So, I need some 'real world' advice. I am currently using a system which I built in 2007, and have noticed it slowing down to a crawl. I mainly use it for a lot of desktop publishing and 2d graphic design . Typically I will need photoshop/illustrator/fireworks open at once, and may also run several other office applications, browser instances in the background. I run everything on dual screens. I often have 20+ files open in photoshop.
Please note, I don't do any gaming on my PC (anymore!). What's important to me is application load time, and file read/write.
I have the following setup, and need advice on whether just to upgrade components, or shift the whole system out to a new build:
1. Switch out two drives for 2x Samsung SSD 840 series 256gb (system and frequently accessed files), and upgrade to 8gb DDR2 ram; or
2. Bite the bullet and upgrade the CPU and motherboard to something like a Core i7, so I can benefit from Sata3 and 16GB Ram? Do I need a new GPU?
My decision lies really on what's the noticeable improvement between the two.
Or, should I be thinking about something else? (E.g. are there bottlenecks I haven't thought of)?
Actually your processor is a classic overclocker. I don't know if your P35 chipset can do it (probably not) but I'd look into it and give it a try. That and more ram and an SSD would make your photoshop and other apps run much faster. That's the cheapest route.
As novemberrain said the best rig for those apps would be an I7 but I'd recommend plenty of ram, big ssds, and a higher end graphics card. Probably not doable for under $1500 or so. An I5 minimal rig could go under $1000 but you sound like you need lots of hoursepower. Good luck.