Computer upgrades for gaming - Johnny Five Alive edition
April 10, 2014 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Looking to upgrade my 2009 gaming beast. It still serves well, but I know there are vast improvements I can make for relatively little money to the GPU, RAM and HD.

I have this machine from cyberpowerpc. It's served me very well, but I'm thinking with a few upgrades will bring on the power.

Graphics card - I'm pretty sold on this as a great balance between budget and power

Memory - this is the real question I have, my current machine has 3 2gb DDR3 in it, can I upgrade with just 1 8gb DDR3 or is there better RAM I could buy?

- how important is a solid state drive? Are they all created relatively equal or are there things I should look for? I have 500gb now which has been more than enough space and I think I could get by on a 128gb SSD.

Other upgrades I might have overlooked? The PSU is 800w so I don't need it upgraded especially if I'm buying that graphics card that draws so little power.
posted by OnTheLastCastle to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The graphics card will affect the gaming experience the most.

The SSD will affect general usefulness the most. It's crazy how much more responsive your computer feels at everyday stuff. Gaming, not as much, but some, depending upon the games.

Unless you have some information that you are running out of memory, 6Gb of RAM should be okay as is.

That's my experience.
posted by blob at 7:58 AM on April 10, 2014

I recently updated an older pc (Q6600@3.2) with an SSD. It was like an entirely new machine. I had no idea just how much faster things would start up. I'd say get the SSD for sure. I'd get a recent model Corsair, Crucial, Samsung or Intel branded SSD. Stay away from OCZ even if it is half the price.
posted by Sternmeyer at 8:00 AM on April 10, 2014

Moving to a single memory module would reduce access speed somewhat, since your CPU has a triple-channel controller designed to access three modules in parallel. 6 GB is still a decent amount of memory.

The SSD doesn't have to replace your hard drive entirely. You can install the OS and main apps on it, and leave the rest of your stuff on your hard drive.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:25 AM on April 10, 2014

What is your specific performance goal? a ssd won't increase your frames per second or resolution, etc.

ram: that machines uses 3 memory channels, you need 3 identical memory chips for max speed. 1 dimm would diminish your performance. 6GB is enough for current things, i'd leave it alone.

SSD: ssd's are nice for loading speed, and getting windows up and booted. They won't affect performance once the game is loaded. I have a 160GB ssd and its cramped, look into 256GB at a minimum, bonus they're pretty cheap now compared to when i bought mine.

video card: id look into a gtx 760 instead of the 750, looks like a significant step up. im not sure how the 9800+ compares to the current lineup. make sure your psu has the appropriate auxiliary power connectors (6pin, 8pin, etc).
posted by TheAdamist at 8:29 AM on April 10, 2014

Thanks all, great answers so far.

One more question:
My computer has PCI Slots (Available/Total)
2 x PCI Express x16 (SLI & Crossfire support)
1 x PCI Express x4
2 x PCI Express x1
2 x PCI

The card I'm looking at has PCI Express 3.0. Is this a problem?

edit: and as far as a specific performance goal, just general upkeep, I guess. I don't do much heavy gaming on my PC as-is, but with an HDMI port, I'd probably consider buying more big name games on PC and playing on my TV. Having it overall be more responsive would be nice too but not mandatory so I might pass on the SSD.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:44 AM on April 10, 2014

If your current card has a DVI port, you could simply use a DVI->HDMI adapter/cable (monoprice link) to connect it to your TV. The video card upgrade would give you much better framerates and access to newer games, though.

PCIe 3.0 is backwards compatible with 2.0. Your card just won't be able to transfer data as fast as it could, since it will fall back to the PCIe 2.0 rate. This is unlikely to cause a bottleneck in performance.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:10 AM on April 10, 2014

if you want general performance, the SSD would be a great upgrade, and use it as your OS drive+apps+some games. Everything opens much faster & loads from disk quicker. No more pauses or hiccups from waiting for the disk. Windows boots much faster as well. I still recommend 256 minimum. The samsung 840 pro 256G is just over $200 it looks like. (The 840 evo is much cheaper @$150, but uses TLC flash which has far more limited write lifetime than the MLC on the pro, i would avoid it for an OS drive, SLC is even better, but enterprise pricing only).
posted by TheAdamist at 9:57 AM on April 10, 2014

Seconding TheAdamist: I had a computer of a similar vintage to yours, and adding an SSD made it much more pleasant to use.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:09 AM on April 10, 2014

If you're playing some games and find they run too slowly, go for the graphics card first. If you want to improve general performance, get the SSD. Both together would be pretty nice if it doesn't break the bank.

As far as SSDs go, the Samsung 840 and Crucial M500 are good performers for the money. 256GB is about right for price/performance.
posted by danteGideon at 11:25 AM on April 10, 2014

I built a new PC about a month ago. My requirements were a bit different, since mine also gets used to crunch numbers on mine as well. Despite using an SSD drive at a previous job, where the quick response for disc swapping was awesome, storage space was my main obstacle. As such I went with a traditional drive this time around. I will likely update and add a SSD drive for my OS and as a data scratchpad in the future. Access time is great, but if the drive isn't churning while you use it, you've pretty much just sped up booting it up and that is seemingly just it.

For memory, I am currently rocking 16g, which is likely excessive for general purpose if you are offloading your graphics, but great for data mining.

I can attest to the massive improvement between the 760 over the 750. I settled on the 750 and took it back within my 15 days and exchanged it for the 760. It is noticeably faster. Here is where if you can swing the 2 or 4gb version you will be better off. After looking at the benchmarking reports, the 1gb 760 outperforms the 2gb 750.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:45 AM on April 10, 2014

Just general principles, nothing about specific hardware selections:

Dedicated Graphics Card(s) are where you'll see benefits on the appearance of your games. They contain their own processing and RAM, and use those to render all the polygons and colors. (without dedicated/discrete graphics, the machine uses its own main processor and RAM for those workloads, which slows everything down). If you want to get really fancy, the two slots that have SLI/Crossfire are set up so that you could put one video card in each slot, but set them to have only one output - so both video cards' resources are dedicated to rendering whatever is coming out of 'HDMI out #1' or whatever. (two horses pulling one chariot)

RAM - as in RAM on the motherboard - is for general speed and multitasking. The more (faster) RAM, the more you can do at once. (a little ram is like a small school arm-of-the-chair desk surface where you can barely fit one open book at a time; a lot of ram is like a conference room table where you can spread out and many books open simultaneously) If you're generally happy with performance as-is, and you won't need to add more RAM for graphics - that's what the dedicated video cards are for - then whatever RAM you have now should be fine, and you can save it for a later upgrade.

SSD - whenever you launch a program or go to retrieve a file, your computer has to go find it on your storage device, then transfer that from storage to RAM. SSDs are appreciably faster at this operation than the spinning disk of a regular HDD. That's why people get an appreciable systemwide performance boost from putting the OS and programs onto an SSD - everything opens noticeably faster. But SSDs are more expensive per GB than HDDs, so what many people do is put the OS and some programs on the SSD, and put the long-term-big-storage stuff on a HDD in the same system. Windows on the SSD, movie collection on the HDD. If you're happy with boot and program times now using an HDD, save the SSD for a future upgrade.

In your case, I'd start with adding one good video card. Then see how far that takes you, and figure out what performance upgrade you want to tackle next.
posted by bartleby at 5:23 PM on April 10, 2014

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