April 26, 2007 6:34 AM   Subscribe

PC performance issues. 1) Is it a good idea to fill up all 3 of my DIMM slots, when my motherboard manual says that the max speed will be DDR 200 instead of DDR 400? The motherboard is an ASUS K8V SE Deluxe. 2) How do I best identify the bottlenecked hardware component that's causing framerate jerkiness e.g. when playing Oblivion (e.g. RAM, processor, AGP card)?
posted by thirteenkiller to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. No. Among other things, you will lose the ability to run the RAM as dual channel. If you want more RAM, buy 2 larger DIMMs.

2. Make a list of your components and post them here? It's most often the video card, although Oblivion is not a particularly efficient game.
posted by selfnoise at 6:54 AM on April 26, 2007

Best answer: Generally, no. You don't want to go past two slots on an early Athlon. The onboard memory controller is weak and doesn't drive large amounts of memory well. Athlons aren't as memory-starved as the P4s, so you can maintain a reasonable level of performance by dropping from 400Mhz to 333, but you really don't want to go all the way to 200.

To test CPU versus GPU; set the resolution very low. If the lagginess/choppiness persists or is even vaguely similar, you're either CPU- or memory-bound. (generally, if you have a gig or more, that won't be the problem except in the very most recent games.) If it smooths out and goes faster, then you're probably GPU-bound.

Unfortunately, you're kind of stuck in a bad transition spot, where things went from DDR memory and AGP slots to DDR2 and PCIe. The best upgrade from where you are is probably to go with a cheap Core2 setup. You can generally get a motherboard, CPU, RAM, and video card for around $600. (You might potentially need a power supply too, as that changed a bit in PCIe as well.) Note that most cheap Core2 motherboards come with only 1 PATA port, so unless you already have an SATA hard drive, you'll want to either buy a new drive or buy a motherboard that has two PATA ports. (Parallel ATA is regular old IDE, the wide flat cables. SATA is the replacement.)

The cheapest Core2 chips are artificially hobbled to run at a 200Mhz bus, but they're made exactly the same as the more expensive ones that run at 266, so you can, essentially 100% of the time, overclock them back up to 266Mhz and have a damn fast machine for cheap. And you'll save a couple hundred bucks for that much speed.

If you determine you're GPU-bound, you can still get one flavor of very fast AGP card... the ATI x1950s are out in AGP and are damn fast. But if you have a memory controller that weak, chances are pretty good that your Athlon isn't going to be able to keep up with a card that fast.

I'm recommending Intel, btw, because in this generation they're a little better on bang-per-buck, but AMD has dropped prices a lot too. You can get very nice AMD setups as well. I just happen to be more familiar with Core2 at the moment. Intel is well-optimized for current gaming, but if you're gonna go large memory and 64-bit, AMD is much better.

On preview: single- versus dual-channel on a single-core Athlon with an AGP video card is unimportant. It's maybe a 3% speed difference, if even that. The memory speed matters, but the dual-channel matters not a whit.
posted by Malor at 6:56 AM on April 26, 2007

Sigh, I hit post instead of previewing again. I should have said 'bandwidth-starved' instead of 'memory-starved' in the first paragraph.
posted by Malor at 6:58 AM on April 26, 2007

Best answer: Well, troubleshooting pc performance is a little tricky and we'll need more info.

What kind of CPU and speed? How much RAM? What video card?

Do you have the newest drivers for the video card installed? Newest drivers for the sound card? Do you shutdown the anti-virus (and other background apps) when you play? Have you defragged your drive recently?

Do other games cause problems?

Have you tried playing at a lower resolution/graphic detail setting? It could be that your rig cant handle whatever setting you are using. You can ask on oblivian forums what kind of performance you should be getting considering your hardware.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:59 AM on April 26, 2007

I was having the worst trouble with my vanilla nvidia 4600 (?) 128 MB AGP card - it would start out OK and then after 15 mins. or so, start freezing if I played anything remotely graphics-heavy. Every diag I ran told me the card was OK, memory OK, CPU OK for the apps I was running; I installed new drivers, etc., and nothing worked 'til I read an old post on a dead forum about a guy with the same card, and same problem. Turns out the little fan that sits on the graphics card was caked with dust and dirt; once I cleaned it out as recommended, the card stayed cool and I was back in business.

Now I don't think this is necessarily the issue with you, but remember that it might indeed be a simple mechanical/thermal issue. Just to confound your diagnosis further.
posted by Mister_A at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2007

I don't see how even terribly slow RAM would be slower than swapping to a hard drive, so if that's your only, or cheapest choice, do it.
posted by popechunk at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers!

Mobo: ASUS K8V SE Deluxe
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ 2.0GHz Newcastle iirc
RAM: 1GiB DDR-400 PC-3200, two double-sided 512MiB CL3 DIMMs
HD: Ultra ATA/100 7200 RPM 2MiB Cache 80GiB WD800BB with lots of space. I don't know if it's fragmented because Vista won't tell me, but I'm defragmenting it now.
AGP: Medion/ATI Radeon 9800 XL 128MiB overclocked to Core 392MHz, Memory 349MHz
OS: Vista Business 32-bit

I have the newest drivers, and I always shut down antivirus etc when playing games. HL2 runs great at the highest settings with 4x AA and 4x Anisotropy. Oblivion is running into trouble though even at 800x600 with limited view distance. It runs smooth much of the time and then goes into patches of freezing for a few seconds at a time, usually when roaming the country side.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:32 AM on April 26, 2007

Response by poster: HL2 is at 1152x864 btw.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:34 AM on April 26, 2007

Best answer: You are running vista, which considering that the game came out before the OS and is largely unsupported by the publisher,
Q: Is Oblivion supported on Windows Vista?
A: We do not formally support Vista as Oblivion is not a Games for Windows title. Our internal tests -- and external tests done by outside parties -- have not found any issues with Oblivion on Vista. Should you have problems, it's not something we support or can help you with.
Have you tried running this in compatiblity mode?

Also, it sounds like the drivers ati released may not be so hot, especially for lower-end cards like the 9800 (for some reason).
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:46 AM on April 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, I'll try compatibility mode. The driver thing is worrying but I haven't got any BSODs yet.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:51 AM on April 26, 2007

Oh, almost forgot, I'd also stop over-clocking the card while troubleshooting too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:57 AM on April 26, 2007

Oblivion is jerky when roaming the countryside because you are playing oblivion on an old video card. It was jerky on my $300 video PCI express video card on a A64 3800+ x2 with 2GB of ram. The thing is a beast both because of the ambition of its graphics, and the less than brilliant implementation..
posted by Good Brain at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2007

Oblivion likes memory; so does Vista. You might have better minimum performance with more memory running at half the speed but your peaks and averages will likely drop because each memory access is slower, even if there's more of it. Note dual channel is not an issue with your system -- Socket 754 doesn't support it, so it's all about the frequency.

My recommendation: get a pair of 1GB DIMMs to reduce the jerkiness/freezes when there's a lot of geometry/textures/whatever. Note that if you leave the land of Socket 939/754 for Core 2 or AMD's AM2 you *will* need to buy new memory (DDR2) so keep that in mind before investing in more DDR.
posted by Freaky at 9:11 AM on April 26, 2007

That's not a terrible computer, but the 9800 is old. If you replace that with a 1950, you should be able to extract another year or two out of it. You can test by playing Oblivion at low resolution; whatever it runs at 800x600, you should be able to duplicate at 1920x1200 with an x1950.

I wouldn't run Vista at all. It's terrible on many levels. Almost all the changes, other than the chrome, are to benefit Microsoft, not you.
posted by Malor at 9:27 AM on April 26, 2007

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