Greetings! To start, I would like to express my appreciation for how effing awesome you guys are and for all the sound advice that you have provided in the past.
But now, I have a few questions instigated by the monumental release that is known as Skyrim. I've checked the specs to install, and I meet the bare minimum requirements. Right now I have:
4gb ddr2 800 (4 x 1gb)
WD 320 GB hd
Radeon 5770 1 GB
Athlon 5200 dual core 2.71 ghz
Windows vista 32 bit
600 w Corsair psu
I purchased this computer back in 2008, and I don't want to invest too much money into upgrading. But I have noticed that when playing games I get brief, sudden frame rate drops or 'heartbeat stutters'. I upgraded my video card from an 8800 gs 324 mb to a Radeon 5770 and my Windows experience increased dramatically from a 1.0 to a 5.2. The lowest rated part on my PC according to M$ is the CPU.
The problem with having a 32 bit OS is that it doesn't recognize all the memory, but the Windows experience rating indicated the CPU was the bottleneck. If I were to chose only upgrading the OS or the CPU, which would have the more dramatic improvement for my PC? Each upgrade has its hurdles, I may have to buy another part in order to upgrade the OS, plus it wipes out everything on my computer when upgrading from a 32 bit to 64 bit OS. As for the CPU, I would need a BIOS update in order to use the AMD HDX925WFK4DGM Phenom II X4 925 Processor - Quad-Core, Socket AM3, 2.80GHz, 6MB Cache, 2000MHz FSB, OEM CPU I've had my eye on. Asus' website is very confusing regarding its description of the M2N-E mobo I have, the specifications page isn't clear if it supports quad core, but the BIOS page says it does support the CPU I've just mentioned. I've emailed Asus for clarification, I don't want to update by BIOS and end up with a doorstop.
But anyways, what does the community think is best? CPU, OS, or maybe other? Like I said, I don't want to put too much into it, and there certainly isn't any value installing any more memory on a 32 bit OS.
And the CPU I mentioned earlier, I'm thinking around spending between $75 to $100 for a new CPU, was the one I mentioned probably the best for that price range? The 5001 bios revision for my Mobo is very limited for CPU support, so I have to be careful.
You will need to upgrade your mobo, CPU, and RAM. Replacing your mobo will cause Windows to need to activate again. If it won't, you should be able to contact Microsquishy and explain that you had to replace your motherboard. You may get transferred in and out of the same department two or three times, but eventually you will get a person with sufficient English language skills AND technical ability to understand what you want and how to help you; OR you may get lucky (I did once) and their automated system will ask "Did you replace your motherboard?" and understand your verbal "YES" response.
In any case, your budget and the degree of performance improvement you want will dictate your choices. Even an Athlon II X3 will blow out what you have now, so don't be convinced that you need to buy a core i5-2500K. Of course, if your budget allows, that is a very nice CPU choice; just don't let someone convince you that you NEED it. A Phenom II X4 will likely handle your requirements quite nicely, and so would a core i3; either of those would be considerably less expensive. The i3 has an upgrade path to i5, and the Athlon II or Phenom II has an upgrade path to Bulldozer (if you get a 900-chipset socket AM3+ board, the only sane choice if you build AMD today).
Your PSU is fine, even if you later decide you want a GPU upgrade.
For a single monitor, your GPU is probably fine too. If your resolution is 1920x1080, you may get a jump in FPS by turning off AA and/or lowering some other setting a little bit; try it before you spend money on another GPU.