USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Battlefield 3, Star Wars: Old Republic Online, Skyrim
CURRENT GPU AND POWER SUPPLY: Nvidia GTX 285 1GB, Corsair 800W PSU
OTHER RELEVANT SYSTEM SPECS: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550(2.83GHz), PCI-E 2.0 x16, 8 GB DDR2 800
PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: newegg.com COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: United States
PARTS PREFERENCES: Not much
OVERCLOCKING: Maybe SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No
MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1200
Basically, I have this PC and it's 2 1/2 years old. Doing research on other forums led me to believe that I won't get much of a performance increase by upgrading my video card at this time because my CPU won't be able to keep up.
As much as that makes me hesitant, right now I'm looking for a short-term increase in performance in Battlefield 3 and similar games most of all. If I have to upgrade Mobo, CPU, and RAM later on so be it.
In medium settings your BF3 issue is almost certainly a CPU bottleneck, so overclocking it should help some. Skyrim might also benefit from overclocking. TOR you shouldn't have any problems running at high detail as is if don't crank up the AA settings.
1) Your GTX285 is still a quite good card. If you change to a GTX560ti, you may be disappointed because it is not that big of a jump.
If the gpu is your main limitation, I think you are looking at a GTX570 or GTX580.
2) If your temperatures are getting high, perhaps it is your case cooling . Try taking the side panels off and directing a house fan at the innards.
Or, if you are using the stock cooler, it might not be mounted well. With the power to the pc disconnected, try to wiggle the cooler. If it moves, you need to remount it. The stock pushpins are notoriously hard to mount properly. If you get a modest aftermarket cooler, you will do better, and it can be carried over to a new build later. It need not be expensive. The Xigmatek gaia or cm hyper212 are about $30.
3) To help clarify your options, run these two tests:
a) Run your games, but lower your resolution and eye candy.
If your FPS increases, it indicates that your cpu is strong enough to drive a better graphics configuration.
b) Limit your cpu, either by reducing the OC, or, in windows power management, limit the maximum cpu% to something like 70%.
If your FPS drops significantly, it is an indicator that your cpu is the limiting factor, and a cpu upgrade is in order.
It is possible that both tests are positive, indicating that you have a well balanced system, and both cpu and gpu need to be upgraded to get better gaming FPS.
I say overclock your CPU and perhaps upgrade your GPU. You need to go to a GTX 560Ti or Radeon 6950 for it to be a significant upgrade. I say you would be better off adding a second card to run in SLI though they would be a little hard to find . You really need a new cooler though.
For the money you are looking to spend you will not see a satisfying enough difference in a new gpu. Your cpu is also just fine in my personal opinion.
When your system was built I think you made wise decisions and your components today are still very viable for any game on the market.
Honestly at this point and with your budget I would just spend $60-$90 on cooling and you will notice a drastic difference in your temperatures (yes that is how bad the intel stock coolers are) Then overclock your cpu.
Some fanbois may not like this but clock for clock/ core for core, the core 2 quads still have every bit as much muscle as the outgoing phenom II's which actually perform better in average gaming than the new bulldozers.
And if you can stumble apon another gtx 285 for cheap somewhere around the way? Fuhgetaboutit. Now you have a real high performing machine for 1920x1200. Though one gtx 285 is nothing to shake a stick at. Not just yet anyway.