The short story is that I want to upgrade to a new GPU (and I know this means a new PSU as well). But there is also a longer story of recurring problems and attempted fixes. Skip down to the short version if you don't want a lot of details.
The long story: I've been running it with dual monitors since I got it (one VGA and one DVI). About a year ago, it started crashing—sometimes BSOD, sometimes horizontal distortion with a fun blast of sound, sometimes just blackout. Restarting very shortly after a crash sometimes doesn't work at all, but if it does start, it tends to result in a crash soon after regardless of safe or normal mode. Waiting a while seems to buy me more time. I checked drivers and other typical go-to software-related stuff. I also checked for memory issues. Nothing. So I cleaned out the accumulated dust inside the machine, and that seemed to help for a while.
Then it started crashing again some months later, so I took it apart to clean out the dust again, and I yanked out the main heatsink along with the CPU like a damn fool. I even very slightly bent a pin, but with the help of a jeweler's loupe, a paper clip, and nerves of steel I was able to set it straight without damage. I separated them, cleaned off the old silver paste, applied new silver paste, and reseated everything properly. It seemed to help even more than the initial cleaning. (No problems seemed to result from the bent-then-unbent pin.) It worked nicely for several more months.
Now I'm back to crashes, and they only seem to happen when I'm doing something somewhat visually demanding: Civ V, The Sims 3, and even Zynga Poker and other Flash games, especially but not always if I have anything happening in the secondary (DVI) monitor. A couple times, it's crashed while I've had a video playing in the secondary monitor and doing something graphically undemanding in the primary monitor (MS Word or whatever). I watch CoreTemp while I'm doing everything now, and it never gets past 45°C out of the 70°C max; more typically it's in the 20s and low 30s. Between what I've experienced and read so far, I'm figuring that the problem has to be the Radeon 4200 not being able to deal with certain demands.
Short version of the long story: I'm pretty sure I've isolated a recurring crashing problem to the Radeon 4200 GPU not being able to handle some games and videos. The machine otherwise runs fine, unless there's been a recent crash and I wasn't patient enough about rebooting.
I want to install a new GPU, but I also want to make sure it is safe and reasonable to do so given the story I've provided, i.e., that I haven't damaged anything too badly. If, in your sage judgment, it is safe and reasonable, let's say my budget is $200–300. My typical usage is Microsoft Office, Photoshopping, watching movies while I work, and wasting time with Flash games. I'd like to upgrade to a good enough card that I can play the games I've described (and, say, Diablo III if I get around to buying it).
Thanks in advance. The link I provided up top describes my system specs accurately, but feel free to ask for any other details you may need.
Are you sure about the PSU? Every single post I've seen anywhere is telling me that I'll need better than the stock 250W in this machine for a GPU upgrade of any kind.
If I'm going to put any money into upgrading the GPU, I'd rather spend a little more and get a machine that outperforms my needs than spend too little and be disappointed if I want to try something new.
I don't mind being safe. I'll keep the 430W in mind.
However, I'm noticing that the Radeon 6670 GDDR5 has no VGA port. I need something with one VGA and one DVI port for my setup (if I remember correctly, the DVI cord was expensive enough that buying another would kill any cost savings from skimping on the card).
Hi again. Sorry I've taken so long. I was waiting to land a new job before I could shell out cash on this stuff.
Thankfully, I started the job last week, and I just put in the order with newegg.com in the past 15 minutes, for both the recommended graphics card and PSU. I'll swing back in a few days when I've finished installing them (and hopefully my computer works like a good little machine again). Wish me luck!
I installed the new card and PSU last night. My computer still freezes (doesn't even crash black/BSOD/horizontal distortion anymore, just suddenly becomes unresponsive), but both new components do work. Installation went fairly smoothly, but it did make me wish I had a full-size tower.