Suggestions for upgrading PC build
January 3, 2017 6:55 PM   Subscribe

My old 2012 PC is starting to wear down a bit but lack of funding means I won't be able to do a complete rebuild until a few years down the road. Looking for advice for decent upgrades and advice for installing new parts.

I haven't been following any new hardware updates since 5-6 years ago so not sure if there's been any significant boosts available since then.

PC Partspicker

I searched for the closest parts to my current build but here's a exact screenshot of my specs. Mostly I'm wondering if it's simple as replacing the GPU with RX 480 unless it's not exactly compatible with my current parts. Also any clear guides/advice for how to replace parts? Thanks.

Currently, located in NY, USA.
Budget: $300-500
posted by chrono_rabbit to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You are already on the right track. A Radeon RX480 or Geforce 1060 should provide the most substantial upgrade for games (I assume that's why you want to upgrade?) and you will be fine with that power supply. You would be fine with a 1070 as well if you want to stretch the budget.

The next obvious thing is another 8 gigs of RAM. It is starting to make a difference in games. Not a big one, but RAM is also cheap.

After that, things get dicier. An Ivy Bridge CPU is a bit dated now but you will get MUCH better bang for buck with the GPU and a CPU replacement probably means a new mobo as well.
posted by selfnoise at 7:01 PM on January 3, 2017

I always start at


best places to start.. you can get side by side comparisons, as well as progression against your current stats. Which, aren't all that bad.

It should be as simple as plugging in the RX 480. Though, depending on what GPU apostle you run into NVidia or AMD will be the first argument.
posted by rich at 7:01 PM on January 3, 2017

Do the GPU first, as you can hold it over in a new build.

Then maybe keep your eyes peeled for a hot deal on a used i7 or Xeon compatible with your motherboard. I had good luck with upgrading my older rig, but my LGA1366 motherboard supported six-core Xeons that had become cheap -- those won't run in yours.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:13 PM on January 3, 2017

Good news. Intel just released the 7600K and 7700K. They're very good value, brand new mobo platform, and will be useful for years to come. Bad news, AMD has Zen on the horizon and nobody has a clue of the price/performance yet. So you can roll the dice on a 7600K or you can wait to see what happens with AMD and Ryzen. AMD is showing off Vega at CES and Nvidia is showing 1080 Ti so the GPU market is about to shift as well.

Everything is about to head into flux. Now is not the idea time to be buying a new PC as far as stretching the price/performance ratio. If Ryzen ends up being as special as AMD wishes it were we're about to enter a massive price war on the top end which is going to upend the market.
posted by Talez at 7:35 PM on January 3, 2017

If things are sluggish in general, you may want to consider a fresh Windows build (backup, wipe and selective re-install), which I bet would help out a lot.

Apart from the graphics card, as already suggested, your system specs aren't that far off newer desktops. From a relevant ArsTechnica article today (your processor is Ivy Bridge):
"If you're still rocking an older Ivy Bridge or Haswell processor and weren't convinced to upgrade to Skylake, there's little reason to upgrade to Kaby Lake. Even Sandy Bridge users may want to consider other upgrades first, such as a new SSD or graphics card. The first Sandy Bridge parts were released six years ago, in January 2011."
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 10:24 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't mind not upgrading my CPU but not sure if getting a new GPU would require new parts or not.

Thanks, I'll keep waiting then since price seems unstable for now.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 1:15 AM on January 4, 2017

You won't get a huge performance bump out of a new CPU, but it would be somewhat more power efficient. Since you're on Ivy Bridge, you're better off in that sense than people with Haswell or Broadwell CPUs, so you can get a 10-20% bump in CPU performance by going with literally anything newer, but after Haswell the gains have been minimal. The Kaby Lake parts that were just released are identical in CPU performance to the previous part, which was less than 5% faster than Broadwell, which itself was less than 5% faster than Haswell. It really has been terrible for Intel in terms of speed the last few years.

At this point, the only reason to buy a new CPU is if you are doing something that actually benefits from a higher core count or your particular CPU is a red-headed stepchild that won't overclock and be stable.

A new video card is definitely your best bet, followed by RAM and/or a newer SSD. There have been some pretty decent performance improvements in SSDs over the past few years, but you already have a pretty good one so it isn't the giant leap that the move from rust to solid state has always been, just a mild boost, although it would be nice to have something bigger, I'm sure.

If it were my money, I'd get a recent NVidia card and a Shield TV so I could play those sweet PC games on my TV with Gamestream. I can say that with confidence since that's exactly what I did a few months ago for my almost identically specced system. It wouldn't be so great for twitchy FPSes if you're like me and can't stand playing them with a controller, but it's otherwise quite nice.

Cost less than a PS4 and deals on games are so much easier to find, while scratching the same itch to play on the 55" screen. I'll still have to get one at some point so I can play Uncharted 4, but they'll be stupid cheap soon enough.
posted by wierdo at 1:50 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have nearly identical specs on my build. After some research I bought a deeply discounted 7xx series Nvidia card and have been happy with it. I'm replacing the monitor this year and probably the CPU/mobo and GPU again next year.
posted by michaelh at 4:06 AM on January 4, 2017

Also, Windows 10 felt like a speed boost. Your mileage may vary. I disabled Cortana to make Win+X snappy and disabled all the privacy-issue stuff to feel better about leaving 7.
posted by michaelh at 4:12 AM on January 4, 2017

Thanks, I'll keep waiting then since price seems unstable for now.

This will never not be true. At the same time, the longer you wait the more likely a full system rebuild will be necessary.
posted by selfnoise at 4:39 AM on January 4, 2017

This will never not be true. At the same time, the longer you wait the more likely a full system rebuild will be necessary.

The CPU/Mobo/RAM already need to be replaced to go anywhere. It's probably best to wait to see where Vega goes on January 5th and how it affects pricing down the chain.
posted by Talez at 4:56 AM on January 4, 2017

If the idea is specifically maximize game performance, and you're having trouble with load times, framerate drop on I/O, etc then along with a GPU (w/plenty of VRAM) consider a PCI-E SSD (a hard drive that plugs into a PCI-E expansion slot), and install your newer, flashy games there. (Make sure you have an available slot).

Amazon: PCIE-SSDs

Old hardware is still very viable if you think about the system architecture and use it right.

As I mentioned, I'm still on LGA1366 (Socket B), using an X-58 motherboard. The motherboard is from when i7s were the new thing, around 2009 or 2010. I originally had an i7 920 in it.

Now I run a Xeon 5680 hexacore which I have overclocked to 4gHz. With the CPU upgrade, I can run 24GB of DDR3 1600 in triple-channel (3x8gb). Most current games (or perhaps the engines & etc they're built with) do a decent job of making use of additional cores and memory. It's funny, but recent titles are performing better on this hardware than releases from a few years back.

Current GPU is a GTX 980ti, which will run everything I throw at it at 1920x1200 without issue, most titles in triple-wide (5760x1200) and would probably do standard 4K via HDMI to the TV if I cared about that (for playing console ports on the couch).

On the disk side, the OS has its own SSD. I've got another small dedicated SSD for the system swap file (haven't bothered to test utilization, it was cheap). There's a 2TB RAID1 for older/less demanding games (it's *read* access that matters, RAID1 reads just as fast as RAID0) and then the 500GB PCI-E SSD I mentioned, which provides accelerated I/O for more demanding or resource intensive games.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:16 AM on January 4, 2017

In your shoes, I'd go with a new GPU, followed by more RAM on that budget. I don't think you'll get enough bang-for-buck out of a CPU upgrade to make it worth your while on your budget, and you can take the GPU with you when you finally pull the trigger on a CPU/Mobo/RAM upgrade. An AMD RX 480 or nVidia GTX 1060 will both fit comfortably within your budget with room to spare (~$200 for either) and if you want to splurge for a GTX 1070, those aren't completely out of the question either (~$390).

RAM is probably a less important upgrade for you, but if you have lots of programs open at once, or programs that use lots of memory on their own, it can help keep the system responsive so that it doesn't have to page stuff out to disk as much. I'd check Task Manager to see what your Memory usage looks like; if you're seeing less than about 70% of it marked as "in use", then RAM probably won't do a whole lot for you. Still, I'd say 16 GB is a good upgrade from 8 GB, which is what I'd consider minimum specs for a desktop these days, and Windows will definitely make use of whatever RAM you throw at it to cache whatever it can. Unfortunately, you won't be able to take RAM with you when you upgrade the CPU as you'll most likely be needing DDR4 RAM at that point.

PCIe SSDs feel a bit overkill for your build, and definitely are the sort of thing that will kill your budget for not enough gain in performance (IMHO). A larger and/or faster SSD might make some sense as you'd be able to load more games and programs and such there, though it will only be an incremental improvement when compared to the jump from HDDs. This'll help with loading times, but once your game is running, it is very unlikely that it'll be bottlenecked on SSD I/O. On the plus side, though, you can take an SSD with you when you upgrade your CPU.

As for timing on CPU/Mobo upgrades, I'd definitely hold off until you can budget a good $400-500 for it separately to make sure you can purchase something with a significant enough bump in power to make it worthwhile, and I wouldn't say there's any rush to upgrade from your current hardware even then. Kaby Lake is basically a tweak on Skylake, so I'd either wait to see what AMD's next generation comes up with (not holding my breath) or see what comes of the new 10nm process changes that Intel's Cannonlake chips will introduce. Since single-core performance is still what matters most for gaming (at least for the time being), throwing a processor with more cores in your machine isn't likely to help much either.
posted by Aleyn at 11:01 PM on January 4, 2017

Your CPU is still fine. Overclock it. The Hyper 212 EVO is a pretty good cooler.

Upgrading to another quad core CPU is not really worth it. If you do a lot of parallel tasks (compiling software, rendering videos, etc.) wait for Zen. Otherwise keep your Ivy for at least a year.

Make sure to get a non-reference RX 480. ASUS Strix, XFX GTR / HIS Roaring, MSI Gaming X are all excellent. Sapphire Nitro is pretty good too, but it has a smaller cooler. And undervolt your RX 480!

But if you can wait a bit longer (7850 is still not bad!) — Vega is coming!
posted by floatboth at 4:21 AM on January 5, 2017

Well, disk I/O was definitely a bottleneck on my older motherboard, very noticeable when games needed to load textures on the fly etc. The PCI-E SSD resolved that issue. YMMV, and absolutely do the GPU first and see how it feels.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:41 AM on January 5, 2017

Shield TV is getting Steam Link support later this month, so an AMD card isn't looking like such a bad idea any more. ;)
posted by wierdo at 6:17 AM on January 5, 2017

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