as well - which was the recommendation the first place. :o 

Conclusion: while you can put a beefier graphics card into the Dell 540s slim case, it will cause the SB to run too hot unless you mod the case with an extra fan.

As mentioned, I'm going to go for a new case - still small, but wider with better ventilation, and a new PSU.

----

For those who are interested, I'm looking at the following:

Case:
AOpen H450E micro ATX case
- Almost same DxH dimensions as the 540s which is critical as it sits under a desk, but is 20cm wide instead of 10cm.
- Takes an 80mm fan up front for air intake and a 12cm fan in back for exhaust.
- Side vents by cards as well as an Intel CAG 1.1 duct above the priocessor.
- Has enough 5.25 and 3.5 bays for my needs (DVD drive, Blu-Ray drive, card reader/fan controller in 3.5 bay, and 1x HDD).

Pic of inside of H450Y - exactlty the same as the H450E except different placement of front mounted USB/audio connections:


Details on AOpen site here


I also need the system to be quiet as it's in the lounge (and I need to keep the wife happy), so:

PSU:
Cooler Master Silent PRO 600W Modular PSU. Good review over on JonnyGuru where he gives it a 9/10.

Fans:
Noctua NF-S12B FLX - Case fan - 120 mm
Sharkoon - Case Fan - 80mm


Thanks to everyone who responded.

Kez.
a b U Graphics card
February 7, 2011 4:15:24 PM

I did mention heat was a concern in your slimline case. A DDR3 or GDDR5 version of HD5570 would have been better. Install CCC and underclock a bit. It will help a little bit.
February 11, 2011 6:16:54 AM

Best answer selected by kez.
February 11, 2011 6:20:05 AM

Thanks to everyone.

I gave best answer to jyjjy for the recommendation on the 5670 and that the PSU would handle it. It works great, just a bit warm. :) 
Props to UniqueName through as he was spot on about the heat problems.

-Kez
!