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Upgrading PC's graphics card?
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-14, 12:59

Hi everyone.

AN might not be the best place to air this, but I'll try anyways:

I have a 3 year old PC with the following specs:
CPU: Intel P4 2,2Ghz Northwood
Mobo: Soltek SL-85DRV3; FSB 4x100Mhz, AGPx4
RAM: 1GB PC 2100 (2x256+512) just upgraded with an extra block
Graphics card: Asus Ti4400 128MB (GeForce)

I use it mostly for casual gaming and a few apps that don't run on my Mac. It's a really nice machine and it plays Farcry really well. Better than my friends machine with a GeForce 5200

After I've upgraded the RAM I was hoping to see a performance increase in Farcry, but only stability improved. Thats not a bad thing, but I was hoping for more. So this must mean I need to upgrade the graphics card. But since it's an old machine with a relatively weak CPU and a questionable FSB (I've never been able to determine weather it really runs at 400Mhz or just a petty 100Mhz) I only expect it to last another two years, because then I'll make up my mind for it's replacement once the Intel transition is over. Maybe I'll then get a PowerMac, or if Apple drops the ball another PC. So I thought changing the mobo might be a little too much trouble and money to pour into it right now.

So what kinda graphics card fits into such a situation?

My local store has a Radeon 9800 Sapphire with 128MB and a Nforce 6600 with 256MB. the Sapphire is about $360 and the Nforce is $180. Of couse theres cheaper dealers on the net, but my main concern is not buying a card that outperforms my existing system, but still offers the best improvement over the existing graphics card.

Any suggestions are welcome
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Luca
ಠ_ರೃ
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Minnesota
 
2005-07-14, 13:55

I have experience building PCs so I'll tell you what I can.

First of all, a 2.2 GHz Pentium 4 is a very weak processor, especially for gaming. It's a decent match for your video card, which says something about how old it is. Pentium 4s are generally worse for gaming than AMD Athlons (XPs and 64s) anyway, and the only advantage the P4 has is its extremely high clock speed. If you're doing a system upgrade, you should upgrade the processor. By the way, it is definitely running on a 400 MHz bus.

Your motherboard is a mixed blessing. On the upside, it has DDR and Socket 478, instead of Rambus and Socket 423 like the awful, awful older P4 motherboards. Unfortunately, it has a slow frontside bus of 400 MHz, which is going to limit your ability to upgrade. There are much faster Socket 478 processors available, but most use a 533 or 800 MHz bus. I'd say you should either keep your current CPU/Mobo or upgrade both at once. Don't bother upgrading only the CPU.

There is another alternative, though. You could try overclocking. It's really not that hard on a PC, and I've heard of people achieving speeds of 3 GHz and above on a Pentium 4 rated for 2.4 GHz, using only standard air cooling. The problem here is that you have slow RAM too. It's too bad you have PC2100, because you'll need at least PC2700 to effectively overclock. You can get a little bit of extra performance from overclocking using what you have, but you will achieve a far smaller speed gain because in addition to pushing the CPU past its rated speed, you'll also be pushing the RAM farther than it's meant to go. The RAM will probably be the limiting factor here. Nowadays, PC3200 costs the same as (or even less than) PC2100 DDR, but you already have 1 GB so it's not worth selling all that and buying PC3200 just to overclock. Besides, most people don't want to overclock anyway.

In short, we're back to two choices - upgrade the motherboard, processor, and RAM (since you'll need PC3200 to keep up with a modern CPU/motherboard), or keep them and only upgrade the graphics card.

With the graphics card, the choice is easy. Don't buy from that one place . The price they're charging for that Radeon 9800 is easily three times more than it's worth. The GeForce 6600 might not even be compatible with your system, but assuming it is, they're still charging almost twice as much as it costs to buy it from an online retailer. Never, ever buy stuff from a brick-and-mortar store unless you find a truly amazing deal. They almost always charge WAY more than online places like ZipZoomFly.com, Buy.com, Outpost.com, or NewEgg.com.

You're going to need an AGP-compatible graphics card with at least 8 pipes to be worth it. I'd suggest an AGP GeForce 6600GT (a much faster card than the plain GeForce 6600). You can get one for $150 here. Just buying that video card should make your system able to play modern games at moderate settings, though your CPU will hold you back some.

I think you should just get the video card upgrade. If you find you're happy with it, then you just got a great deal. If not, I'd suggest selling the board along with the Intel CPU and the RAM and using the cash to pick up an AMD-compatible motherboard. You can get a Socket 939 motherboard for about $60-$70, an Athlon 64 processor for about $150, and 1 GB of PC3200 RAM for $90. The total price (once you add that GeForce 6600GT for $150) comes to about $450, and you'll have a super fast gaming PC. Not the fastest ever, but faster than what most people have and more than enough to rip through any modern game easily.

There's one other thing to consider: PCI Express vs. AGP. If you decide to upgrade the graphics in your current PC first, you need an AGP card. Then, if you choose to get a new motherboard and processor, you'll have to make sure you get an AGP compatible one. PCI Express is better, though, mainly because it's future proof and PCIe video cards cost less. If you jump straight to upgrading your mobo/CPU, you should definitely get a PCIe video card.

Many people here might advocate selling the system to save up for a Mac, but I don't think that's a good way to go. First of all, you are at least kind of into gaming, and Macs can't game worth a damn (at least after you've experienced PC gaming; many Mac users who've never gamed on PCs claim to be gamers but people like me just kind of smile and nod). Secondly, your computer isn't really worth much. You should consider upgrading it to be a better gaming machine and then just keeping it the same for a long time. You can save up for a Mac to use in addition to the PC, not as a replacement for it.

Whew, this took a while. I hope you get a lot of useful information out of this!
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-14, 15:37

Thanks Luca it was really helpful!

You made a good point about upgrading the CPU and mobo. And I think I'll try to overclock it. There is an option i BIOS that allows you to choose from 4x100 or 4x133, which would put the FSB at 533Mhz and the CPU at 2,926Ghz. But I don't really know what it will do to the RAM? Fortunately the new block is a backwards compatible PC3200 and the PC has temperature sensors that shut it down if things get too hot. Besides from the HD there's nothing in the machine that I can't afford to fry, so if it fries I'll just upgrade it with a new mobo and stuff If the overclock is successful I'll then get an new AGP graphics card for it, if not I can go PCI-e.

Heres what I guess I'll need to do/get:

*Carefully re-read mobo manual.
*Remove old PC2100 RAM. I assume the new PC3200 RAM will be able to take the heat. The old RAM is 266Mhz and the new is 400Mhz, which is a lot more than the 33% I will overclock.
*Get a huge heat-sink and fan for the CPU.
*Get an extra fan for the chassis?

Sounds like fun, maybe I should invite my friends for the event


Things cost a little more here in Denmark, due to taxes and such. but the store I mentioned is ok for purchase of lesser parts such as fans, RAM and cables. But I'll definitely search the web for a new graphics card. I kinda like what I've heard about the ATI 9800, would you recommend it if the overclock business is successful?

If you can see from my post I'm about to do something dumb, please let me know

Again, thanks a lot!

Now I'll go dismantle the CPU fan...
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-14, 16:49

Ok. Now I have removed the fan, and have taken some pics in the process:

Open box

Fan, graphichs card, and old RAM removed

I don't know if they are helpful at all, but I guess it can't hurt. I'm a quite amazed how small that P4 chip actually is

Well, I guess I'll need to take the old cooling block to a dealer and show it to him, in order to make sure it fits (I've also made a sketch of the insides of my PC) and is powerful enough to handle the job...

Tomorrow will be an exciting day
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Luca
ಠ_ರೃ
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Minnesota
 
2005-07-14, 17:05

Oh dang, I didn't know you were in Denmark. Oh well, that's still way more than you should be paying. The (until recently) latest generation of graphics cards (the GeForce 6800 Ultra and Radeon X850XT) are literally TWICE as fast as the previous king, the Radeon 9800XT, and they cost $300-$500 here. If you're looking at a generic "Sapphire Radeon 9800," there's a good chance it's a non-Pro or even an "EZ." Both suffer from some major crippling that make them significantly slower than the Pro and XT versions.

As a minimum, you should be looking at a Radeon 9800 Pro. The GeForce 6600GT I recommended has about the same performance as a 9800XT, and is slightly faster than the 9800 Pro. It's nowhere near the top-tier $200+ (in the US at least) video cards, but it's very good for the money.

Good luck with the overclock! BTW why don't you just use the stock cooler for now? Oh and to reattach it you will need some thermal paste. If you really want to get more overclocking potential out of it you might consider picking up an aftermarket heatsink+fan (Zalman makes some excellent ones, and most modern ones have universal compatibility with all modern CPU sockets), but I'd recommend seeing how far you can get on stock cooling first.
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-14, 18:08

I just assumed that the stock cooler wouldn't be up to the challenge Besides the insides do get a little too hot when operating as usual. I think the CPU starts off at 76 degrees C and then starts crawling upwards currently.

And then I saw this funny thing on the local stores website:


Star Ice, AMD Socket 462 / 754 / 939 & Intel Socket 478 / 775, 19 - 45 db

It looks like an engine pod from a jetplane. But I think it can kill two birds with one stone; by both providing more cooling and also create some air circulation inside the cabinet, thus eliminating the need for a chassis fan. I figure I can make it blow the hot air out through the grill below the PSU, you can see it on the second picture I linked to. Maybe if I create some sort of funnel/manifold to direct the air?

But seriously. How much do you think the temperature will go up when I clock a Northwood from 2,2Ghz to 2,926Ghz? I've seen some ugly things happen when people go cheap on the cooling Should I just rely on the auto shut-off to tell me if there's trouble
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Luca
ಠ_ರೃ
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Minnesota
 
2005-07-14, 19:40

You should step up to that frequency. I read a review of your motherboard and it appears as though the BIOS has the ability to increase the bus speed in 1 MHz increments. See if you can find out how to do that... don't just jump straight from 400 MHz to 533 MHz.
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-15, 17:29

Funny you suggest stepping up the frequency. When I tried to go straight for 133 it just gave me a "no signal" on the monitor. But slowly stepping up one Mhz at a time got me to 133. However it's not very willing to work, it mostly just gives me a "no signal".

I can't really figure out why I've been feeding the system as much voltage as possible:

CPU Vcore: 1,85V (max)
DIMM Vcore: 2,6V (max)
AGP Vcore: 1,8V (max)

I don't know if its vise to feed so much voltage to the system, but the new CPU cooler is really keeping it cool, the RAM is PC3200, and should be able to take it. I'm a little confused about the AGP though, but since it doesn't seem to blow the card, why not?

I have removed the old PC2100 RAM.

Any ideas anyone?

It really annoys me that I can't push it that final few Mhz. I want 533Mhz FSB dammit

And to top it off. A WinNT boot file has ben damaged from all the rebooting, so now I'll probably have to nuke the drive

I know Mac's aren't good for gaming, but they sure are easier! I never want to see a BIOS on an IntelMac. Never ever! Please Steve

Last edited by Mugge : 2005-07-15 at 17:29. Reason: typo
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-15, 18:31

Maybe this is becoming more of a genius bar topic than a Purchase advice?
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Luca
ಠ_ರೃ
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Minnesota
 
2005-07-16, 00:14

Yeah, that's what I was thinking.

Why do you insist on a 533 MHz FSB? If it's not stable then it's not stable; there's not much you can do about it beyond adding extra cooling. Settle for a slightly lower speed and make sure you try pushing it *hard* by running demanding games (you have FarCry and that's as demanding as any modern game).

How high were you able to get it though? I'm curious to see how high a 2.2 GHz P4 can get.
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-16, 02:06

I did get it to 2,926Ghz, with the stepping up tactic, it just wouldn't run stable. Well, I guess I can run it at x125 instead. I don't think the CPU is the weakest link though, the new cooler is quite cool:

Link to cooler

I don't know if it's the RAM, mobo or AGP card thats causing the instability. But I guess 25% overclock isn't that bad. I just wonder if the high voltages might damage something. Not that it matters now, but it would be annoying to see the new AGP fry.

Speaking of that. I think I'll be scouting prices for a 9800 pro or XT...

Well, I'm off to visit my parents, so I won't be doing more to the PC this month. But I'll post an update once I've got things worked out.

Thanks for your trouble Luca

EDIT:
The insisting on going for 533Mhz FSB is, well, a personality issue on my behalf.

Last edited by Mugge : 2005-07-16 at 02:14.
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-27, 16:26

Well, I said the only thing I wouldn't be happy to loose was the HD. So it's a little disturbing that the frequent reboots now seem to constantly mess up the boot sector. Guess I'll need to reinstall the floppy drive and make myself some new Win2k boot disks, cause in the long run reinstalling is getting boring. And I don't know exactly how "safe" that D partition with my files and back-up really is?

Ok. Everyone can laugh at me now, but I'll wait with the overclocking till I get the rest working properly...

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Gargoyle
http://ga.rgoyle.com
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: In your dock hiding behind your finder icon!
 
2005-07-27, 16:42

If you have any other cards in the system (especially modems or sound cards) in the PCI bus then they probably won't handle the speed increase too well.
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Mugge
Thunderbolt, fuck yeah!
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: Denmark
 
2005-07-28, 11:44

Sounds like something I'll try for troubleshooting. But how I really can't do without either my sound-card, LAN-card or USB2,0 card. So if one of them proves to be the problem, it's gonna put a lid on my overclocking scheme.

Well, better get back to reinstalling win2k... Again
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