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Athlon II x2 245 / 9600GT Budget Gamer Upgrade Priority?

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September 24, 2012 4:09:36 AM

Hi. I need some advice from the experts on here as to how to upgrade most economically from my current budget gaming rig.

My current system:

AMD Athlon II x2 245 2.91Ghz
Gigabyte MA785GM-US2H
4GB (2x2GB) Patriot Viper 800Mhz DDR2
EVGA 9600GT Superclocked Edition (512MB) <-- this thing has been a beast
2x Hannspree 23" LCDs SL231D (just purchased - only one installed right now)
OCZ 400W Fatal1ty Power Supply (OCZ400FTY) -- looks like 18A each on the 12V rails?
2x Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 ST31000528AS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB (not RAID) - 2nd one holds media files, Steam game backups, and a periodic backup of important work files

Given its age, it's holding up surprisingly well, but it is now moving toward the low-end of the tolerable range -- it still does okay with older games, but at 1920x1080 it really struggles on some of the more recent games. I have a budget gamer rig -- generally speaking, I tend to buy hand-me-downs from other gamers who have just upgraded to the latest and greatest. I'm a cheap bastard on games, too, tending to buy stuff only when it gets below $10 on Steam. I play a wide variety of stuff, but lately I've been doing a lot of Tribes: Ascend. I do some Skyrim (lower resolutions, not much detail), TERA and DC Universe Online, as well. I'd like to be able to play Diablo 3 (assuming it improves) or Torchlight 2 well when those drop in price a bit - probably around Xmas.

I already have Kingston HyperX 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 Desktop Memory Model KHX1600C9D3K2/8G

Ideally, I'd like to run both LCDs at 1920x1080 simultaneously, although I only need to game on one of those (with the other hosting a window with my work email, news, forums or whatnot).

Okay - so here's the challenging part: Is there an upgrade path that lets me get another year or two (or three?) out of the above with a second-hand part or two off eBay or Craigslist? I have been thinking about swapping out the motherboard for one that lets me use DDR3 so I can use my memory, upgrading the processor to a second-hand 3-core (that hopefully unlocks to a quad-core), and maybe picking up a somewhat better video card? I'd say my total upgrade budget is $100 if it buys me another year, $200 if it buys me two years, etc. But anything over about $150 is probably more than I want to spend at the moment.

Thanks in advance for the help! :bounce: 
a b U Graphics card
September 24, 2012 4:46:35 AM

Upgrade your graphics card first and foremost. It's the weakest part of your current system. Try a Radeon HD 7770 or plan on buying a new PSU if you want anything bigger.
September 24, 2012 5:08:07 AM

Graphics card.

7770 ~ $130.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...

7850 ~ $180
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...

CPU ~ $100 Puts you up to an upgrade path that will drop into an AM3+ board and that will in turn extend the life of your computer if/until AMD puts a CPU out there that doesn't need a lot of tweaking in order to get good performance out of it.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Power Supply ~$70.00
I've used Rosewill in all of my computers and have yet to have an issue with them. this will provide power for a top of the line card in the future and also be enough for anything you put in it now.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Then all that is left is to find a new motherboard when your finally looking to jump up.
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September 24, 2012 5:54:26 AM

Thanks to both of you for the feedback thus far. Between your feedback and reading as much as I could elsewhere in the forums, it looks like I should be able to get another year or two out of the rig with a couple of upgrades that could potentially carry over to the next rig.

So it looks like my best bet is going to be:

(1) A faster processor: Phenom II x4 965 BE for $100 (any alternatives (such as an x3), or is this the best bang-for-the-buck out there, including second-hand chips, for my existing motherboard / RAM combo?)

(2) A faster video card: Radeon HD 7770 or thereabouts (is there a cheaper used option here?)

Do I necessarily do the video card first, or could I do the processor and wait a bit on the video card? I read somewhere at Tom's that the 7770 is supposed to drop in price soon, maybe even down to like $80? I wish there was some way to identify where the bottleneck was... everything I have is old, so it is really hard for me to tell what's getting bogged down. I suspect everything is getting bogged down to one extent or another.

Skyrim just chokes, but I'm guessing that is both the CPU and the GPU. Still relatively fun at low resolutions, though!

Do I really need that power supply upgrade? I know my existing one isn't the best, but I don't think it is junk either. Is 400W not enough for both the x4 965 and the 7770?

And I know it is a tough question, but what sort of performance differences might I expect from (1) and (2) separately, versus (1)+(2)?
September 24, 2012 5:59:05 AM

As others have said upgrading the graphics card should be the first move. Keeping with the $100 budget, and since you don't mind going the ebay route, I'd suggest looking at the AMD 6850's, they've been going in in the 60-100 dollar range in auctions. Gives you similar production to the 7770 but a but cheaper.

If you're reasonably confident in your ability to follow instructions(and have a bit of time), its not hard to OC that cpu into the ~3.4 ghz range. That'll boost your performance a bit as well.

If you have the spare cash a psu upgrade wouldn't be a bad idea. 400 watts is fairly small and while your system should work in it, it's close enough to make a person a bit nervous as the capacitors age.
a b U Graphics card
September 24, 2012 1:26:41 PM

ermca said:
Thanks to both of you for the feedback thus far. Between your feedback and reading as much as I could elsewhere in the forums, it looks like I should be able to get another year or two out of the rig with a couple of upgrades that could potentially carry over to the next rig.

So it looks like my best bet is going to be:

(1) A faster processor: Phenom II x4 965 BE for $100 (any alternatives (such as an x3), or is this the best bang-for-the-buck out there, including second-hand chips, for my existing motherboard / RAM combo?)

(2) A faster video card: Radeon HD 7770 or thereabouts (is there a cheaper used option here?)

Do I necessarily do the video card first, or could I do the processor and wait a bit on the video card? I read somewhere at Tom's that the 7770 is supposed to drop in price soon, maybe even down to like $80? I wish there was some way to identify where the bottleneck was... everything I have is old, so it is really hard for me to tell what's getting bogged down. I suspect everything is getting bogged down to one extent or another.

Skyrim just chokes, but I'm guessing that is both the CPU and the GPU. Still relatively fun at low resolutions, though!

Do I really need that power supply upgrade? I know my existing one isn't the best, but I don't think it is junk either. Is 400W not enough for both the x4 965 and the 7770?

And I know it is a tough question, but what sort of performance differences might I expect from (1) and (2) separately, versus (1)+(2)?


Biggest bang for the buck will be the graphics card. That power supply is on the bottom side of adequate for a 6850. They are more power hungry than the 7770. Wait if you want and save your money and get a decent system all at one that match's up well.
September 24, 2012 4:32:05 PM

ermca said:
Thanks to both of you for the feedback thus far. Between your feedback and reading as much as I could elsewhere in the forums, it looks like I should be able to get another year or two out of the rig with a couple of upgrades that could potentially carry over to the next rig.

So it looks like my best bet is going to be:

(1) A faster processor: Phenom II x4 965 BE for $100 (any alternatives (such as an x3), or is this the best bang-for-the-buck out there, including second-hand chips, for my existing motherboard / RAM combo?)

(2) A faster video card: Radeon HD 7770 or thereabouts (is there a cheaper used option here?)

Do I necessarily do the video card first, or could I do the processor and wait a bit on the video card? I read somewhere at Tom's that the 7770 is supposed to drop in price soon, maybe even down to like $80? I wish there was some way to identify where the bottleneck was... everything I have is old, so it is really hard for me to tell what's getting bogged down. I suspect everything is getting bogged down to one extent or another.

Skyrim just chokes, but I'm guessing that is both the CPU and the GPU. Still relatively fun at low resolutions, though!

Do I really need that power supply upgrade? I know my existing one isn't the best, but I don't think it is junk either. Is 400W not enough for both the x4 965 and the 7770?

And I know it is a tough question, but what sort of performance differences might I expect from (1) and (2) separately, versus (1)+(2)?


What your looking at is in about a month from now the price of a 7770 should drop to about $100.00 and after talking with my buddy that I installed one in his rig and has played some dead Island with high performance. The 7770 will be your biggest upgrade and even looking at the 6850 which is a strong performer save the extra money and buy the 7770.

Next inline should be the CPU. The best bang for your buck would be the 965. works with your motherboard and also will when you go to your next with an AM3+. AMD is planning on using the AM3+ socket for a while.

The power supply will last you through this upgrade but a better one for down the road will be something to look at.
a b U Graphics card
September 24, 2012 7:48:24 PM

How long have you had the PSU ?

A AMD 6770 or ATI 5770 locally used for 45-50 would be a good deal and should be possible to find and providing the PSU isn't too old it should run fine, as mentioned do you feel like overclocking ? a 15 dollar cooler Cooler master tx3 or $10 hyper 101i should be good for a 500-800mhz overclock keeping you under 70 bucks.
September 25, 2012 2:28:32 PM

Thanks for all the great input. I'm trying to score a used 6770 for about $50 (with the intention of upgrading again in a year or two), then I'm going to see if I can overclock my Athlon II x2 245 a bit. I seem to think I tried that when I bought it about two years ago, and I got a dud chip that wouldn't overclock much. It's not really worth anything used anyway, so no great harm if I fry it. I have a very good aftermarket cooling fan -- an Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro. It was one of the highest-rated ones when I bought it, and it is enormous. My video card cooling is inadequate - my 9600 GT regularly gets up into the 70s and then my system starts giving warning beeps. :cry: 

That said, everything I have read in the last two days about the Phenom II x4 965 is really good -- sounds like it is even faster in some instances than the newest processors! At $100, that is really tempting, since I'm guessing they are going to be really hard to find soon. With a 6770 and the 965, I would think I could get at least two more functional years out of my system, then upgrade to an AM3+ board, move the 965 over, and pick up a later-generation video card.

re: my PSU, I think it is about a year and a half, maybe two years old, running about 70% of the time; I take good care of everything, though, keeping it free of dust, etc.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for a good PSU on sale with a rebate. A PSU is one thing I probably wouldn't buy used.
a b U Graphics card
September 25, 2012 2:40:44 PM

Sell your ddr 2 ram as it goes for mega high prices on ebay and then use that extra money towards the kitty.
September 25, 2012 4:30:15 PM

ermca said:
Thanks for all the great input. I'm trying to score a used 6770 for about $50 (with the intention of upgrading again in a year or two), then I'm going to see if I can overclock my Athlon II x2 245 a bit. I seem to think I tried that when I bought it about two years ago, and I got a dud chip that wouldn't overclock much. It's not really worth anything used anyway, so no great harm if I fry it. I have a very good aftermarket cooling fan -- an Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 Pro. It was one of the highest-rated ones when I bought it, and it is enormous. My video card cooling is inadequate - my 9600 GT regularly gets up into the 70s and then my system starts giving warning beeps. :cry: 

That said, everything I have read in the last two days about the Phenom II x4 965 is really good -- sounds like it is even faster in some instances than the newest processors! At $100, that is really tempting, since I'm guessing they are going to be really hard to find soon. With a 6770 and the 965, I would think I could get at least two more functional years out of my system, then upgrade to an AM3+ board, move the 965 over, and pick up a later-generation video card.

re: my PSU, I think it is about a year and a half, maybe two years old, running about 70% of the time; I take good care of everything, though, keeping it free of dust, etc.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for a good PSU on sale with a rebate. A PSU is one thing I probably wouldn't buy used.


That will last you for a bit...not sure about 2 years but will get close and you'll enjoy the new performance.
September 25, 2012 6:12:53 PM

Ok. Quick update. I found (and purchased) an XFX Radeon HD 6850 locally for $60. Originally I was going to buy the lower-wattage 6770, but I got a good deal on the 6850 - and at my desired 1920x1080 resolution, it looked to be a much more powerful card.

Two power-related questions:

(1) The above comments made me a bit nervous about my PSU. Technically, it's supposed to be a good one, and I know I'm in the grey area and should upgrade to a more powerful one soon, but am I likely to be okay with my existing PSU in the short term? I did a bunch of research, and the consensus seemed to be that AMD's guidance of a minimum 500W power supply was excessive -- that a good quality 400W PSU was much better than a poor quality 600W one.

(2) This particular XFX Radeon HD 6850 seems to be the newest revision, which looks different than the pictures online and has 2x 6-pin power connectors, rather than the other 6850s, which are only supposed to have one. I don't have 2x 6-pins on my PSU, and I don't think I have an adapter of any sort either. So that by itself may force a PSU upgrade.

Here's a link to my current PSU: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I'm also confused about 2x 12V rails versus 1x 12V rail (rated at higher amps).

Thank you for the Rosewill PSU recommendation above. That looks like a very nice one, but it is also pretty pricey.

Is there a less-expensive one with a rebate that would work? Like this one: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ? That one seems to have 2x 6-pin connectors, and Corsair has always been a pretty good brand for me.

Thank you again for all the help!
September 25, 2012 10:51:38 PM

Well you kind of answered your own question about the 12v rails. I've always tried to have a separate rail for each plug I was using. Splits the power being supplied over the power supply and usually results in a cooler running and longer life in a power supply. That is my opinion.

However with that means that the power supplies I get are usually on the more expensive side. This is sometimes a big turn off for people.

If your going for a single rail power supply make sure its pretty reliable and you usually don't want to be replacing it any time soon. If your looking at a future upgrade in 2 years I would put a bit more money into my power supply so in the future I wouldn't have to do it then. With the Corsair you linked your limited to 2x6pin connectors which puts you into a certain type of GPU class.

I have a Rosewill from 2007 that has 4x6pin on 2 separate rails. At that time its was one of the best ones you could get because more video cards at that time only had 1x6pin connectors that I was needing, but I didn't want to have to buy a new power supply in a couple years because of a 6 or 8pin on the power supply.

I would look for a power supply that would have a 6 and a 6+2 pin connections on it.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
a c 173 U Graphics card
September 25, 2012 11:02:14 PM

Just get a molex to 6pin adapter and you are good to go, but that old dual core is holding you back. Dual cores in general except for the i3 ect are just don't cut it like they used to. Search around for a cheap quad that is am3 and start saving up for a rebuild. As for the comment about the ddr2 well lol.
October 8, 2012 4:27:00 PM

Just a quick update.

I got a Corsair CX500 power supply and the Radeon HD 6850 is running great. Frame rates and performance ratings are way up across the board. :bounce:  Weirdly enough, my Windows Rating stayed the same - that seems to be bogged down by my hard drive. And my performance rating in PC Mark 7 actually declined... but in-game performance seems substantially better.

Processor upgrade is next -- first going to try an overclock (although I seem to recall I tried that unsuccessfully two years ago), then going to look for a nice x3 or maybe that snazzy x4 965 BE!

What's cost-effective for getting the hard drive speed up? My Seagates seem to work fine - I know you can speed up boot up and launch times with an SSD, but I seem to recall that was more or less the only benefit. SSDs are getting cheap, so maybe I will do that when I upgrade to Windows 8 sometime next year. I looked at doing them in RAID a year or two ago and the performance increase seemed very minor -- like 10%.

In any event, thanks again for the great upgrade path advice - you guys rock!
a b U Graphics card
October 8, 2012 8:23:48 PM

I'm glad you didn't get a Rosewill PSU. I experienced 100% failure rate in 18 months from the two I purchased and the one my friend purchased. That was enough for me to never, ever recommend them.
a b U Graphics card
October 9, 2012 11:43:29 AM

Windows performance index means nothing the same for pc mark.

Everything is better then there is nothing to worry about
!