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Possible *cheap* upgrades for an old build to improve gaming?

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December 16, 2011 6:03:08 AM

Here's my current build:

AMD Athlon 64 X2 6000+
M2N32-SLI Deluxe
8gigs ram
Hiper 580W PSU
four decent WD HDs in a raid 0+1
Thermaltake Armor case with one front 120mm intake, one back 120mm exhaust, one 90mm back exhaust and one 90mm blowhole exhaust
two GeForce 9800 GT cards in SLI (currently overclocked to 700/1750/1050)

Sooooo, it's an old build and I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions on minor (cheap) upgrades to improve my gaming performance (mostly for Skyrim). I would also be OK with spending money on upgrades that could be transferred to a new build in about a year, i.e. more fans, GPU fans (as long as they could be put on new cards later), new PSU, etc.

Notes:
- I just recently got that second 9800 GT off ebay for cheap. The old one runs about 10 degrees hotter, and seems to be holding back the new ones overclocking ability due to the SLI. Would it be better to run one card at like 750MHz or two in SLI at 700MHz?
- Would upgrading the vid cards fans improve overclocking, and could the aftermarket fans then be moved to new video cards when I make a new build?
- Would overclocking the CPU help with gaming at all? (I haven't even tried yet)

Feel free to deluge me with any questions about the build and thanks in advance for all your awesome advice.
a b B Homebuilt system
December 16, 2011 7:14:40 AM

Having both cards run at the same speed should give the best performance. Having one running quicker than the other might cause some issues.

Upgrading the fans will help a little with cooling, but wont really make it over-clock any higher. The after-market fans would be specific to the GPU, so if you swapped the GPU, its unlikely you would be able to re-use the fans.

Yes over-clocking the CPU will help. It will make a bigger difference in some games than others, but over-all, it will make a positive difference.

----

The best CPU upgrade for your motherboard, I think, is the Phenom II x4 945.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

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a b B Homebuilt system
December 16, 2011 7:42:10 AM

Your biggest bottleneck is your CPU, even with an overclock I would say. I recently had an Athlon x2 5400+ myself, so just a step or two away from yours. I upgraded my system with a new GTS 450 video card, and bought Battlefield Bad Company 2. I was getting all kinds of stuttering and lag, even when you would turn details down, you still got stuttering and lag. Things would actually improve if you began to try to turn the settings up. Thankfully, even though my board is AM2 socket, it supported some quads. So I was able to pick up an Athlon II x4 640 for my system. Once I dropped that in there, things smoothed out. The stuttering and the lag went completely away. I'll probably be upgrading again soon, but your CPU is going to hold you back really. I thought that a dual core at 2.8 ghz would be enough, but even with a new card, nope.

I'm assuming this is your board?

http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/AMD_AM2/M2N32SLI_Delux...

That link should be their CPU support list.

Looks like newegg has these in stock that it says will fit, same chip I've got.

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

It's an ok chip and will definitely help your system until you upgrade more.

If you want to spend another 20, looks like this is the strongest chip your board will handle.

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/ite...

Looked for that chip on newegg, but they are gone now. But I would grab one of those, you might want to overclock it, but that should tide you over for a little while longer.

So personally, I would get the new chip, maybe a new cooler if you want to OC the new CPU. Later on, I'd drop the 9800gt's and upgrade the video card/cards. And finally when you are ready, start looking at moving to a newer motherboard/cpu/memory. I'm an AMD guy myself, but the i5 2500k is looking tempting, kinda thinking I want to jump from my Athlon quad to one eventually.

But in response, overclocking may help, but I would personally at least start saving toward a new CPU. Only thing is Phenom II's are already going out, but the word is that they perform better than Bulldozer chips at the same clocks. If you just want a cheap upgrade, I guess you could upgrade to an Athlon II x3, but really at that point, you are spending 70-80, so I would at least go with a quad. Some guys say the triple cores do ok, but for the extra 20 bucks, get a quad. Video cards and ram are much easier to upgrade later.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 16, 2011 9:22:09 AM

Skyrim, specifically, is very CPU dependent.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 16, 2011 11:39:17 AM

Hi Prof., you've got your answer from the previous posters.

The cheapest possible upgrade will be a tri-core 4xx, but a quad will prolly be the better bet if you don't intend to spend any more on your rig in the next couple of years or so.

Go through the OC guides for your board and the 9xx chips on the net and OC it to ~3.5-ish. You won't need to invest in an aftermarket cooler for that if you're on a shoe-string budget.

If your budget is more significant, then either get an Intel system for ~$250-300 for Board+CPU combo.

PS: I just noticed that you've mentioned that you'll be getting a new build next year. In that case, just get a $70/80 tri core Rana for now and go through the online OC tuts. Save the 50 bucks for an all new Intel system for next year. In a few months, the all new Ivy will be out and it pretty much promises to be a blockbuster.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 16, 2011 12:04:44 PM

Is your PSU the 580 watt type R modular from Hiper? :pfff:  If so, that unit only has 30 amps on the 12V rails total and with 2 (overclocked) graphics cards, and 4 HDDs you might already be pushing it beyond its limits. :non: 
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December 16, 2011 6:44:18 PM

Thanks for all the detailed replies everyone, as per usual the Toms forums pull through!

@everyone: I figured the biggest performance boost I was going to get was a CPU upgrade... at this point I just don't know if I can justify dropping about 100$ on a new one since I do want to save up for a new rig in about a year or so... is it worth it?

also, if I do get a new chip, I do already have a Zalman aftermarket CPU cooler on it... odd I bought one and didn't OC... I think I might have just got it because the stock cooler was so loud.

@clarkjd: I figured I might be pushing it, but it was a perfectly fine power supply back when I first built the rig (six years ago?). I also figured that it wasn't going to do any harm if the rig was just underpowered.

Would getting a new PSU help with OCin'/ general performance? This seems like something I could spend some money on that would be fairly future proof (if I got a good one) and could be transferred to a new rig when I built one.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 16, 2011 7:33:45 PM

Having a better, stronger PSU won't increase performance by itself. It just gives you the flexibility(headroom) to overclock your CPU, and/or your GPU, which would increase performance.

Under powering a rig leads to possible shutdowns, & restarts, or screen freezes, particularly during heavy usage(gaming).
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a b 4 Gaming
December 16, 2011 8:07:19 PM

your cpu is currently bottlenecking the crap out of your 2 x 9800gts. It would bottleneck even a single 9800gt. upgrade to that pheonm II x4 processor as suggested in the above posts and overclock it. Grab the cpu now while they are still available because they are no longer making the phenom II line sadly, and stock is already low. I'd say your current psu is probably on its limits, it wont make your PC faster upgrading it, but it will be less likely to blow up. If you have a brand like "hyper" for your psu you can guarentee that its NOT of high quality.
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December 16, 2011 8:41:23 PM

@clarkjd: yeah, I'm gonna look at new PSUs as well maybe. I will say that so far I haven't had any issues with shutdowns or restarts or freezes (only stuff when I was trying to max out the OC on the vid cards, but I figured that was just the limit on those cards)

@iam2thecrowe: yeah, I think a new CPU might be in order... As for the reliability of the PSU, check out reviews for Hiper's products. It was a Brit company that I think is now defunct, but their PSUs (including mine) usually got great reviews.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 17, 2011 3:13:45 PM

I have no experience with that particular PSU, However, I believe that it is made by the same people that make PCP&C PSUs, which are highly rated.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 18, 2011 1:05:46 PM

The PSU upgrade really will depend on what GPU you want to get for your new system next year. One thing's for certain, you won't be needing anything more than a quality 600-650 watt unit for a single GPU system.

If you don't plan to get a $500 card, just getting a quality 550 watt unit with 40+ Amps on it's +12V Rail should suffice. Get an 850+ only if you're thinking of SLI/Xfire a few years down the line.
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 18, 2011 1:16:17 PM

If you do decide to go single card, how about this power supply?

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

60 amps on a single 12v+ rail, and 75 after rebates. I used one of the 650 watt models for a guy who got a Phenom II 6 core(1090t, and a GTX 570), and I've not heard of any issues at all.

As for CPU, definitely get it. Nice thing is later you can part out this rig when you are ready to move on. I know that when I even sold my old Athlon dual core processor on ebay, I think I got 50 bucks for it. So you might be able to recoup some costs on things you do not use.
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December 18, 2011 1:29:48 PM

Search for AMD 955 BE CPU, this thing is just awesome ;) 
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a b B Homebuilt system
December 18, 2011 3:16:15 PM

955 BE is a good chip, but his current motherboard won't work with it.
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