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Advice on "upgrading" from integrated graphics

Last response: in Graphics & Displays
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September 12, 2011 9:22:25 PM

Hello everyone. Now, before I even get into what I'm asking help for, I know so little about graphics cards that it basically amounts to nothing. I'll probably ask some very stupid questions along the way, so I'll be ever grateful if you can just bear with me, and I'd really, really appreciate any help I can get here from all you geniuses/smartarses (joke! ;)  ).

So, the situation is that our family has a pretty bog standard family PC - an HP Pavillion a6305. Specs for it can be found here:



(One thing worth mentioning is that whilst it came with Windows Vista HP, it's been upgraded to Windows 7 HP now. Everything else is the same as in those specs)

It's all pretty decent-ish for a normal everyday-use computer, and can play most games from the mid noughties backwards - a good example of its limit is the 2007 racing game rFactor, which runs at about 20-40 FPS on lowest settings. All of this probably sounds like stupidity to you people, but the thing is, I've never been that much of an avid PC gamer. (Whilst it would be nice) I've never been super interested in having the latest games - heck, the one genre I am interested in, which is racing sims, all the good games are really old now - and (whilst it would be nice) I've never been super interested in running games at max settings. So I've never been that bothered about spending money to "move on" from that Nvidia Geforce 6150SE nForce 450 chipset.

However, this caught my attention:



Albeit with my limited knoweledge, a graphics card - any graphics card - for less than £20 sounds like a steal for someone like me, who normally wouldn't be bothered otherwise and isn't looking for the latest and greatest hardware. And this (finally!) brings me on to my two big questions:

1. Will it be better than the integrated graphics currently on my PC? Now in my head this really does sound like a stupid question, but I've done some reading around and people talk of the 8400gs like it's the spawn of satan, haha. So I just wanted to make sure that this will DEFINITELY, in every way, be an improvement. As I've hinted at above I'm not interested in hearing how much better card x is than card y, or how crap card z is, or whatever. I've gathered that the 8400gs isn't a great card, but I'm not interested in looking for something significantly better - I have no allocated budget for this, I'm only really doing it's possible, it's dirt cheap, and having the games I already own running a bit smoother would be nice.

So all I want to know is, will this card definitely. be better than the integrated graphics currently on my PC. Second question..........

2. Will it work? There's a few things here I'm not entirely clear on. First, the play.com page says it's a PCI-E 2.0 card, but the free slot on my PC is PCI-Express x16. I'm confused as to how the two standards relate, but it should work, shouldn't it? The other thing is the play.com page also says the minimum recommended system power is 300W. According to the spec page above, my HP has a 300W PSU (I haven't opened up the PC to verify this though). Is this too borderline? How cautious are they minimum requirements? Would I be risking breaking something if I installed this card into this PC? If I bought the card, should I be thinking about buying a new PSU as well? (I noticed this one for instance, also on play.com: )

Lastly, one more question - is Palit a good maufacturer? Is their product likely to come as advertised, and........well, not break my machine? :p 

.................and that's about everything I think? Well it isn't really, I'm still unsure about things like physically installing the thing, and the processes of disabling adapters and properly uninstalling/installing drivers, but I'll take all that as it comes (and there's probably enough tutorials out there to help me with all that). A big congratulations if you had the patience to sit through my exceptionally long-winded drivel - and thanks in advance for any help! :D 
September 12, 2011 9:27:40 PM

Sorry for the double post but those links came out wrong for some reason and now it isn't letting me edit them >.< So here they are:

HP Pavillion tech specs:

http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/document?cc=uk&dlc=en&docname=c01312589&lc=en&product=3660121#N341

The graphics card I'm looking at:

http://www.play.com/PC/PCs/-/3320/2587/-/20475914/Palit-Geforce-8400GS-Super-512MB-Graphics-Card/Product.html

The PSU I noticed on the same site:

http://www.play.com/PC/PCs/4-/20471142/-/Product.html?opFR=true
a b U Graphics card
September 12, 2011 9:52:29 PM

So lets start with the graphics card. The 8400GS is probably a step above integrated graphics-but not by much. It's more of an HTPC type of card, low power, not good with 3D games. If you're really interested in gaming, I would start at a minimum of the HD5650 or 6650. These cards do not require an extra pci-express power cable and have minimal PSU requirements.

I think that graphics card manufacturers are not as important as taking the card itself and judging it on its own merits. I don't have any specific experience with Palit, but I prefer Evga, XFX, Powercolor, ASUS and Sapphire.

When you do find a graphics card that looks good, be sure to read as many owner reviews as possible, this is the best way to see if its a reliable card.

Related resources
September 12, 2011 11:11:10 PM

Yes. It will be better. It has twice as much dedicated RAM, and since your system RAM will no longer be sharing with your graphics card, you'll get your 256mb back.

The PSU should work fine, though there isn't alot of wiggle room. If it turns out it isn't sufficient, it won't "break" anything, but something might not work correctly. If your computer POSTS fine and there aren't any artifacts, tearing, discoloration, etc., you should be ok.

PCI-e 2.0 is backwards/forwards compatible. That card will run on your PC, but not as fast as it could on 2.0.
a c 152 U Graphics card
a b α HP
September 13, 2011 12:39:21 AM

There are TWO ISSUES when upgrading graphics:

1. where the CPU bottleneck will occur
2. Power Supply (Wattage and Amperage)

CPU:
The X2 5000+ is a serious bottleneck to most graphics cards today. Likely anything more than $100 can't be utilized. It varies by game as well but that's a very ROUGH estimate.

With a $20 or $30 CPU heatsink you can overclock if possible. you need to verify that overclocking is even an option though. Even if you can't overclock, a $20 HSF will lower the noise of your computer when compared to the stock heatsink and fan. (also, if you CAN overclock you may need to first drop the frequency of RAM by the amount you overclock the CPU as the CPU and RAM on older computers are overclocked together. So, maybe drop the RAM by 20%, then overclock the CPU by 20% but again it's likely not possible on a pre-built system.)

You DEFINITELY want a good HSF because your CPU will be stressed to 100% by adding a good graphics card.

PSU:
I don't have the exact specs, but these types of computers don't tend to have much upgrade room. I'd definitely have to recommend an upgrade.

Parts:
1. $100 HD6770 1GB http://www.ncixus.com/products/?sku=61457&promoid=1371&...

2. $63 PSU: http://www.ncixus.com/products/?sku=56788&promoid=1371&...

3. CPU heatsink + Fan: *this is a SOCKET AM2, for your reference:
http://www.ncixus.com/products/?sku=41337&promoid=1371&...

POINTS:
- I KNOW the graphics card is likely overkill. At $100 however, I'm not going to spend time to find the absolutely best deal for that CPU.

- make sure the heatsink and PSU fit your case and don't hit other parts

- the Heatsink fan must be plugged into the motherboard CPU FAN slot and the BIOS must have fan control enabled. If the BIOS setting (Auto, Voltage, PWM) is incorrect the fan will stay at 100%. If so, try a different BIOS setting until it works.

Good luck!
a c 152 U Graphics card
a b α HP
September 13, 2011 12:47:48 AM

Video:
I should add that this new card can take most of the load away from the CPU for certain video codecs, specifically MPEG2, AVC/H.264, and VC-1.

There are three programs which I like for video ( www.free-codecs.com ):
1) VLC
2) WMPC-HC (installed with the K-Lite Full Codec pack)
3) Boxee for Windows

you will need to enable hardware acceleration for it to work (it makes a HUGE difference on older CPU's):
1) VLC -> "Tools->preferences-> video settings-> "accelerated video output (overlay)"
2) WMPC-HC (Media Player Classic) -> "View->Options->Internal filters-> (check the BOLDFACED codecs on the right, MPEG2, H.264 and VC-1.)
3) Boxee (in the settings. easy to find.)

DRIVERS:

Get drivers directly from AMD http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/Pages/index.aspx
a b U Graphics card
September 13, 2011 1:19:46 AM

When have you ever heard of overclocking an HP? Not going to happen. You will notice when you do get a dedicated graphics card(with it's own ram) your whole system will work much better - even your web browser will load faster. I think you'll like the improvement.
-Bruce
a c 152 U Graphics card
a b α HP
September 13, 2011 8:14:55 AM

GAMES:

If you'd like help in choosing games that should run well in your system (if you get the HD6770 or similar) I'd love to help.

I strongly recommend you try DEMOS before buying if possible, unfortunately many games don't have DEMOS.

Bioshock 1 and 2 are great games and well coded.
!