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In this article, we took the components used to upgrade a three-year-old PC in the article Time to Upgrade: Should You Dump Your 2007 PC? and tested them individually. We replaced the P35 motherboard with a Core 2 quad-core and 4 GB of DDR2 RAM with a new MSI P55A Fuzion, Core i7-870, and 4 GB of DDR3 RAM. The older Zotac GeForce 8800 GTS made way for MSI's R5870 Lightning, and WD’s 150 GB Raptor hard drive downsized to G.Skill's Phoenix 100 GB SSD.
Scenario 1: Motherboard/CPU/RAM Replacement
Replacing platform components heavily impacts power consumption while significantly increasing performance. However, even a three-year-old quad-core CPU still has lots of firepower for most modern applications. Our conclusion for the full upgrade in the prior article remains valid here: save your money if you don’t use applications that necessitate a platform upgrade.
Scenario 2: Graphics Upgrade
Spending a few hundred dollars on a graphics card is a trickier proposition. True gamers will most likely not have waited three years for a graphics card replacement, as newer cards are faster, provide more advanced functionality, and in the case of AMD's Radeon HD 5000-series, deliver lower power consumption. Occasional gamers should consider purchasing a mainstream graphics card instead of the Radeon HD 5870 we chose, since even a mid-range card like Nvidia's GeForce GTX 460 will improve performance, features, and power savings.
Scenario 3: HDD/SSD Upgrade
This upgrade option is the real surprise. Although decent SSDs start at $200 ($300+ in the case of our 100 GB drive), the benefits are much more noticeable than in Scenarios 1 and 2. The SSD-enabled system boots up much quicker, shuts down a bit faster, and launches applications in only a fraction of the time required by even today's top hard drives. SSD benefits will be glaring to all user types.
We would prioritize these upgrade options in the following order: