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Help needed: GFX Card upgrade

Last response: in Graphics & Displays
August 20, 2012 1:36:54 PM

I'm looking to upgrade my graphics card. I'm not at all up-to-date with any of the hardware details, specifics, or limitations I need to take into consideration, but I was hoping with my Spec some one might have some suggestions.

I'm looking to go for high end gaming, or as close as I can get with my budget of £500. Also, given my CPU I might need to upgrade that too?
Any and all help would be appreciated.

Windows 7 Home Premium x64
Asus P5N-D Motherboard
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 2.40GHz
4x 2GB Corsair DDRII
2x NVIDIA 9800GTX+ 512mb In SLI
Corsair 750Watt PSU
August 20, 2012 1:46:10 PM

what resolution do you run at?
August 20, 2012 1:47:25 PM

Related resources
August 20, 2012 1:50:46 PM

a gtx 660Ti or gtx570 or radeon7970
a c 175 U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 1:50:47 PM

You'll upgrade the CPU right?

I think the budget is too low to get a decent processor, cooler, a new motherboard and sets of DDR3 RAMs. I don't think Upgrading to the older, more high end Qxxx processor will be worth it. In my opinion you should increase your budget and get something like i5-2500k. I have an option here but, you can get an i3-2120 and upgrade it later to.. well it's up to you.

Costs £415, but very future proof :) .

As for the GPU take a look at the 7950, 7870 or the newly released 660 Ti.

Yes, fan of MSI GPU's here.
a c 180 U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 2:03:35 PM

Refillable has made some nice choices for a full scale upgrade, something you should definately consider ;) .
As the resolution rises, so the balance of the workload tends to shift towards the GPU and away from the CPU, so that 'old' Q6600 is not going to be quite the performance crippler you may think.
As a stop-gap, if your budget will not reach to a full upgrade now, you can extend the life of the existing CPU by putting a better cooler on it and overclocking it-the Core CPUs were all good overclockers- and you can always reuse that cooler on the new build or upgrade later, most are pretty universal.
As for GPU, at that resoution I'd opt for the 7950, ATI cards seem to do better at high resolutions than their Nvidia counterparts although there is plenty of online reviews to help you make a final decision.
a b U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 2:13:11 PM

Dont bother with the 660Ti at that resolution if you are expecting great performance. Go with teh 670 or 7950/7970..Amd is a little better at higher rez.
a b U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 3:03:58 PM

I agree about getting a good air cooler to push your Q6600 and getting a HD7950.

However, there may be things that limit your overclocking potential on your CPU.

while your mobo looks decent I want to know more details about your ram. Also,
could you use CPUZ to find out the stepping of Q6600? While in general the Q6600
is quite overclockable, the later stepping was better than the original for overclocking
purposes. I think you are looking for the one that is the SLACR part. Otherwise your
might not be able to push your Q6600 as far.
August 20, 2012 4:46:30 PM

Thank you all for your help and suggestions.

Thinking about refillable's suggestion of increasing my budget; I've decided to go up to £650-700.

Given your suggestion, I was thinking along your £415 suggestion (although I will try shop around a little) and the MSI HD 7950 Twin Frozr III.

I will also have to factor in assembly, which I no longer feel comfortable doing myself given the price point. I will have to check but It should all fit quite nicely into my Antec 900 case.

Am I getting bang for my buck here? Any other considerations I need to be aware of before I buy?

Thank you.
August 20, 2012 4:53:49 PM

get a 2500k
get a decent z68 mobo
get a radeon 7950,7970 or gtx 660ti or 670
August 20, 2012 4:59:38 PM

whatismyproblem said:
get a 2500k
get a decent z68 mobo
get a radeon 7950,7970 or gtx 660ti or 670

Beyond what has been posted I'm pretty clueless with the hardware and the variations that go along with it. Links would be appreciated to go along with what you've listed.
a b U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 5:03:56 PM

Look up Asrock extreme gen motherboards, they have decent ones that can fit a new cpu such as the Core i5 2500k or an Ivy bridge CPU.

The graphics card would go into the x16 PCIE slot. Depending on the mobo, you should have at least 2 if its a newer motherboard.
a c 180 U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 6:05:10 PM

The big problem with deciding on what to buy is that there's so much of it!
Right now, I'd suggest you get the card and a nice cooler and install them into your current rig while you sift through the masses of information that is about the descend upon you ;)  .
Value wise the i5 is about as sweet as it gets, it was true when I got my i5 750 a year or so ago and the new chips are even better.
Memory is dirt cheap now, 8 Gb for under 50 quid! Get it while it's hot!
Please anwser these questions so we can tailor our suggestions:
Will you overclock?
Will you go SLI/Crossfire?
Will you install a SSD, either now or later on?
Do you do a great deal of video encoding/transcoding or use software than can take advantage of Hyperthreading?
What is the maximum airspeed of an unladen Swallow? (joke).

Some useful places to shop: Overclockers, Scan, Misco, Aria, Dabs, Pixmania and Ebuyer...Amongst others.
August 20, 2012 6:58:29 PM

Thanks for the input Coozie7.

Ok, bear with me:
Will you overclock? Possibly, but it terrifies me.
Will you go SLI/Crossfire? Between my existing and new I didn't think I could. I can only afford one :) 
Will you install a SSD, either now or later on? I'm not really familiar with them, are talking in terms of replacing my HDD totally?
Do you do a great deal of video encoding/transcoding or use software than can take advantage of Hyperthreading? Nope, I just want a great gaming rig that will last me a good number of years before I need to consider upgrading again.
What is the maximum airspeed of an unladen Swallow? African or European?
a c 175 U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 11:35:48 PM

I think you're better go with a full upgrade like I suggested :) , it's good for the long run!

So an i5-2500k, a hyper 212 EVO, p8z77-v pro, corsair ddr3 2x4gb, 7950
a b U Graphics card
August 20, 2012 11:36:50 PM

the combo of 8gb ddr3 for 50
i5 2500k for 220
z68 mobo for 80
and msi twin frozr 7950 for 350 are your 700

anandtech got their i5 2500k to 4.4 on the stock cooler

ivy bridge cpus cost a little more and have pcie 3.0 but have low quality thermal paste
between the silicon die and integrated heat spreader where previous generation intel
cpus like the sandy bridge i5 2500k have fluxless solder in there. So, ivy runs hot and
not even a top air or water cooler will push overclocking much higher since the heat is
stuck in the cpu package. some adventurous tinkerers have carefully removed ivy's ihs
and replaced the stock paste with a higher quality one, resulting in much better over-
clocks with aftermarket cooling. however, given your fear of overclocking, i don't
imagine that is something you care to try.

since you will run a single relatively high end card(avoiding the microstuttering that
comes with multi gpu setups), 16 lanes of pcie 2.0 bandwidth running a total of 8GB/s
in full duplex mode shouldn't make a difference compared to the 16GB/s full duplex
you would get on a current gen card with ivy and a z77 mobo. by the time you are
looking to upgrade again you will be looking at a gpu several generations newer and
quite possibly a whole new platform.
August 22, 2012 3:54:54 PM

Having collated all the information I've been given (Thank you!), I'm currently looking at this build. Thoughts would be appreciated.

MOBO: Asus P8Z68-V
CPU: Intel Sandybridge i5-2500
RAM: Corsair 8gb Vengence
Heat sync: Hyper 212 Evo
GPU: HIS HD 7970
Sound Card:

Total: £567

Which means I have £133 left to play with. As to my understanding am I now just looking at a better GPU for my needs? Should I improve upon anything else with the remaining budget? Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
a b U Graphics card
August 22, 2012 6:11:08 PM

a lower cost z68 mobo will still let you OC in the future if you want to try it later on.
if so, splurge a bit on i5 2500 K. otherwise, ditch 212evo ( stock hsf ok for non k cpu).

if you don't at least try to oc a 28nm gpu, you are leaving performance on the table.
at your res ( a little over 1080p, way under 2560x1600/1440) a 7970 is total overkill.
that card will do 3x1080p(6.2 mpixel) all by itself. same goes for a OCed 7950. even a
2GB 7870 should max a 27-30in, 3.7-4.1mpixel panel. the gtx660ti is a nice card, but
it may choke when using max aa due to lowered rop count and memory bandwidth.
your screen is the same # of pixels as 1920x1200(2.3M), so a little higher than 1080p
at just under 2.1M. the 7870 will max out these types of panels easily, saving you
cash compared to the less future proof 660ti and more expensive radeons. since any
i5 quad shouldn't bottleneck it, you might get back under your original budget of 500.

P.S. along the lines of saving money, do you really need an add in sound card? wont
the integrated solution on the mobo be enough, or are you a major audiophile?

a c 180 U Graphics card
August 22, 2012 8:29:21 PM

@ Arkz11: Nice.
I'd go for a cheaper, single slot motherboard myself, but the one you have chosen is a quality product with, critically, very good power regulation. Good motherboard power regulation is vital for long tern system stability and longevity and, given your long term requirements, it's a good choice.
The only step up from a 7970 is going to be either the GTX690 (£900+) or the as yet to be released 7990 (probably about the same).
Games seem to eat up improved hardware at a rapid rate and while the 7970 is a monster now, in two or three years time it'll just be a big, fluffy kitten compared to what will be available then so I'd stick to your guns and go for the 7970.
Although the Hyper 212 is n't the best around it is quiet and compact-I put one on my i5 750 because the stock cooler whined like a little banshee under heavy loads, now all I hear is....
The 2500k is only a tenner more at Overclockers ;)  .
Current onboard sound is more than good enough for gaming (your main use) but for films or high quality audio tracks, particularly with a decent speaker setup, the dedicated soundcard is still King. Your choice.
I would advise you to look into overclocking. It's daunting at first, but once you get a little knowlage it's really not so bad, and there is a sense of satisfaction knowing you've got your rig running a lot faster than it did...For nothing.
A word of warning on overclocking-it can become a hobby.
Then a habit.
Then an obsession.
August 22, 2012 8:32:02 PM

Thanks for your input Jtenorj

After consideration I will drop the Sound Card, it isn't a necessity.

I chose the Asus z68 as a good all-around board, while still being low in cost comparitively. The only alternative was the Gigabyte Z68AP-D3, significantly cheaper but was worried I might be shooting myself in the foot in terms of future proofing.

i5 2500k for sure, but I could even perhaps go up to the i7 2600k if it would be worth while or would either option be good depending on how I swing my budget?

As far as the GPU goes, I'm now at a loss. Obviously I don't want to be getting something I don't need given my resolution - but I want the best I can afford, that will last a number of years and happily eat any game I throw at it maxed out. Looking up the 7870, it didn't seem all that hot in terms of capability at high end gaming. Any further suggestions?

Ideally given my current line up of hardware, I'd really just like conformation that I'm spending my money well and that it will do the above. Under or kissing £700, I just want to be happy with what I get.
August 22, 2012 8:46:29 PM

Thanks again for your help Coozie7. Makes me feel like i'm coming to an end of my research and actually purchasing things. Given your suggetions I think I will follow them all through.

I have two last questions however.

i7 2600k or i5 2500k?

Which 7970 should I go for? the number of manufactures producing them is quite high. Is one brand better than the other and will I be getting the same quality of software to go with it? E.g Nvidias GPU boost tech and the like.

In answer to your question. I was going to let them sit in a box, i didn't think there would be much of a market for them second hand.

I will try the overclocking at some point, but with Bios etc it is, as you say, daunting!
a c 180 U Graphics card
August 22, 2012 8:53:48 PM

The i7 has no real advantage over the i5 for gaming, it's better suited to video encoding or professional software that takes advantage of its Hyperthreading capabilities.
Take your pick of makers, we've plenty of consumer protection here in the UK.
I'll suggest you look for a card with good cooling though, the stock 7970 cooler is, frankly, poor and lower temperatures will extend the cards service life while most non reference coolers are much quieter.
I've yet to find bundled software of any real use.
I'd put the bits into a cheap case (just one card) add the few missing parts then either: Sell it as a box or donate it to to the kids. The extra card is a useful backup-I've called upon my dear departed 7800GTX many times to help resolve problems.
a c 175 U Graphics card
August 23, 2012 12:12:49 AM

As for the processor, the i5-3570k is also an option.

You choose a really good motherboard to be honest, you should be good with it.

I agree with coozie7 regarding the cooling of the 7970. If you are getting a HIS card, I recommend getting the one with IceQ version or something like that. This is what I recommend:

I used HIS' aftermarket coolers personally and they are really good (of course with a good case airflow) and temps would not go above 60C.
August 23, 2012 3:21:09 PM

Alright! I'm nearly there.

Cpu: i5-3570K
Mobo: Asus P8Z68-V
Heatsink: Hyper 212 Evo
RAM: Corsair 8GB 1600Mhz

Total: 294.93

Problem with the HIS HD7970 IceQ being that at 12" it won't fit nicely inside the Antec 900 case. I'm Limited to 11" max.
Remaining budget is £400 with a little room to bend. I've looked at the GTX 680 seems a solid choice - but brands? MSI, EVGA, Asus etc. Alternatively, would I be better suited going with a different 7970?
a c 180 U Graphics card
August 23, 2012 5:26:19 PM

Odd, I make it closer to £380, leaving about £320 in the kitty (plus bend).
The bad news is that the GTX680 starts at around £400 for a 'base' reference model and those with the better cooling are going to be even more.
I think ll the major makers make HD7970s with greatly improved cooling without carrying an eye-watering price premium, and they stay within the 11" length limit.
I like the look of this:

Overclocked out of the box for even more speed and with a decent cooler, all for the same price as a reference model.

August 23, 2012 6:01:51 PM

I shopped around quite a bit. That card seems like a great choice, and following a few reviews supposedly very good for overclocking for when I get there. Thanks for all the input coozie7, refillable and all.
a b U Graphics card
August 23, 2012 6:11:57 PM

as far as i know, z68 was released to do all that p67 could and more as well
as give customers a mobo option for sandy where they didnt have to think
about what board rev. of p67 had that sata bug. it was z77 that supported
ivy out of the box. sure z68's bios can be updated to support ivy, but are
you 100% positive the z68 u want has already been updated, or has it maybe
been sitting on a shelf for months? if it doesn't have the newer bios, an i5 3570 k
will not post. you'd need to do one of several things to get it to work, may cost extra
(see 1000 dollar build in current system builder guide w/p67 and ivy and comments)
1. borrow/ buy a cheaper/older socket 1155 cpu, install it, maybe windows too,
and flash new bios, uninstall cpu and install ivy(a bit of a pain, expensive?)
2. a local computer shop may do this for you, either free or charging a fee.
3. mail mobo to asus/whatever mobo brand u get, they flash, send back to u(shipping)

maybe if you really want ivy get a z77 mobo. as rock z77 extreme 4 has gotten many
awards at major tech sites across the web, but its multi gpu capability is more than u
need. if the price is good, why not get a slightly less feature rich but still very capable
mobo from the same product line? however, considering your case(flashy w/side window
and perforated for good air flow) using mobo audio(ditching sound card), and OCing your
cpu and gpu for best performance, a super quiet/silent build is less of a priority for you
than one that will push your monitor to the max in games. that said, if hyper 212 plus
or evo are both options to you at the same price, the heatsink part is basically the same
but the 120mm fan varies between the 2. older plus is a little slower/less airflow and a
bit quieter, but evo is a bit faster/more airflow and a little louder. if you increase your
cooling budget, you could get something like corsair a70 for about us50(or whatever your
cost is w/vat) with 2 120mm fans and performance like a noctua d-14(like some of the
best closed loop water coolers in performance) for about half the cost. the noctua has
2 140mm, slower,quieter hi airflow fans. so a70 a bit more than hyper 212 and maybe
a tad noisy (but tolerable?) should one fan fail, the other will keep your cpu from dying.
another plus of air vs. water is the impossibility of a system killing leak.

another thing. I know if you combine ivy, a z77 mobo and either a gk104 or GCN card
you'll get full pcie 3.0 bandwidth. however, v2.0 is only a bottleneck to hi end multi
gpu setups using 2 peg slots at 8 lanes each on a socket 1155 mobo, not a single
card running 16 lanes(same bandwidth it'd get as 8 3.0 lanes in a dual gpu setup).

so the only real advantages of ivy are pcie 3.0 (which you don't need) and about 20
watts lower power consumption vs. sandy. considering what i'm guessing is an 80+
efficiency 750w corsair enthusiast psu(way overkill for your proposed setup, but use
what you got) and that even if you run your rig 24/7 while not gaming(folding/whatever),
the extra cost in watts of sandy would be very little over a few years(including regions
where electricity cost are higher than others).

plus due to that whole ivy having crap tim inside instead of much better fluxless solder
in older chips like sandy, your overclocking attempts w/sandy will likely prove more fruitful
than on ivy(thermally congested, cant get get the heat out fast enough despite any
high end air or water u throw at it). and ivy gains very little ipc performance increase
compared to sandy. so if you can overclock sandy a few hundred mhz higher, you will
get a processor that has the least chance of bottlenecking your gpu.

save a little by going back to i5 2500k vs i5 5 3570k, either keep the z68 or get a z77
(future)about the same cost, and maybe upgrade your air cooler to something like a70.

a note about direct contact heatpipe cpu coolers like hyper 212s and a70:
different people will tell you different things about which method is best when applying
tim between the heatsink and the cpu ihs. after reading about a few theories, the one
that seems best to me is to first apply a tiny amount to the bottom of the heat sink and
spread it so it fills in the gaps between the heatpipes(where part of the aluminum base
may be peeking thru/flashing the world) and once the cracks are filled in good, wipe down
the bottom of the cooler so that little or no tim remains on the majority of the copper
heat pipes surface that will be making contact with the cpu's ihs. then apply tim to the
cpu like normal with a 1/2 bb size drop spread as evenly and thinly across the top of the
cpu as possible, then install the cooler.

lastly, even though the 7970(non ghz ed) is total overkill for your res and likely will be
for serveral years(current consoles+leaked specs for future consoles+developer greed),
it is the best gpu price/performance wise and futureproofing to fit in your budget. where
gtx680 is us500, 7970 ghz is 450(fast as/faster than 680) and both gtx670 and 7970 at
about 400(7970 generally a bit faster than gtx670 when catalyst 12.7 beta is applied),
the 7970 should overclock to performance levels beyond gtx680 and 7970ghz and
not bottleneck when max aa is applied like gk104 GPUs might due to their lower vram
bandwidth and smaller frame buffers(frame buffer issues dont apply to priceer 4GB
models). plus the 7970ghz bios seems to gimp that card some where higher overclocking
endeavours are concerned, allowing a normal 7970 to potentially go higher. while all
of these 28nm GPUs have massive overclock potential, there are no guarantees. still,
hardocp showed clear back on the day before Christmas Eve that the 7970 was the first
single gpu card able to run 1080p at high settings all by itself, no outside help. if a card
can play on high at 3x your res, it should make you happy for a long time.
a c 180 U Graphics card
August 23, 2012 9:04:05 PM

@ Arkz11: Thought you'd like it.
Jtenorj does make a point at the start of his post: Not all Z68 motherboards will support the later Ivybridge CPUs without a BIOS flash. I'd suggest you call your selected supplier and make certain the CPU/MB combination will be compatable.
Here's the data for the MB you've selected:

And there's no such thing as overkill in computer gaming ;)