Help me upgrade my son's PC for Christmas
December 4, 2009 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I want to upgrade my son's PC for Christmas but I'm overwhelmed by the options and I figure somebody here can point me in the right direction a lot faster than I can figure it out myself.

My son is getting by with an old 1.6 GHZ Celeron box with 1 GB RAM and a GeForce card, I think in the 4000 series. It's not new for sure. He uses the PC for general Web stuff and playing RTS types of games. He tend to do most of his graphically intensive FPS gaming on the Xbox. So the new computer does not need to be a quad core super gaming machine. My budget is $400 for a low-mid level gaming box that will last him 2 years as I assume I'll be buying him a laptop to take to college 2 years from now. His current box plays all his games fine, if not at high resolution.

The easy way out is to pick up a Dual Core box with 2-3 GB of RAM from the Dell Outlet store and add a better GPU to it. That will come in probably just a little over $400, which is fine.

However, his current PC has a decent case with a 350W power supply that is only about 2 years old, and I have a couple of 250 GB IDE drives laying around I could use, as well as the DVD drive in his current box. So I'm thinking I could put a new motherboard with a much better CPU and 2-4 GB of RAM into his current case, maybe upgrade the power supply if needed, add a GEForce 9500 level GPU or something along those lines, and come out with a much better computer than the Dell box, probably for less money.

However, I'm totally overwhelmed trying to pick and choose between all my options for upgrading his box. Does anybody here that has experience rolling your own PC want to recommend the components that would work, within the 400 budget?

posted by COD to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
I'd make sure to check the GPU power supply requirements before you do either. Many of the newer GPUs require at least 400 watts. Not sure what the Dells you are looking at come with but most commodity PCs skimp on that part of the system.
posted by white_devil at 5:25 PM on December 4, 2009

Tom's Hardware tends to be my go to place for building PCs.
posted by white_devil at 5:29 PM on December 4, 2009

Check the Ars Technica Budget Box guide and the budget-box guides at Anandtech. Can't be arsed to put links, but this is an instant Google hit. These guys tend to have a pretty good estimate of what is bang-for-buck.

To save even more, check out the budget lists from a few months ago. Those parts are sometimes a little harder to find, which can make the savings not worthwhile anyway.

I *think* would be looking at an AMD 5200+ CPU in an AM2 socket and some $50 motherboard w/ DDR2 800 for this price. I'm not sure about the US market - I live elsewhere and hardware pricing is complicated here, so take this with a grain of salt.
posted by krilli at 6:07 PM on December 4, 2009

... and in the price range of the NVidia 9500 cards, I hear that AMD are better value for money these days. I don't know, I only have NVidia cards, but some clever-seeming people said this in some threads here on AskMeFi.
posted by krilli at 6:09 PM on December 4, 2009

A 65w AM3 Athlon II and an ATI 4670 (be wary of the gpus that require extra power) would both be under $60 each. Throw in an older AM2+ motherboard that supports AM3 processors, and you can get by with DDR2 ram. Also, having too many drives may tax your power supply.
posted by palionex at 8:44 PM on December 4, 2009

I am reasonably PC savvy, although am completely out of touch with the latest products. I built myself a nice rig about 4 or 5 years ago, completely from scratch, and was very happy with the result.

After a few years, the power supply started making awful noises, and I just wanted to generally upgrade to be able to run the latest software.

When I started looking at details like what graphics card would work on my motherboard, and which RAM I would need, and how what kind of power supply I would need, and if I wanted to upgrade the CPU, I'd need a whole new motherboard, and whether I should get a SATA hard drive with 10+ times the capacity of my existing drive, which also wouldn't work with the existing motherboard, and whether I'd need to buy a new Windows license after changing that much hardware ..... it was just easier to buy a completely new system.

I ended up getting a Mac Mini, which I am incredibly happy with, but that's probably outside your budget (and might make your son cringe... heheh)

Maybe a current Dell desktop? Perhaps upgrade the graphics card if he wants to play games.
posted by Diag at 3:57 AM on December 5, 2009

Lots of very smart, savvy advice here. One question, though. If your son's already gaming his little heart out on the xBox, why not go a different direction entirely? Media PC? Homebrew TiVo?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:38 AM on December 5, 2009

I'm a big fan of AnandTech guides. I would say away from its entry-level system because you will want a video card, but its budget system comes in at about $599, which you should be able to beat by salvaging old components.
posted by rtimmel at 8:33 AM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: I ended up buying a Athlon Dual Core barebones system with an ASUS motherboard. Added 2 GB of RAM, CPU cooler, 500GB drive and a GeForce 9500 and the total was just under $350 including shipping. This way he can learn a little something when he helps me put all pieces together.

Thanks for the help.
posted by COD at 12:56 PM on December 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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