What should I upgrade?
June 11, 2005 7:17 PM   Subscribe

My husband wants to play Battlefield 2, but his computer, an Athlon 64 3200+, seems to be kind of sluggish with the new demo. Given that there's only so much we want to spend to play video games, what's the best component to upgrade? The video card? The processor?

The machine has a gig of ram and a Nvidea a6600gt 128 meg card. It runs Windows XP Home.
posted by gokart4xmas to Technology (28 answers total)
Check your system for spyware/ram or processor hogging processes. I have a VERY similar setup (Athlon 64 3200+, a gig of RAM, and a ATI 800XL video card with XP pro) and the BF2 demo runs smoothly. I pull at least 40fps from Half Life 2 with max quality at 1280x1024, and usually well over 100 fps from Unreal Tournament 2003 at 1280x1024 max quality. Even Doom 3 runs above 30.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:10 PM on June 11, 2005

Check your RAM, and if you've got less than a gigabyte, upgrade.
posted by aramaic at 8:33 PM on June 11, 2005

Try shutting down non-essential processes (system tray widgets, virus scanners, the Task Scheduler and the like), and if necessary, CTRL-ALT-DEL and kill anything that looks like it ain't supposed to be there. Worst case, you might have to reboot, best case you might just free up enough RAM/CPU to make it work well.
posted by arto at 9:20 PM on June 11, 2005

I second the spyware suggestion. The machine probably needs a cleaning. The hardware specs sound more than sufficient to play the game.

I also do something like this to limit the Windows services that are unnecessary for me and simply waste resources.
posted by knave at 9:59 PM on June 11, 2005

Ditto - if something's sluggish on a Athlon 64 3200, *something* is hogging resources.

Alternatively - is he working off of, say, the onboard video chip? (Even if there's an actual video card attached, maybe check the bios to make sure the system isn't running off of the onboard vide instead of any attached video card)

Buying a fully DX9 compatible video card (an Nvidia 6200 should be [more than?] "adequate" and can be had for less than $200 ) ought to solve the problem if it isn't a (malicious) software problem.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:32 PM on June 11, 2005

You clearly have a problem that is not related to hardware. Simply put, that system has no business running any game sluggishly.

At very worst, your video card might complain about highest-end graphics, but running even a demo sluggishly seems really troublesome.

First, check your startup menu. You need to trim that down to bare bones. Start-up programs are only for things you always, or at least almost always use any time the computer boots up. If more than five icons pop up next to the clock, you've probably got too much on startup. Remember, you can always open a program after startup if you want it running.

Second, spyware. As said before, you almost certainly have spyware if you haven't checked for it. If you use IE, I'd bet money on it. Ad-Aware is a great place to start.

Third, trojan/viruses. If you have a current, updated anti-virus program, run a full scan. If not, get one. Few people should be without an anti-virus.

Finally, one last thing to note. Computer temperature. If your fan has gone out, or isn't running at proper speed, your processor and/or video card might be running very hot. This could cause serious slowdowns. Likely, you need to use some compressed air to dust out the inside of the computer. HP cases are rather tightly packed, so inadequate airflow and dust buildup can cause trouble very easily.

Between all of these suggestions, you won't spend anywhere near $100. A good anti-virus program will likely offer a year of free updates along with the program, and cost no more than $50, whereas a two-pack of compressed air runs $7-8 at Staples or Office Depot.

Be sure your DirectX software is up to date and check for new video card drivers.
posted by Saydur at 11:45 PM on June 11, 2005

Just to add that the easiest way to trim out the flab is to open msconfig (start --> run --> type "msconfig"), go to the Startup and Services tabs, and Google every item on there. Uncheck anything that doesn't look essential. If you've got spyware, you should catch that this way, too.

It's pretty hard to kill the PC this way, because you're only unchecking things that can be rechecked if they turn out to be super-important -- just boot in safe mode and put them back.

A free virus scan can be had here. A spyware scanner can be had for free here.

Get the latest drivers for your motherboard (the HP site says it's an Nforce3 150, so the drivers should be these ones) and graphics card (here) and you should be set.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:36 AM on June 12, 2005

To expand on ArmyOfKittens' suggestion, instead of using Google to track down the items in the startup, take a look at the "Windows Startup Online" search function.
You can search by program name or title, and it will tell you where the program is from, summarises what it does, and tells you whether you can disable it safely.

Very useful, and has saved me plenty of time in the past...
posted by Chunder at 3:58 AM on June 12, 2005

Uh - sorry, there's a spurious end-quote in that URL... try here ... *sigh*
posted by Chunder at 3:59 AM on June 12, 2005

You could also just try scaling the video settings back a bit, inside the game, if that is an option in the demo.
posted by Espoo2 at 4:58 AM on June 12, 2005

All great suggestions, here's my 2 cents.

I recommend the following programs:

AVG free edition is great - though it seems Grisoft (the vendor) has lately made it necessary for you to manually reboot your computer whenever new updates load - hmm, could that be a slight crippling on free vs. the pay edition? Regardless, it's the most efficient/effective one I've used, and does all you'd expect, like scanning email in real time, etc.
Also, we can hate M$, but their acquisition of Giant Software has given them a terrific, free antispyware app. Use this.
After you install and run anti-virus and anti-spyware, and have rebooted and all, check processes and RAM usage with Task Manager (press Ctrl-Alt-Del) and check the Processes tab. Bloat=more than 40 processes active (purists might say 25).
Click the Mem Usage column header to sort in order of RAM used. These things will help you when you turn down the number of startup processes as recommended by ArmyOfKittens and chunder.

Download and run Ccleaner. You might have a ton of temp files, invalid registry entries, etc. Temp files can kill performance.

Left out so far (on preview) is checking performance settings and defragmenting.

Right-click My Computer, select Properties and go right to the Advanced tab. Select Visual Effects, and for now set it to 'Adjust for Best Performance', although 'Let Windows choose...' is all you usually need.
After you apply this change, select 'Advanced' and make sure Processor Scheduling is set for Programs, Memory Usage is set for Programs (heck, you have a gig), and Virtual Memory is set to Custom Size - recommend initial size of 1536 MB and a maximum size of 2048 MB with your RAM setup. Do this if Windows is being stingy in Virtual Memory.

Run Accessories|System Tools|Disk Defragmenter.

Once this has all been done make sure your nVidia drivers are the latest. Before installing these, set a system restore point. Don't get a-scared if Windows says the drivers haven't been validated. Just OK those. Worst case you can bring settings back (if you set a restore point).

Download the latest DirectX (9.0c).

Lastly make sure your Windows update settings are at least set to Automatically download and Notify. And it won't hurt to enable Windows Firewall.

If you've still got performance problems then check your game settings and make sure you're using OpenGL or DirectX, not Software, to drive the game video.

Your machine should be able to run anything without breaking a sweat. The only possible issue after Windows is your BIOS settings and YMMV here...if you have good BIOS setup docs, great.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:29 AM on June 12, 2005

After all the spyware checking business, I'll second the comment that if you're working with less than a gig of RAM, get that. It's by far the cheapest thing to do, and as far as I can tell, the only thing in your system that might be lacking.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:44 AM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: Guys.... no disrespect, but really, we know about all that stuff, extra processes, 'n' spyware 'n' and whatnot. We've got the latest drivers, the last direct x version. (In fact, that all comes with the bf2 demo.)

None of that is an issue.

So... the question remains. What to upgrade... processor or video card? We should probably go for the 256 meg video card, yeah?

Hey Devilsbrigade -- do you have the 256 meg version of that card? The demo runs well with it?
posted by gokart4xmas at 6:02 AM on June 12, 2005

gokart: next time put it in the more inside so we don't waste our time trying to help you with basic stuff you've tried. That said, swing for the fences.
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:20 AM on June 12, 2005

What resolution are you playing at, and with what settings (anti aliasing etc..)?
posted by furtive at 6:38 AM on June 12, 2005

Ok. I have virtually the same machine (only custom-built) and the demo runs like butter.

Let's assume hardware is the problem. Looking at the specs of that machine, there are only 2 things it's missing that my machine has: PCI-Express (which shouldn't make a difference) and dual-channel RAM (maybe?) I can't tell whether that mobo supports dual-channel but if it doesn't that might be slowing you down. It also says PC2700 ram by default... I have PC3200. So I would think about flipping out the Mobo if you can maintain compatibility with current hardware.

Software wise.... some game specific checks:

In my experience, the demo has a lot of issues with sound. Trying disabling EAX. Also, if you have hardware sound worth enabling (A soundblaster, basically) try switching to hardware mixing.

Also, are you mainly having a problem with the server browser/game ui or the 3D game itself? The server browser is just crap at the moment, unfortunately... no amount of tweaking is going to fix that.
posted by selfnoise at 6:41 AM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: What video card do you have, selfnoise?

He's playing at 800x600 with almost everything turned off or set to low. The main problem is that the game basically freezes periodically during play. Stutters, kind of...

It even does it during singleplayer, suggesting that it's not some kind of network issue.
posted by gokart4xmas at 7:37 AM on June 12, 2005

I have a Leadtek 6600GT 128mb PCI-Express.

I've got 1 gig of Corsair Value Ram-3200 running in dual-channel.

MB is a Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9.

I'm playing at 1024X768 settings, all polygon details set to high, all lighting details set to medium, and 2X antialiasing.

My framerate seems smooth... the only stuttering I get is from lag (which seems to be more of a problem here than in UT-engined games).

Do you know if there's a show fps setting? Couldn't find it.
posted by selfnoise at 7:57 AM on June 12, 2005

Best answer: This box has ac97 onboard audio. Do you have an add-on sound card, and if so, is the onboard sound disabled?

Assuming your graphics card is AGP, is your BIOS set to use AGP? Do you have the graphics memory window set to 128 MB?

Is the game video freezing or stuttering? Which one? And how long is the delay, if video is not smooth?
Lastly - have you double checked your system path to make sure it's not crapped up? And have you completely gotten rid of BackWeb and the other HP junk they preload?
Just questions you should ask - not that I care for a response.
IMHO you're missing something basic here and you ought to re-check the fundamentals. One more time.
posted by nj_subgenius at 8:07 AM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: I stand corrected -- you've got an almost identical setup to ours. (Only we don't have the PCI express board.)

Here's a dumb question -- what does stuttering from lag look like vs. stuttering just from a low framerate?

What do you guys think of the game so far?
posted by gokart4xmas at 8:36 AM on June 12, 2005

Is it just Battlefield 2? Do other recent games run fine or do they run badly too?

If that system is running all recent games badly, then something is broken, and you shouldn't upgrade anything until you've fixed it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 9:39 AM on June 12, 2005

Stuttering from lag usually means your character sort of "warps" around on the map instead of moving smoothly, but in general framerate should be fine. If you're getting slowness on the single-player map it's not a lag issue, though.

I'm enjoying the demo so far. It's not a huge leap over BF1942 but it's enjoyable.
posted by selfnoise at 9:51 AM on June 12, 2005

Yeah, its a 256 meg version. However, X800XL is roughly on par with a 6600GT. PCIe makes no difference. Dual-channel ram shouldn't make a difference (although I do have dual-channel 3200).

One other thing to check... if there's less than 500 megs or so on your Windows partition, everything will lag.

For your last question, a low framerate should be relatively constant. If it lags, it'll hang in certain parts and then rush to catch up.

To selfnoise: use FRAPS.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:54 AM on June 12, 2005

Left-field idea; have you connected the TV-out at all? I have an Nvidia card and Doom 3, (and oddly only Doom 3), was attempting to split the display between my monitor & TV, effectively halving the game speed. Disabling dual-display solved it.
posted by punilux at 10:18 AM on June 12, 2005

Thanks, devilsbrigade.

I just used FRAPs while playing a multiplayer game. My frame rate generally varied between 40-70 FPS with the average being in the range of 50-60. I think you can do an official "benchmark" using the program but I didn't know that when I loaded the game.

One other difference: my machine doesn't run XP Home, it runs 2000 SP4. Which isn't supported in Battlefield 2, but whatever.
posted by selfnoise at 10:23 AM on June 12, 2005

That vid card is just fine for bf2.

There are a lot of reports of slowdowns with nvidia cards.

Basics :

1. Get newest drivers
2. Check Battlefield Forums
3. Wait and see if the problem is corrected. The 6600 gt is a very nice card and shouldn't have a problem with that game. I'm using a 9800 pro which is a few steps below that on a 2500+ with no problem.

As for upgrade recs:

I like the x800 xl because it has 16 pixel pipelines as opposed to 12 on the x800 pro. That said the card is very big and won't fit in a lot of sff cases (like mine).

It's also 50 bux more for the agp version which is a little irritating. If you can use the pci ver it's your best bet.

If not, the x800 pro is just fine as well. I had one for a year before i broke mine :(

But i digress.

Don't buy anything. Read forums, get newest drivers and wait for EA to iron out their mistake.
posted by Lord_Pall at 1:15 PM on June 12, 2005

Like some others here, it sounds to me that you may have a hardware error -- that machine should still classify as a TinyGod...

As a datapoint -- I was seeing similar stuttering when I was playing HL2 with a 6600GT (purchased specifically for the game). Not only that, but it would periodically just lock up the game, often after only 5 minutes of gameplay.

I'd recommend swapping in another video card (an older one you have lying around, for instance) and seeing if you still see the issue.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:35 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: Well, you know, I was wondering about that, coriollisdave -- it's not like this is the most expensive machine in the world, but it seemed pretty bad ass when we threw it together last year.

I mean, really... how much do people spend on gaming rigs?

It turns out that nj_subgenius was right -- it was just the agp setting on the bios. My husband thanks you and reports that "all of you will be pwn3d."

FRAPs was helpful in diagnosing the problem, though. It's good to know about that, as far as benchmarking goes.
posted by gokart4xmas at 5:29 PM on June 12, 2005

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