Upgrade! (To contined obsolescence)
May 8, 2008 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Budget upgrade: Will my PC game performance improve more from upgrading my Athlon 2100 XP (1.7 Ghz) processor or my GeForce 6600GT (256mb) AGP video card?

So as you can tell I haven't upgraded in a while. I normally upgrade my machines stepwise, but I hit a wall and my next serious upgrade would require not only replacing my motherboard and my processor but my video card (because of transition from AGP to PCI-e) and also my RAM as it's the old DDR.

I've determined that I can't afford that right now. While I don't like the idea of buying a component that I will replace in a year, I've decided I'm willing to upgrade one component. And thus I came to MeFi. I don't know which one is limiting my game performance more, and besides that I don't know if my limited options will give me a noticeable difference. I know this might sound like Chatfilter but I think there's a real answer to this.

System: Athlon 2100 XP (1.7 Ghz), GeForce 6600GT (256mb) AGPx8, 1gig DDR RAM

Limitations: Processor must be an Athlon XP. Video card must be AGP

These days I'm playing Team Fortress 2 at bare minimum settings and it's completely playable 98% of the time. I'd just like some better resolution, but if there isn't a good solution I'm willing to suck it up.

(My guess is that a video card will help the most, but I'm not 100% and also worried about the AGP bottleneck.)
posted by Annon E Moose to Computers & Internet (26 answers total)
Sigh "Continued"
posted by Annon E Moose at 10:50 AM on May 8, 2008

I would suggest benchmarking your system using 3dMark and then using their site to compare your score to similar systems to try and determine which component would help more.

Just on instinct, I would guess that the CPU is worse off than the graphics card but finding a good replacement could be tricky unless you look for used parts.

You are definitely correct though, that any upgrade won't get you too far and also won't be reusable whenever you do decide to do the major overhaul.
posted by utsutsu at 10:59 AM on May 8, 2008

A few months back I bought an (i think)ATI 1950XT for my Athlon 2500XP. At the time and probably still, it was the best AGP card made. I think the video card I upgraded from was an ATI 9600 pro that was a few years old.

I didn't get much of a performance boost. A few frames a second maybe. If I would have gone with a new CPU and motherboard, I would have been much happier.
posted by bunnytricks at 11:02 AM on May 8, 2008

Do you know the model of your motherboard?
posted by dosterm at 11:07 AM on May 8, 2008

Gigabyte GA-7N400V-L
posted by Annon E Moose at 11:10 AM on May 8, 2008

This Radeon card I upgraded to last fall provided significantly more eye candy in TF2. It's AGP, and driver installation was a little iffy -- that's why the mediocre reviews on Newegg -- but it works fine. $80 or so -- much cheaper than upgrading your processor (I checked).
posted by cog_nate at 11:19 AM on May 8, 2008


What did you upgrade from?
posted by Annon E Moose at 11:22 AM on May 8, 2008

At the time and probably still, it was the best AGP card made.

While I'm guessing it is out of OP's price range, not anymore.

Based on this chart the biggest improvement in the Athlon XP line of processors you'll see is 500 Mhz. A decent upgrade, but considering it is still single core, not huge.
I'd guess that your graphics card is your bottleneck more than you processor at this point, but not sure.

However, another option I'd consider is getting a MB + CPU combo, such as from Tigerdirect or Newgg. That you get a better processor and a new MB with PCIe, allowing you to upgrade your GPU to a PCIe card instead of AGP down the road. Consider that you can upgrade your MB, CPU, and GPU to a decent rig for $200-$250 going this route. Get some el cheapo RAM and you have basically new rig for <$300.
posted by jmd82 at 11:23 AM on May 8, 2008

Upgraded from a Radeon 9600 Pro, which IIRC is a step or three down from your 6600GT. Still, the upgrade made a huge difference. (If you're put off by the bad reviews of the Sapphire card, there are other folks who make 2600 Pros.)
posted by cog_nate at 11:31 AM on May 8, 2008

I know this isn't exactly the answer you're looking for, but I figure I'll put it out there anyway:

I'd wait on upgrading until you can afford a new mobo with PCI-E slots for a newer graphic card. AGP cards are more expensive than PCI-E cards on a "bang for your buck" level, and pretty soon they'll be phased out completely. the really nice inexpensive cards that would still give you a decent boost are all PCI-E.

the problem is that replacing the mobo would likely involve ALSO replacing your cpu and ram, and that tacks on to the cost. But you'd be far more future proof that way and your overall performance would skyrocket.

so my $.02 is to wait until you can afford to upgrade a couple things at once and then go for a PCI-E card instead of AGP.
posted by shmegegge at 11:35 AM on May 8, 2008

I've got the GeForce 7800 AGP, which was an upgrade from the 6800, and there is definitely a nice increase in performance. I'm still working with a 2.54Mhz processor. I also did a RAM upgrade to 2 GB, which may be a little bit of overkill, but it eliminated lag in some games, like LOTRO. I'm not sure though if upgrading the video card is going to give you a significant enough increase though, in light of your processor speed. I'm guessing that most games that run at your processor speed would likely not require, or be much benefited by, a better video card.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:35 AM on May 8, 2008

If you're going with just one part, make it the video card. If TF2 is running fine now with low settings, a processor upgrade won't do much, especially given the limited upgrade you can get with your motherboard. A new processor would help with things like higher resolution audio, latency issues, physics, etc., but you'd likely be noticing stuttering or odd lagging now if you were bottlenecking the processor. What you want to do is pump more textures through at higher resolutions, and that's mostly dependent on your video card. (RAM doesn't hurt either).

(jmd82: If his current video card is AGP, he'd have to replace it too. But I do like the advice to check out the MB + CPU combos and start slow.)
posted by dosterm at 11:37 AM on May 8, 2008


I like the processor & motherboard combo idea, but I was under the impression that motherboards either had AGP or PCI-e, and not both. Are there such boards available (that take either quad or duel cores)?
posted by Annon E Moose at 11:38 AM on May 8, 2008

Ugh. I'll side with others for the new AGP card. I understand that to be just a necessary 'quality of life' thing if you're gaming alot and basic playability is in question.

But that's really heartbreaking since you'll be paying a good third of what a total overhaul would cost to squeek another ~30% performance out of your old PC instead of getting ~500% with new mobo/chip/memory/card.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:44 AM on May 8, 2008

Ultimately, I agree w/shmegegge.

I actually have been farting around w/Newegg wishlists, and made one for a cheap (like, less than $400) but solid dual core setup... and on searching for it, it doesn't seem to have posted yet. Regardless, check out this list -- there are several cheap dual core setup lists to peruse.
posted by cog_nate at 11:46 AM on May 8, 2008

Ah right, good call about the PICe or AGP distinction.

I think you're asking two different questions though: I'm not aware of dual GPU format MBs, and even if they did exist, I highly doubt the price would justify the purchase.
Regarding dual/quad core CPUs, most modern MBs will take either, though it sometimes requires a BIOS update.

Regarding the cheap dual-cores, I'm a big fan of the e21xx line. I can overclock to 3.0 Ghz on air without an issue.
posted by jmd82 at 11:54 AM on May 8, 2008

I was under the impression that motherboards either had AGP or PCI-e, and not both. Are there such boards available

This intel-based mobo seems to handle AGP + PCIe cards. WIth a cheap (~$80) dual core and some memory (~$40) you can keep the cash outlay under $200.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:56 AM on May 8, 2008

(Bah, fine print. PCIe card slot is 4x not 16x. Sorry)
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:00 PM on May 8, 2008

Well, while you're waiting, you can play TF2 in DirectX 8, or even DirectX 7 mode by setting
dxlevel -80 for Dx8 mode, or dxlevel -70 for Dx7 mode in the launch options. This'll make the game run considerably faster.
posted by Geppp at 12:58 PM on May 8, 2008


Actually that mobo seems to be my missing link in my incremental upgrading. It will allow me to upgrade my AGP video card now and then later I can buy that mobo down the line when I'm ready to upgrade processor and keep my AGP card and DDR Ram. Then I can get a PCI-e x16 vid card even later while keeping the mobo by scaling back the PCI-e card to 4x (which is roughly equivalent to AGP speed). Then even later, when I want the x16 speed capability I can upgrade my mobo (and RAM) to get full speed from the PCI-e x16 card.

It's all falling into place...

(That is unless a PCI-e x16 version exists that I just can't find.)
posted by Annon E Moose at 1:00 PM on May 8, 2008

I would recommend you upgrade BOTH. A faster video card is going to make your processor a bottleneck and a faster CPU won't make games much faster by itself. You should be able to get an Ahtlon 2800+ to 3200+ in the $40-$70 range on eBay. AGP Radeon X800XL and X800XT cards are in the $50 range on eBay. For $100-$150, you can do a decent upgrade that will last you another year or so.

Be aware that the X800 cards don't support Shader Model 3.0, which causes some newer games not to work.
posted by cnc at 1:27 PM on May 8, 2008

Honestly, dont do either. It most likely youre processor bound but what processor are you going to move up to? Another old athlon thats maybe 300 or 500 mhz faster when the core duos of today do twice the work at the same mhz?

First off there is no AGP bottleneck. AGP has yet to be saturated by any affordable card. Your ram is older but ram speed is not a big deal. DDRI ram is surprisingly fast. Dont confuse marketing hype with PC fact.

What you need to do is save your pennies for a new board, cpu, and card. Sure, you can spring for a 6800, blow 150 dollars and get 20% more frames, but now youre still stuck with an aging machine. I'd just get used to playing low resolutions until I can buy a new system.

If youre adventurous you can spring for this asrock board that will accept your old ram, old card, but you can toss a core2duo onto it. 40 bucks for the board, another 80 for the processor and now youve got a 120 dollar upgradable machine. In a few months when you have money again you can put a 7900gs on there for 90 dollars and blam, youve got a midrange gaming machine as opposed to a below low range beater.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:48 PM on May 8, 2008

This is the newer version of that board I linked to. It'll take a quad-core if need be.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:50 PM on May 8, 2008

FWIW, I did the asrock thing a while ago and regretted it. It was such a pain and hassle and the performance hit was pretty real. Not to mention windows wont go from using a primary AGP video interface to a primary PCI-e without a full wipe and reinstall. A repair install wont do it. Still, it did move me to high performance land for very little cash.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:54 PM on May 8, 2008

dda: I have an ASRock board (Athlon64 processor) and went from a nVidia AGP card to an nVidia PCI-E card with nothing more than a driver upgrade for the newer card without any problem whatsoever, under Windows XP. Also dropped in a -X2 dual-core processor replacement and only had to install the "dual core enabler" software.
posted by mrbill at 4:05 PM on May 8, 2008

Almost all games these days are GPU-limited, not CPU-limited, with reasonably fast CPUs. The growth of CPU-dependant physics is changing the landscape there a bit, though (that may change when Nvidia releases their CUDA port of the Physx engine, which they recently bought, to run on 8000-series and up cards, freeing up CPU cycles).

I still run an AMD64 3000+, and with my 8800GTS 512Mb, I can run almost everything at full, usually with 2xAA, with most games. Even Crysis, which brings most systems to their knees, runs nicely at High/Medium settings (I do have a very high quality m/board and other components, homebuilt rig, though).

All that said, everybody who said you should get off AGP and move to a newer motherboard with a cheap Intel dual core or quad core are right. Your CPU is slow enough that you might actually see CPU-limiting in modern games, and your GPU is aging, definitely.

Note also that the Source engine (on which TF2 and all Valve games are built) is notoriously CPU limited. I think my CPU is basically about as low as you want to go, even with a grunty video card like mine.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:07 PM on May 8, 2008

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