Fun and games
June 20, 2009 9:11 PM   Subscribe

New to gaming. Please help me with upgrading my system (PC) with gaming in mind. Also looking for game recommendations.

I have a PC with the following configuration:

- AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 3600+ (2.01 GHz)
- Realtek HD Audio
- MSI motherboard with onboard video card: NVIDIA GeForce 6150 (128MB video RAM)

I've recently started playing video games. I've played the Prince of Persia series of games, which I enjoyed immensely, especially The Two Thrones. I've also played Cricket 2007 (EA Sports) and Tomb Raider: Anniversary.

I'm really enjoying playing games, but it seems like most new games require a higher end system, especially with regards to the video card. What would be the best way go about upgrading my system with gaming in mind (nothing too expensive)? I would really appreciate any advice. Recommendations for specific video cards are welcome.

Also, in the meantime, what games can I play that will work well with the configuration I've mentioned?
posted by murtagh to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Unless your motherboard has a PCI Express slot, don't even bother trying to upgrade. Basically its time for a new motherboard, new cpu, new ram, and new video card.

If you do have a PCI Express slot, spend $100 on a midrange video card to hobble through until you can upgrade your 4 year old CPU to something modern.

Budget ~$500 and build a new gaming machine.
posted by SirStan at 9:17 PM on June 20, 2009

I built a new system recently and put a XFX HD 4850 video card in it. In retrospect I probably should have gone with a 1GB model to have a degree of futureproofing but in most games I average well above 40 fps at high settings.

Certainly upgrade to 4GB of ram, as it's dirt cheap.
posted by bunnytricks at 9:21 PM on June 20, 2009

Of course, playing new games is a losing proposition, and a lot more expensive than older games. Your system looks pretty good for playing older games (maybe 3-4 years ago) but newer games will be out of your reach (who cares, really? Older games are cheaper, especially on Steam!).

You'll almost certainly want a current video card. You don't mention what kind of expansion slots you have, but check whether you have AGP or PCI Express (it depends on your motherboard). With your processor and a reasonably current video card ($200 or less), you could play all but the most demanding games.

Recommendations? Hard to say with your limited experience, but I'm always fond of recommending Valve's Gold Box, which is probably the best gaming value of the last few years. You get the whole Half-Life 2 saga (imagine the biggest, baddest, loudest, scariest Earth-based sci-fi war movie ever, except you're in the middle of it), plus the brief but mind-bending amusement of Portal.

(on preview: yeah, if you don't have PCIE, time to upgrade motherboards/processors. Pre-PCIE upgrades become a losing proposition fast, as I found out!)
posted by neckro23 at 9:24 PM on June 20, 2009

Response by poster: According to the manual, my motherboard has both PCI Express (x16 and x1) and PCI slots.
posted by murtagh at 9:32 PM on June 20, 2009

My very favorite game, and it is older, so your system can handle it easily:
Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn
The (terrible! Don't watch it!) movie Dungeons & Dragons includes the first chapter of the game as an extra on the rental DVD, so you can try it out. It is immersive and addictive.
posted by Methylviolet at 9:43 PM on June 20, 2009

You'll definitely need to upgrade your video card. You don't say what your budget is, but there are a lot options out there in the sub-$100 range that will get you into modern games.

I would definitely upgrade your ram, however be aware that 32-bit operating systems can only address up to 4gb. That would normally be enough, however the OS has to address the RAM on your video card too. That can be a limiting problem if you buy a card with lots of ram. Still, 4gb of ram is cheap and even if you wind up getting only 3 or 3.5gb usable system ram, that's a significant upgrade over your 1gb.

A CPU upgrade isn't out of the picture, but unless your motherboard supports significantly faster processors, I'd probably skip it.

So, video card and ram. Budget maybe $150 bucks.

If it's been a while, you may want to consider formatting and re-installing your OS. Starting with a fresh system can really make a huge difference in performance.
posted by wfrgms at 9:58 PM on June 20, 2009

BioWare recently released their recommended specs for their upcoming Dragon Age. Meeting those specs should have you set for a while. I think.
posted by Xere at 10:04 PM on June 20, 2009

Response by poster: My budget is around $100, $150 at the most. I guess I'll get a new video card (512MB video RAM) and upgrade my RAM to 3GB. That should be pretty good, right?

wfrgms: I recently (two weeks ago) got a new hard drive, and installed everything from scratch.
posted by murtagh at 10:09 PM on June 20, 2009

With 3GB, and a $100 video card, you'll probably be able to play anything a couple of years out of date, to include Mass Effect and BioShock (maybe just barely -- the cpu is a littly iffy.) Both of which are only $20 -- gaming can be a reasonably cheap pastime if you're just willing to stay a couple of years behind the curve.

Your hardware as is will work for Civilization IV: The Complete Edition, just released for under $40. It's a strategy game, so it may not be what you're looking for, but it's got vast replay potential, and a mind-blowing modding community adding more variants.
posted by Zed at 12:07 AM on June 21, 2009

I believe neckro23 means Valve's Orange Box. I can't recommend it enough. The Half-Life series is pure quality. Portal will blow your mind. Team Fortress 2 is the best multi-player FPS there is, imho.

There are a lot of amazing games from years past that age well and will run perfectly on your current set up. Here are a few recommendations:

American McGee's Alice - A dark revisit to the world of Alice in Wonderland. Slightly frustrating gameplay in a few sections (play on easy), but that amazing world and writing more than makes up for it.

Beyond Good and Evil - Sci-fi game starring one of the best female protagonists in gaming. Published by the same people who did Prince of Persia.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - GTA gets bad press for its violence and illicit themes, but that assessment ignores the fact that the series is second to none when it coming to giving the player a virtual playground to run amok in.

Psychonauts - One of the best written and most creative games ever made. You will laugh and laugh.

The Sims 2 and expansion packs - Can be found bundled with all its expansions for pretty cheap now that the Sims 3 has come out. Sims 3 adds a few things, but I actually prefer the Sims 2 when you add the expansions. Tons of hours of fun.

Here are a few more games that are worth checking out:
Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Diablo II
World of Warcraft (Expensive and can be addictive, but tons of people like it)
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Max Payne and Max Payne 2
posted by arcolz at 1:06 AM on June 21, 2009

With a PCI-e x16 slot, you can get an ATI HD 4850 for $100. That plus a RAM upgrade would indeed give you a huge boost in gaming performance. Your CPU is OK, but not that amazing. Still, with a decent graphics card you should be able to play Team Fortress 2 (part of the amazing value valve orange box) plenty well enough, and join us on mefight club :)
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:44 AM on June 21, 2009

Arcolz is right on about those games that should work on your system without upgrade. My only addendum is that while Psychonauts will work on your current system, it can be a little slow without a better video card. I'd also like to add Warcraft 3, Braid, and Trackmania (Nations is free) to that list.

I recommend the 4850 like the others. It's available for $75 AR . But it wants at least a 450W power supply. Hopefully you have that, cause that price is unbeatable. Also, get at least 2GB ram in there.

Once you've done this, here's my recommendations for games by genre:

FPS: Valve's Orange Box, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Left 4 Dead

Action: Mirror's Edge, GTAIV,

RPG: Fallout 3, Mass Effect

RTS: Empire: Total War,

Racing: Pure, Burnout Paradise, Grid
posted by JauntyFedora at 2:52 AM on June 21, 2009

Since the hardware is covered, here are some other game suggestions.

RPG: Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and the sequel, KOTOR2: The Sith Lords. Deus Ex (my favorite game of all time) is a great blend of FPS and RTS.

RTS: the very old, but very good Starcraft (plus expansion) is tons of fun. Supreme Commander is my recent favorite: the emphasis is on strategy instead of tactics. Rise of Legends was a lot of fun for me, but it doesn't seem popular, so maybe others will disagree.

FPS: you may enjoy Unreal Tournament; worth picking up the original (the 1999 version) to find out, since it can't be more than $10. If so, Unreal Tournament 3 (much more recent) is my poison these days. F.E.A.R. is a great atmospheric, creepy game; I haven't looked at the sequel yet (although the expansion packs were somewhat lame in that they added approximately nothing to the story).
posted by Jacen Solo at 5:03 AM on June 21, 2009

nthing Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic (never played KOTOR 2) and The Orange Box.

The original Monkey Island game just got a revamp (or is getting one) - I imagine it won't be too graphically intense, and it's a hilarious adventure game. Grim Fandango as well.

I really enjoyed the Call of Duty series. Morrowind and Oblivion were both great if you want a standalone RPG.

The Civilization series is worth a look as well.

Take a look at Metacritic's All Time High Scores, as there seems to be a correlation between this thread and that list.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:20 AM on June 21, 2009

Ars Technica's System Guide is always a good place to look for hardware advice.
posted by notyou at 8:33 AM on June 21, 2009

I've been out of gaming for a while (grad school + other time-consuming hobbies will do that.. says the guy procrastinating by posting to AskMe.. heh..) but the Orange Box is a great value. I own HL2 and TF2 (no Portal, boo, hiss, but it comes strongly recommended too). I could play HL2 acceptably on a significantly older/slower machine than you have now, at a decent resolution, and TF2 is acceptable at 1920x1200 in Crossover Games on my current Macbook Pro (2gb RAM, 8600GT, but with Crossover overhead). If you get Orange Box (or TF2 alone), head over to MeFightClub to play with some awesome mefites. =]
posted by Alterscape at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2009

If you're just getting back into gaming, you may want to consider going with a console instead. I know it's not quite what you're asking, and some people really like playing games on PCs a lot more than they do on consoles, but if you can go either way on it, consider going the console route. You know that your system is up to date and you don't have to upgrade until another system comes out.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:11 AM on June 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the hardware advice and the great game recommendations. I've been looking up the games mentioned here, and they all seem really awesome. I'm especially interested in Fallout 3, Mirror's Edge, F.E.A.R, Half-Life 2, Far Cry, and others like Dead Space and Gears of War. They seem like fantastic games and I can't wait to play them :)

I'm going to look into Total Fortress 2 as well, but I'm a bit unsure, as I've never played multiplayer games before.

Thank you for the link to the MeFightClub. Do I need to register there again, or will my MetaFilter credentials work? Could you tell me a bit more about the community?

Also, most of you may already be aware of this, but I came across a web site which tells you if a particular game runs on your system. Seems useful.

Lastly, the ATI HD 4850 seems like a great video card, and as of now that's the one I'm planning to get, but I just thought I'd ask whether there are equivalent NVIDIA cards and how they compare.
posted by murtagh at 2:25 AM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: @craven_morhead: I did consider taking the console route, but I don't want to spend that much money right now. And since I already have a PC, I might as well use that.
posted by murtagh at 3:18 AM on June 22, 2009

Thank you for the link to the MeFightClub. Do I need to register there again, or will my MetaFilter credentials work? Could you tell me a bit more about the community?

You will need to register there to view the forum.

We are a random smattering of folks culled from the crowd here at MeFi (affectionately referred to as "The Mothership"). It's a pretty diverse group with lots of different ages, genders, and nationalities represented. We bake each other sweets and send them across world for fellow MeFighters to enjoy. We share our musings on life, games, books, and specialized single purpose kitchen utensils.

As for the hardware issues - I would reiterate, becuase I think it only got mentioned once, that you need to make sure your power supply is up for the new card. I would agree that otherwise a video card and some ram will make that thing handle most games out there.
posted by Big_B at 11:48 AM on June 22, 2009

Mefight and TF2 is a lot of fun. I haven't been back for a while since I've gotten more and more into console gaming with Ms. Morhead, but it's a great community.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:00 PM on June 22, 2009

Response by poster: I just checked the label of my power supply unit. It says "Max Output Power: 400W". So I guess that means I can't use the ATI HD 4850? Can you please recommend other decent video cards?
posted by murtagh at 2:44 AM on June 23, 2009

I imagine the 4850 would run with a 400 watt PSU as long as it has the requisite two 6-pin PCIX power connectors.

Here's a power consumption guide for some Radeon cards.
posted by bunnytricks at 4:24 PM on June 23, 2009

Response by poster: I have one 6-pin connector and a few 4-pin connectors.
posted by murtagh at 5:47 PM on June 23, 2009

Response by poster: At this point, after a bit of research, the best video card for my system looks to be the NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT.
posted by murtagh at 6:34 AM on June 29, 2009

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