What is the best way to match up old cpus and gpus?

So, you're trying to get the most out of an old system. I see it time and time again: Should I upgrade component A, or will component B continue to be a bottleneck, making the component upgrade A meaningless?

As we all know, technology of cpus and graphics (and everything else, but let's just look at those two for now, in the context of gaming) don't move in lockstep. So, when you're putting together a system out of old parts (or upgrading an old system, which doesn't give you the luxury of testing different configurations), what are the things you need to look at in order to make a well-balanced system?

Chronology seems like an obvious candidate, but it simply isn't: Sometimes a graphics card will come out years after a cpu, and still be a viable upgrade for a computer using that cpu. Sometimes (I guess this is rarer) upgrading your cpu will show noticeable gains without upgrading your graphics card.

You could come to Tom's and ask the experts here every single time, I suppose. But I'm more interested in learning: What do you need to study in order to make these kinds of judgments?
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  1. It's... not that easy. It would be good if it were, but it essentially requires in-depth knowledge of the parts and their precise performances.
  2. How do you learn to make judgements on what cpu's and video cards work well together? You build machines and play with them, lots of them, and you will start to learn the cpu's and video cards that work well together. Or you can read hundreds of reviews and charts that show cpu and video card performance.
  3. To make a well balanced system? Well, just make sure one part of the system is not too slow for the other.

    I kinda recommend stuff off of the top of my head and experience. I've had experience with a Pentium 4 and an Athlon 64 X2 4600+, and both of those processors can run up to a GTS250 and get bottlenecked. I usually don't recommend more than 8800GT power cards (like the 6670) with those kinds of processors.

    As far as the Core2 family, I feel people underrate them too much. My friend still runs an E8400 with SLI550Ti's and he gets bottlenecks only in certain games. So, I usually don't recommend more than a 6870 or so.

    Same goes for the old Athlons, but generally slow Athlon X2's are...well...slow. The first generation Phenom is alright, but I've had little experience with it.

    Phenom II's are another story. I still consider them very good processors and generally stay away from recommending a processor upgrade. The 955 will not bottleneck anything short of a 7950 Radeon, or maybe a 670 GTX.

    Getting into Intel is another story. The first generation is still quick by today's standards imo, but some people like to upgrade every 2 generations.

    Some good things to study are these:



    I've actually learned more than anything from making posts on the forums. It really......educates you on this kind of stuff.
  4. Thanks! I'll have a look at those links.

    The problem with reading thousands of reviews is that they come out chronologically, naturally. Go check right now, and you'll see plenty of reviews benchmarking different graphics cards on an i7, but you'll rarely see the opposite (probably because it's so much easier to switch out graphics cards than cpus).

    Looking at the articles that came out the same time a CPU did is useless for the same reason: Often the fastest graphics card that can be paired with that cpu and still see benefits is many months or even years away from being created.

    Edit: Oops! I already know that link well. It shows the relationships among CPUs, but unfortunately not their relationship vis a vis graphics cards. Sigh, perhaps there is no way of knowing, short of firsthand experience (or asking someone who has it).
  5. Well, I like to use the 8800GT as a reference. Its a good card to use with alot of older dual-cores.
  6. Yeah, that does seem like a reasonably balanced match. Personally, I have an amd athlon 64 x2 dual 3800+ matched with a 9800 GT 1gig. If possible, I want to upgrade the graphics card (upgrading the cpu is too scary :o ) to get better framerates in D3 playing at my display's native resolution of 1080p, 2xAA, all other settings low (this is as low as I am willing to tolerate in the game).

    I asked that specific question in another thread, but got conflicting advice (upgrade to a gtx 650, one person said; don't bother going beyond the 9800 GT, another person said). So I just want to know what I have to study in order to make this judgment myself.

    My power supply is only 450w, with two 12v rails @15 and 17 amps. Uh, I think that means I can't get anything super powerful anyhow, but I'm such a noob at this stuff...

    I just want to upgrade this rig if possible, since it will be many months before I can afford to build a new one from scratch (which will be a big project besides, as it's my first time).
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