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Time for an upgrade; budget gaming rig

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September 1, 2012 11:22:32 AM

Hello everyone,

Just seeking some general input and have a few specific questions about upgrading my budget gaming rig that I put together in late 2010.

Essentially, my original rig is as follows:

-Phenom ii x2 555 BE with CM TX3 OC @ 3.6ghz
-Budget Gigabyte board that isn't worth discussing, doesn't support CPUs with greater than 95w or have a full speed PCI-e
-4 gig Kingston DDR3 1333
-GTX 560 Ti 1gb (factory clock)
-1tb Sata 2 Western Digital Caviar Blue
-Coolermaster GX 650 PSU

With the above I've had a pretty good run really. I've been able to play Skyrim at 1920x1080 on high and most other things without too many troubles. At the time of the build most games weren't utilising more than two cores, but these days many are and as such I'd like to do a budget upgrade to something with four cores. I've had a good run with AMD up until now and as such thought I might take advantage of the falling Bulldozer prices. In essence, I'm thinking of:

-AMD FX-4170
-A cheap ASRock board maybe that has a full speed PCI-e (doesn't need lots of expansion slots, I run one GPU only and a single PCI wireless network card)
-A 64 gig SSD for my OS
Will use the above 1tb for non-OS things and keep the above PSU as it has a decent amp rating on the 12v rail and should handle things fine.

Any thoughts here? Any motherboard suggestions? As for the CPU, I've looked at a lot of benchmarks and reviews and as I only use the machine for games the 4170 seems decent for the price (negligible gaming difference between it and some prev. generation i7s). Four cores (don't get into the modules vs cores argument!) at high clocks will suit my needs better than the six core units. A few people have suggested getting an i5 but even a discounted 2500 is a bit pricey for me at the moment. Additionally, I've had a good run with AMD and would like to stick with them.

On ram: I know the 4170 can support faster ram than I have, would it be a noticeable difference if I used 1666 or 1866 over my existing 1333? 4 gig seems adequate for now, but if I have to buy new ram I'll go to 8 gig.

In short, the upgrade only needs to last me another 18 months. After that I'll have finished my thesis and be working full time (then able to buy the type of rig I actually want!).

Thanks for any advice guys!

P.S. I won't have Intel fanboy responses either, if you wish to recommend a given Intel CPU I'm happy to think about it, but give reasons other than 'AMD is crap' etc.

EDIT: have tested my Phenom ii x2 555 BE for unlocking capacity on another board but the two locked cores don't withstand stress testing.
a b B Homebuilt system
a b 4 Gaming
September 1, 2012 11:39:36 AM

Before you do anything, have you tried unlocking cores on that Phenom II? If it works, then you should have a better CPU for overclocking than any FX-41xx CPU for a gaming computer.

Also, the FX-4100 is the only quad-core FX CPU worth buying if you overclock. The higher end models are the same CPU (same binning too) with higher voltage and frequency settings. If you overclock, then you might as well get the cheaper model and save money while getting the same performance.

I wouldn't switch to Intel in your situation unless your budget can fit an i5.

Buy a new motherboard and other components, but don't buy a new CPU until you're tested the unlocking capability of your Phenom II CPU. If it can unlock to a quad core CPU, then you save over $100 by not needing to buy a new CPU.

EDIT: I don't recommend low capacity SSDs much, but if you want one, then for 64GB, a Vertex 4, Samsung 830, or Plextor would be your best options. I'm partial to Vertex 4, but not everyone agrees with me on that.
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September 1, 2012 12:09:06 PM

Oh yes,

I forgot to mention that I have dabbled with an unlock of the CPU to 4 cores to no avail. The first problem was that my motherboard won't support the full 125w of the unlocked CPU, something that I didn't discover until I tried it (crasshhhhh). So before forking out for a new motherboard I borrowed a board a friend had laying around that could support the full wattage and tried again. While I could successfully unlock the other two cores, they were horribly unstable and couldn't handle stress testing for more than an hour or so. :fou: 

So that option is off the table.
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a b B Homebuilt system
a b 4 Gaming
September 1, 2012 12:42:02 PM

Ok then, now we know that the CPU does need to be replaced. A Phenom II x4 would probably be a better way to go, but if you want the FX-4100, it wouldn't be much worse. However, with Vishera (Piledriver on AM3+) seemingly around the corner, you might want to wait a while. It should be a significant boost over the current FX CPUs.

Also, what did you mean by full-speed PCIe?
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September 1, 2012 12:58:20 PM

Ah, what I meant by full speed PCIe is that my current board only supports x8 where most boards these days support x16, which is the PCIe speed my GPU is designed to function at. I may be using incorrect terminology here, apologies if I am.

I am aware that the next gen of FX CPUs is around the corner, I was hoping to use that to bash the price down some on the current gen (my local pc store guy is pretty sensible like that, I want a good deal, he doesn't want old stuff on the shelf gathering dust).

On the overclocking front, I recall reading somewhere that people have been able to push the 4170 to 4.8ghz on air cooling without too many problems. I think I may invest in a new case if I'm going to try this though, as my current case is a pretty cheap and basic aluminium job with a single 80mm at the rear.

Do you think if I went with a 4100 I could safely get it to the out of the box speed of the 4170? Or is there some risk involved here? Are the 4100s simply the 4170s that didn't make the cut?
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a b B Homebuilt system
a b 4 Gaming
September 1, 2012 12:59:46 PM

There is no risk in taking a 4100 to a 4170's frequency and voltage.

4.8GHz would probably need a pretty good air cooler on these CPUs. I don't think that it's worth going that far because the power consumption probably starts to really skyrocket at that point and the performance gains are minimal. You'd probably get much more out of overclocking the CPU/NB frequency (controls the L3 cache frequency, among other things) than going past say 4.4-4.6GHz on the CPU frequency.

Also, even ancient motherboards should support 16 lanes of PCIe. They wouldn't all support the more recent version of PCIe, but they should mostly have the full 16 lanes of whatever version they support. To only support 8 is odd outside of a server environment.
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September 1, 2012 1:34:41 PM

blazorthon said:
There is no risk in taking a 4100 to a 4170's frequency and voltage.

4.8GHz would probably need a pretty good air cooler on these CPUs. I don't think that it's worth going that far because the power consumption probably starts to really skyrocket at that point and the performance gains are minimal. You'd probably get much more out of overclocking the CPU/NB frequency (controls the L3 cache frequency, among other things) than going past say 4.4-4.6GHz on the CPU frequency.

Also, even ancient motherboards should support 16 lanes of PCIe. They wouldn't all support the more recent version of PCIe, but they should mostly have the full 16 lanes of whatever version they support. To only support 8 is odd outside of a server environment.


Yes I've heard it's quite surprising that it doesn't support 16, for that reason I just assumed it would. It was a very, very cheap board that I picked up in Thailand for about 15 AUD. It has served me well though, so I won't complain. Even with only x8 I've rarely had performance issues, smooth at 1920x1080 in pretty much anything. The only exception was Deus Ex Human Rev which I needed to run at lower res.

So you think the 4100 will run at 4170 clocks no issues? That's brilliant. On the factory cooler too? I wonder if my TX3 would be any good?

What of the ram? Would I be safe continuing with my 1333? Would stepping up to 1666 or 1866 make a noticeable difference?
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a b B Homebuilt system
a b 4 Gaming
September 1, 2012 1:38:41 PM

1600, not 1666 (well, usually), and it might help, but probably not by much. Going past 1600 is bound to not make much difference in most games. Gaming is generally not very sensitive to RAM performance as far as I'm aware. Maybe a few games are, but most aren't.

Yes, you could get 4170 performance on the stock cooler, but your TX3 might be better. I will try to look into that to be sure.

What version of PCIe does your board support? Unless it is 1.0, then it probably isn't the gaming bottle-neck. A card such as the 560 TI shouldn't be sensitive to PCIe 2.0 x8 versus PCIe 2.0 x16.
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September 1, 2012 2:24:44 PM

Actually, my memory may be failing me here. It is PCIe 1.0 but x16 which I've been told is analogous to PCIe 2.0 x8, I think that's what I have been meaning here.

So moving up to 1600 ram may be worth while?

As for my existing set up, do you think the dual core is likely the bottle neck in things that haven't run well?

A stand out for things that don't run well at all was Black Ops which chugged at pretty much any resolution. Fortunately I'm not much of a shooter player, so I didn't really care about that (I'm more of an RPG person).

If you find any info on the stock cooler situation on the 4100 I'd be grateful. Not sure about the TX3 as the FX are supposed to run much hotter than the Phenom ii's right? Though I imagine that it is more substantial than anything standard.
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a b B Homebuilt system
a b 4 Gaming
September 1, 2012 2:32:20 PM

Yes, PCIe 1.x (1.0 and 1.1) x16 is pretty similar to PCIe 2.x (2.0 and 2.1) x8 in performance.

It might if you want to buy new RAM, which I recommend. A 1600MHz kit is usually not much more expensive than a 1333MHs kit these days. It won't make a significant performance difference, but I think that it's worth the minuscule price hike.

The dual-core Phenom II CPU is probably your biggest bottle-neck.

The FX-4100's stock cooler is very good at dissipating heat for a stock cooler. If I find a comparison between it and the TX3 or at least a set of comparisons that I can compare for you, then I'll tell you. The TX3 is probably a little better, but I don't think that it is significantly better if I remember correctly.

FX doesn't necessarily run a lot hotter than Phenom II. It undervolts greatly because its stock voltage is very high for its stock frequencies (incidentally, that also lets it overclock pretty far on stock voltage). At a given performance level, Phenom II might run a little cooler than FX with the same core count, but I'm not absolutely sure on that.
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