May 30, 2008 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Games PC CPUFilter: Is it worth upgrading from an Athlon64 3500+ Venice to a 4000+ San Diego? (plus a bonus question on 3GB RAM in XP and dual channel memory).

I'm considering upgrading my games machine. The current guts:

Abit AN8 Socket 939 motherboard
AMD Athlon 64 3500+ Venice
2 x 1GB PC3200 CAS3.0 DDR
Radeon X1950 Pro 512MB (PCI-E)

And the upgrade that I'm considering:

Swap CPU for an Athlon 64 4000+ San Diego
Add an extra 1GB of RAM

I can't justify splashing out on a whole new mobo/CPU/RAM bundle anytime soon, nor spending silly money on a used FX-55/60 chip dredged from the depths of eBay, so it's pretty much this or nothing I think. But is it a worthwhile upgrade - will I see a noticeable performance boost? Really I've got three questions, and I can't seem to Google up anything approaching a definitive answer:

1: Is it worth going from 3500+ Venice to 4000+ San Diego (with its extra cache and extra 200mhz)?
2: Is it worth going from 2GB RAM to 3GB on an XP machine used for gaming?
3: If I add the extra gig, should I add 2x512GB or a single stick of 1GB? Currently I've got the 2x1GB memory running in dual channel and I've got two ports free.

Some additional info:
1: The OS is WinXPSP3, with the fat stripped away, running on a 36gb WD Raptor. I don't think I can make any performance improvements on the software/disk side.
2: This machine is only used for games - nothing else at all. I don't do any multi-tasking (there isn't even an AV program running).
3: I won't be upgrading to Vista for DX10. I don't play that many games and the ones I do play tend to be a few years old (Rome Total War, Oblivion).

So would one or both of these upgrades give the PC an extra lease of life, or would I be throwing money away for no real benefit?
posted by boosh to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1 and 2) I don't think it's will make a huge difference to your frame rate, but loading software and playing it will be a smoother experience. If you always get mildly annoyed that sometimes the game 'sticks' for a second while there's a lot of stuff going on, like flying from orgrimmar to um, that place with cows, this will definitely help. For framerate, your GPU is doing most of the work already.

3) I suspect the difference would be negligible for all but the hardcore.
posted by Sparx at 8:15 AM on May 30, 2008

urgh - I don't think it will, I mean
posted by Sparx at 8:16 AM on May 30, 2008

How much is themes CPU. At best it is going to give you what, a 15% boost. That doesnt seem too noticible, and is only the case if you are actually CPU bound. That card and CPU seem pretty well matched, so I doubt you are CPU bound.

As for memory, 2gb seems like enough. Are there games where you get stutters coupled with frequent disk activity? If you run perfmon while gaming, does the game process ever use more than a gig and a half? Does the windows disk cache ever get squeezed below a few hundred MB? If not, then I doubt more RAM is going to help. If you do add it, another matched pair is best.
posted by Good Brain at 8:18 AM on May 30, 2008

If I add the extra gig, should I add 2x512GB or a single stick of 1GB? Currently I've got the 2x1GB memory running in dual channel and I've got two ports free.

Two 512 MB sticks is better than one 1GB on a dual channel MB.

Is it worth going from 2GB RAM to 3GB on an XP machine used for gaming?

It's certainly not going to hurt. But if you're only playing older games, are you currently having performance issues? As the above folks have said, you're probably not going to see a dramatic improvement unless you're having issues as is.
posted by Nelsormensch at 8:20 AM on May 30, 2008

ug, "thems CPU" = "the CPU"
posted by Good Brain at 8:20 AM on May 30, 2008

Best answer: 2: Is it worth going from 2GB RAM to 3GB on an XP machine used for gaming?

You won't see much benefit here considering your other specs, the memory wouldn't be much of a bottleneck. You could consider upgrading your processor, and consider that the latest Radeons aren't far from being launched and will supposedly be in the sub-$200 range - a cpu + gpu combo upgrade might serve you the best when it comes to gaming, though admittedly going from a Venice to a San Diego isn't going to be a huge upgrade.
posted by tybeet at 8:22 AM on May 30, 2008

Best answer: Both upgrades are going to be pretty marginal for gaming. With the odd exception of games like supreme commander, most games are bottlenecked by the GPU, not the CPU.

With everything set to absolute minimum settings to eliminate GPU bottleneck, going from a 3500+ to 4000+ gave a 14%ish framerate boost. So under *ideal* circumstances, i.e. CPU limited, that might give you a 5-8 fps boost. In most cases (i.e. oblivion), you'll get a lot less than that. If you only want to spend $40, it's not a worthless upgrade, but don't expect miracles.

In personal testing, I've found no difference at all between 2GB and 3GB for gaming on XP. Vista, yes, XP, no. Don't waste your money.

Personally, I'd put the money towards a better GPU. The pro ain't bad, roughly the same as an 8600gts, but the radeon 3850 is about $130 and absolutely spanks the pro - it's literally twice as fast on benchmarks. The other option would be an ati x1950xtx if you can find one cheap (i.e. sub $100); they're both very good DX9 cards and better than the cheaper nvidia 8 series.
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:31 AM on May 30, 2008

Best answer: For example, check the oblivion benchmark (1024x768, no AA, max quality)

the 3850 gets 52fps as opposed to the 1950 pro at 26fps. Thats 8800 gts 640 territory, for $130!
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:37 AM on May 30, 2008

nvidia 8800GS (384MB) 8800GTS (320MB) and 9600GT (512MB) cards can be had for $90-$125 right now. Probably a better use of your upgrade dollars, especially if offset by selling your current card.
posted by unmake at 9:40 AM on May 30, 2008

I don't think you're going to get an appreciable increase from any of those factors.

I'd suggest something like this:
Pentium E2160 - $65 (Highly overclockable)
Any number of motherboards in the $50-$80 range
2 GB DDR2-800 - $40

Total price: $150-$180.
You'll be set for the future with this config rather than spending $75 for very little extra performance. You're eventually going to need to buy this level of hardware anyway.
posted by cnc at 9:54 AM on May 30, 2008

Honestly, I wouldn't bother with upgrading a socket 939 system. It's a dead platform, and CPUs for it are getting more expensive as the people AMD abandoned on it scramble to find upgrades.

You'd be better off looking into a cheap AM2 mobo/CPU combo, or, better yet, an Intel Core system.

Or, if you're like me, you could wait until next year, when Intel's new CPU/socket combos come out and see how that changes things.
posted by rodgerd at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all. I hadn't appreciated how far behind the curve I was on the graphics side. I'm going to forget the RAM, consider the CPU upgrade a 'maybe' and put the money towards a mid-range vid card (after the probable price drop when the next gen comes out in a month or so - thanks for the heads-up, tybeet). That should keep me going for a while.
posted by boosh at 6:30 AM on May 31, 2008

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