I am considering an upgrade from an Athlon X2 250 to a Phenom II 975 or 980. The way I figure it, AM3 is dead (no more upgrades) and absent doing a full system rebuild, the 980 is about the best I am going to get. At this point it sells for a $140ish. Will there be a significant enough gameplay improvement to justify the price (or alternatively) a significant enough spec improvement to have me keep pace with future game releases for a longer period of time?
Also, can I use the Athlon stock fan to cool the Phenom or will I have an additional expense of buying a new cooler?
Short answer. Yes. The Phenom is light years ahead of the Athlon ii. Even a triple core Athlon like what I've got gave a noticeable increase in Battlefield 3 multiplayer. I would get a new heatsink though. You won't be able to cool a 125watt TDP Phenom with a 65watt TDP Athlon ii heatsink. It would run too hot. Get something like the Hyper 212+, if you can't find that the arctic cooling freezer 7 pro is a good buy, its £15 in Britain, probably the equivalent out there.
I know it will make a big difference, I just don't know if it will make a $160 difference. My main concern is the dead end upgrade path of AM3. What is the point of investing another bunch of money into a platform if in 1 year the games that are out will make the setup obsolete?