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Help me pick my next hardware upgrade

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July 22, 2011 7:06:38 PM

Hi all,

I rarely post here, but I research the frak out of any part I'm thinking of buying here. I built my current PC back in late '09, and this year I've upgraded my CPU and GPU to keep up with the times. I use this PC constantly for web surfing, music/video playing, etc., but the only performance-intensive thing I do regularly is game. Current specs:

MSI 770-C45 mobo
Phenom II x4 965
HIS Radeon 6950 2GB
4GB DDR3 1333 (Kingston HyperX)
2 SATA 3.0GB 7200RPM drives: a 500GB (Samsung or Hitachi IIRC?) and a 1TB WD Caviar Green.
Windows 7 64bit
1920x1080 display (I always game in native resolution)

I know my mobo isn't exactly high-end, but I don't want to upgrade that until I'm ready to build a brand new system in another couple years. The GPU is clearly the highest-end part, the CPU should be fast enough not to cap my framerate in games. I've been thinking of doubling down on RAM, but I'm not sure how much of a difference that would make.

I'm leaning toward an SSD drive. I have a 2TB Caviar Green coming soon from newegg. Once I get that, I was thinking of getting a small-ish, high performance SSD, enough room for Windows and a couple games that suffer from long loadtimes or in-game slowdowns when loading new textures with room to spare for virtual memory. The 1TB drive is already mostly full of media files and backups of documents from my other drive, so I'll leave that stuff on there and use the 2TB drive for additional media storage and most of my applications.

Does that sound like a cost-effective way to boost my performance? What can I do to test whether, and by how much, HDD performance is bottlenecking me? Is using my soon-to-arrive 2TB drive for most programs and whatnot a good plan, or would it be better to move everything off the 1TB drive and use that one for programs instead? Or maybe keep using the 500GB drive for that stuff? How well does Windows 7 play along with installing almost everything to a drive other than C:? I vaguely remember this causing some problems years ago, but I assume it's fairly well-supported now.

If there's a better way to spend somewhere in the $100-200 range to boost my performance than adding an SSD to the mix and shuffling drives around, let me know what you think I should upgrade instead! And let me know whether it's worthwhile to toss in 4GB more RAM.

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July 22, 2011 7:36:58 PM

In my opinion getting an ssd is a great way of breathing new life into a system. You will notice a definate improvement in boot and load/seek times. Once you get it you will wonder how you ever got by without it! You might want to consider throwing an extra 2 or 4gb of memory in at some point too - the 64bit version of windows 7 will make use of every single megabyte of ram you have in your system.
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July 22, 2011 9:01:26 PM

aznshinobi: I bought the 2TB drive for additional storage space, I know it's not gonna boost system performance. I'm just wondering if it matters which drive I use for programs if and when I get an SSD. If one of the three other drives would be best performance-wise, I'll shuffle data around so I can use that one. If it doesn't really make a difference, it would be easiest to use the 2TB drive for that. I can use all the drives if necessary, but I'd like to ditch the 500GB one when I make this transition.

Basically: I need more than 1TB of total space for media files, backup archives, etc. Right now I have that 1TB drive over 90% full, and 100GB or so of spillover files on the 500GB drive. The path of least resistance would be to replace the 500GB drive with an SSD, keep the 1TB drive for storage as-is, and split the 2TB drive between media/backup storage and program files. If it would help performance somehow, I can also move things around and use the 2TB drive just for file storage, and repurpose either the 500GB or the 1TB drive for installing programs.

As for memory - my mono has dual channel DDR3, 4 slots total. I have a pair of 2GB DIMMs in there now. Should I get another 2x2GB to fill up all the slots and be at 8GB? $45 with free shipping will get me another matching pair of CAS7 HyperX DIMMs: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... I'm starting to think that $45 might be better spent on a higher end SSD, though.
July 22, 2011 9:17:36 PM

no need to upgrade ram immediately if your happy with performance. just be worth considering at some point because like i said 64bit windows 7 will make full use of whatever you throw in there! but yeah money put towards larger capacity/higher end ssd is good idea.
July 23, 2011 1:13:22 AM

Cool, that's what I was thinking. My next upgrade will be a high performance SSD with at least 64GB capacity. More space would be icing on the cake, but Win7 64bit only requires 20GB on the boot partition and my current C:\Windows folder clocks in at 15GB. Setting aside 20 for Windows and another 20 empty for virtual memory would still leave 24GB for games and other apps that are bottlenecked by HDD seek times. A couple games in particular (Rift and TW2 come to mind) seem to slow down considerably whenever there are new textures to load, and I have 2GB of VRAM on my 6950 so I assume the slowdown is happening when textures have to be loaded into memory from the HDD.

As I understand it, SSDs have way shorter seek times, but the actual read/write speed once it finds the desired sector on the drive is lower. So loading one 10GB file would actually be slower on an SSD than it would be on a conventional drive, but loading 10GB worth of tiny text files scattered in thousands of folders is much, much faster. Is that right?

Last question for now - my mobo only supports SATA II 3GBps, not 6GBps. 6GBps drives are backward compatible, right? I can just plug one into my mobo with a SATA 3GBps cable and it'll work fine at that lower speed? If so, I think I'll probably spring for a 6GBps drive so I can use it in my next system in a couple years. That's a ways off, but unless something changes in the storage component world between now and then, I'll prolly want an SSD boot drive and a RAID of 2+ conventional drives for programs. Maybe a big, lower RPM, non-RAIDed drive for media storage, or a RAID 0 and a separate RAID 1 so I can have my data drives back each other up and my program drives get maximum performance.

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a c 91 B Homebuilt system
July 23, 2011 11:03:50 AM
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Alright the SSD, you should put programs you use regularly, IE Photoshop, LR, CS5 is what I would put since I use those most. Now if you use those games regularly then install those games on the SSD. As for the slow down, I have no clue. it should be the delay from load times though, I've never played TW2 or Rift so I don't exactly know.

Yes SATA 3 is backwards compatible with SATA 2, and yes it will.
July 27, 2011 12:02:22 AM

I ended up buying a 60GB Corsair Force 3 drive. I know there was a recall of the 120GB model a while back, but from what I've read, other capacities were not affected, and the recall was handled quickly and is no longer an issue. Newegg has an awesome Shell Shocker deal on this drive today - $109.99, $10 MIR, free shipping! http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I also got another 2x2GB RAM, also on Shell Shocker for $27 with free shipping: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Edit: i've had my new SSD and additional RAM installed for a few days now, figured I'd update in case anyone who's considering a similar upgrade reads this thread for info.

Installation: physically installing RAM is as easy as it gets, obviously. I couldn't get the screws to line up correctly with the included 2.5" to 3.5" adapter, but my Antec 300 case has a compartment next to the 5.25" bays that was just the right size to fit the drive pretty snugly. It's not the most well-ventilated compartment of the case, but it's got enough ventilation to the main inside area of the case and SSDs generate so little heat as it is that I don't think it should be an issue. It's not screwed in, either, but it's a desktop that stays immobile, and it fits snugly enough that it can't move around all that much, anyway. I had a scary crash on my first stress test where video output froze and then had horizontal lines across it, and audio was looping on the last split second of output. I force reset and went into BIOS, half expecting that some component had been fried and would fail POST, but it turns out I just had my RAM set to use faster-than-standard CAS latencies, since my original pair of DIMMs were rated at slightly better than standard timings, but my new pair is not. After reverting to default latencies, I've had no crashes or stability issues and I've done several memtests and hard drive benchmarks to make sure I'm getting the performance levels I expect.

Setting up a new Windows 7 install on the SSD was much more painless than I expected. From my old boot drive, I used the Microsoft-provided utility to put my Windows install image on a USB thumbdrive, then ran the installer to format and install Win7 Ultimate 64bit to the new SSD. I didn't migrate any user data or anything, just set up the SSD as my J: drive (yeah, I have a lot of logical drives on this system, so sue me :p  ), and moved it to the top of the boot priority list. The only slightly annoying thing now is that it asks me which Windows 7 install to boot to every time I start up (both are just labeled Windows 7 but the first one on the list is the new install and the second one is the install on my old C: drive). I'm assuming I can fix that once I get around to backing up my old user directory and uninstalling Windows from the C: drive. Right now I have Windows, Rift (an MMORPG game that was giving me performance issues whenever it had to load textures/maps/models/etc. from disk), a bunch of small programs/utilities (fresh installs of Chrome, VLC, uTorrent, Speedfan, CCleaner, etc.), a nice big pagefile and plenty of empty space.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised how few programs really required me to reinstall them rather than just running the existing copies that were installed from the other copy of Windows. Most programs nowadays seem to have built-in support for being copied to a new computer or OS install, and will recreate any missing config files on first launch from the new OS. Steam can keep its whole game library and just has to verify the game files before running them again; Rift can be copy-pasted and the patcher takes care of missing config files; I just reinstalled my lightweight/utility apps rather than trying to run the old installs, but everything I've tried running off that old C: drive still works fine, and just loses any user-specific data and prefs.

I need to get back to work, but parting thoughts - my boot time is INSANELY fast now, my BIOS doing its verbose output POST process probably takes longer than loading Windows itself. Apps are uber responsive, and Rift seems to perform much better as well as loading several times faster. My only regret is not switching to SSD sooner, and not spending even more for a bigger, better, faster SSD.
August 3, 2011 12:47:05 AM

Best answer selected by solistus.
a c 91 B Homebuilt system
August 3, 2011 1:03:55 AM

Well good luck!
!