Help us upgrade our gaming PC without breaking the bank.
July 16, 2006 1:31 AM   Subscribe

Help us upgrade our gaming PC without breaking the bank.

The question: Which is better, 2gb of dual-channel DDR-333mhz CL2.5 cheapo RAM, or 1gb of dual-channel DDR-400mhz CL2.5 Reasonably Premium RAM?

The explanation: We have two PCs that both see heavy use. PC 1 has a Sempron 2800 (the old one based on the Athlon XP), a gig of DDR-333 RAM, and a 6600GT. PC 2 has an Athlon 1800, a gig of DDR-333 RAM in two 512mb sticks, and a 9700 Pro. PC 1 is our main gaming PC; PC 2 only gets used for games when we want to play World of Warcraft together.

We have a couple of games that don't run optimally on PC 1, and we want to be able to play Half-Life Episode 2 with all the AA and AF we had to turn off on Episode 1 to get the HDR running smoothly, so it's time to upgrade PC 1 (the contents of PC 1 will be dropped into PC 2).

My provisional shopping basket looks like this:

Antex Sonata II case w/450 watt PSU
AMD Athlon 64 3500 Venice Skt 939
Asus A8N5X Skt 939 nForce4
XFX GeForce 7900GT 256mb (with a lot of slightly embarassing words like "extreme" in its official title)

This comes to £390 or thereabouts, out of a total budget of £450ish. What I'd like to do is drop in the 1gb of PC333 that's currently in PC 2, and then maybe add another 1gb of RAM on top to bring it all to 2gb. This is all in 512mb sticks, so it'd all be dual-channel.

Whatever extra RAM I buy might as well be "OCZ Premier 1GB DDR PC3200 400Mhz CAS 2.5 DUal Channel Kit with Copper Heatspreader" because it's about £5 more expensive than value RAM. I don't want to buy 2gb-worth of this, though, because it would smash that budget by £60. I'm getting everything from a local shop for ease of RMA-ing if anything goes wrong.

I prefer reliability to overclocking, and Nvidia to ATI because PC 1 connects to a monitor and an HDTV and I find the Nvidia drivers more flexible for that. We want to run everything at 1280x1024 and below.
posted by ArmyOfKittens to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

There's an enormous sea change coming... in less than two weeks, everything changes. Conroe from Intel ships, which will force AMD to drop prices a great deal. (Conroe is about a 15% speed boost over the fastest AMD chips... the new $300 Intel part will run neck and neck with the current $1K AMD part.)

Wait a month before you do ANYTHING. You should be able to buy a dual core CPU and more memory for the same amount of money within 30 days.

The 7900GTs are also having big reliability problems right now.... there's a very bad batch in the system. Within a month that should be flushed out and they should be safe to buy again.
posted by Malor at 1:49 AM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: That sounds like good advice, thank you. I had no idea the 7900s were having problems. I've seen the prices for the Core 2 at, and the cheapest will be £150, which is out of my league; I hadn't considered this might affect the budget end of the market.

Even if I wait a month, I'll still probably stay with 939, because I've read that the AM2 boards are having memory compatibility issues, and I'm wary of early-adopting new technology when the old stuff is tried-and-tested and almost as fast (although I'll be overjoyed if the faster 939s drop into my price range). So with that in mind, my original question still stands: 2gb of 333mhz or 1gb of 400mhz?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:19 AM on July 16, 2006

Best answer: Again, the price will drop enough that you can probably get 2g of 400. But... if you must choose, go for 2g of 333. AMD chips aren't terribly bandwidth-choked (unlike Intel P4s), so dropping from 400 to 333 doesn't slow them down that much. The benefit from 2g will WAY more than make up for the loss in speed.

Prices on nearly the entire AMD line will drop, in some cases very substantially, so definitely wait until after the 24th to buy.

S939 is just as fast as AM2. The biggest reason to do AM2 would be for your _next_ upgrade, rather than _this_ one... the AM2 boards will mostly support 8gb, and should support new processors for at least a couple of years. But the memory is, as you point out, a bit finicky, and the chipsets aren't quite proven yet. Since you're sort of raiding the piggy bank on this one, S939 would be the better choice... well proven, the exact same performance, and cheaper.
posted by Malor at 3:16 AM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks so much, that's brilliant.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:57 AM on July 16, 2006

Also, keep in mind at this point that S939 mobos do NOT support dual processor, only dual core. If you want dual processor AMDs, you have to move up to S940 and Opterons.

There's talk of AMD 4x4, but (I may be behind in my tech news here) no one really knows what that is yet (but supposidly its supposed to work with the Athlon64 dual core line...).
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:42 PM on July 16, 2006

Yeah, the new Intel Core 2 Duo stuff is looking really good (despite the annoying-ass name). Bad for AMD, good for the consumer. :)

AMD chips aren't terribly bandwidth-choked (unlike Intel P4s), so dropping from 400 to 333 doesn't slow them down that much

Just curious; do you have a reference that shows/explains that?
posted by blenderfish at 2:42 PM on July 16, 2006

The amount of memory you need depends entirely on what you run. Half Life 2 will probably be a memory hog, but I don't know that - in general, 1GB is sufficient for XPSP2 with lots and lots of applications running.

I prefer reliability to overclocking,

Overclocking does not effect reliability in any meaningful way - it does not effect stability either, unless you choose to let it. The only reason to choose not to, assuming the chip you have has a useful overclock potential, is the added effort of learning technical details and performing stability tests. Any other 'drawback' is FUD.

On the other hand, there aren't always good overclocking options on the market. Apparently the best right now is the Pentium D 805, but it may not be the right solution for your intended application.
posted by Chuckles at 6:20 PM on July 16, 2006

Actually, Half Life 2 Episode 2, I guess..
posted by Chuckles at 6:22 PM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Overclocking does not effect reliability in any meaningful way

I only have my short-lived experience in overclocking the 6600GT to try and get 60fps out of Outrun 2006 to go on, which basically went: ooh, smoooooth; whoops, artefacts; argh, high temperature! On the basis of that I decided that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and to leave well alone and at stock speeds.

Now that I think about it, I remember running my dad's Celeron 300 at 450 or something like that, but that broke after a couple of years, so my track record's pretty rubbish in that regard.

On the upgrade, I noticed that I can save almost £50 by buying a 7800GT instead of a 7900GT, which will lose me a bit of performance but ought to gain me peace of mind. I read up on the issues with 7900s after Malor mentioned them, and decided not to risk ending up with a bad card and the hassle of RMA-ing; I only decided to go up to a 7900GT after realising how much money I could save buying a 939 motherboard and using existing memory, after all.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:47 PM on July 16, 2006

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