Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

A Treatise in Which I Examine the Finer Points of Computer Hardware, or Summoning the Beast: The Arcane Magic of Gaming Rig Resurrection and Improvement

After reading some reviews for the newly-released ATI Radeon HD 4770, I find myself thinking long and hard about my planned tech purchases. I’m often fond of referring to such spending as investments, but realistically that’s a misnomer. Regardless of what motherboard, or processor, or graphics card I buy, none of them will gain value the longer I own them. In reality, the value of computer hardware drops almost as quickly as that of cars, and in some cases even worse, given the six-month to one-year life of each generation of hardware. Before I go any further, that needs to be clear and ever-present in my mind and that of readers – any money dropped on hardware should basically be written off at a loss.

That being said, the logical thing to do is examine my reasons for upgrading my hardware. It’s pretty easy for me – first and foremost, my gaming rig doesn’t even work right now. It’s sitting in a closet collecting dust while I’m in China. My number one priority is simply to get it working again. Second, the most taxing use of my hardware is gaming. I love my two- and three-hour fragfests on Team Fortress 2, or matching wits against some of my friends in Sins of a Solar Empire, or checking out and reviewing the latest games. I’m getting more into photography than I have in the past, so manipulating large RAW image files is somewhat important, but not terribly so – I don’t have Photoshop or any other professional editing suites, and I’m not ready to drop the scratch to pick up one. I do engage in a decent amount of multi-tasking – I’d like to think of myself as a something of a power user – but any processor with three or four cores will be fine for my needs.

Once I return in early August, I’ll need to buy the following, bare minimum: A case, motherboard, and processor. Also likely will be RAM, though that depends on whether or not I stick with DDR2 or move to DDR3. Finally, there’s a possibility of upgrading my graphics, and if I go with everything, a new power supply will probably be a good call. If I want to overclock whatever processor I choose (and trust me, I will), then I’ll need a more serious heatsink than what comes stock.

If you were wondering, I need a case because my current one is BTX, which is pretty much non-existent in 2009. I need a new motherboard because mine burned out last fall. I was rocking a Pentium D 930 on that one; technically it still works and I could continue to use it, but why would I? The very cheapest new processors on the market absolutely trounce the D 930, and do so without the high power requirements and massive amounts of heat that pour from that dinosaur. If I’m going to upgrade, I won’t be going with AM-2 or LGA-775 – why move to a socket type that’s about to be phased out? That leaves AM-3, LGA-1366, and the as-of-yet unreleased LGA-1156.

AMD’s AM-3 socket will almost definitely be the cheapest option, and works across their entire spectrum of processors, so it could potentially work as an affordable upgrade path. That being said, I tend to favor Intel processors. LGA-1366 would be my choice without question were it not for the comparatively high cost. The total cost of going with LGA-1156 will probably fall in the middle of the other two options after taking into account an Core i5 processor versus, say, an X3 720 BE for the AM-3 or an i7 920 for LGA-1366.

Processors aren’t everything, though, and with motherboards I won’t be going for anything too flashy, just something reliable that’ll get the job done. Nvidia recently reminded everyone that your GPU makes more of a difference in gaming performance than the processor. Though they’ve got a definite bias in the matter, they make a valid point. My original plan was to keep my trusty 8800 GT and pair it with an i7 920 until I could afford to upgrade to beefier graphics, but that may prove a waste of my money if I’m not consistently taking advantage of the muscle provided by the Core i7 architecture. It might make more sense to go a cheaper route, sell my 8800 GT for $60-75 (not sure of the market value of a used card at the moment), and use the extra money to grab a shiny new GT300 series video card when they hit the market this fall. Additionally, more programs are starting to get on board in regards to taking advantage of CUDA’s GPGPU capabilities, so the benefits of a high-end processor might be rendered (no pun intended) moot by a more GPU-oriented configuration.

Finally, I really want to keep power consumption in mind when speccing this rig. A gaming rig can easily be one of the most energy-guzzling appliances in your house, often more so than a refrigerator, washer, dryer, big-screen tv… you name it. It’s essential that I choose parts with decent power consumption both at idle and load. I’m pretty sure my current power supply has average efficiency, around 70-75%. It might be worth it to buy an 80PLUS-certified PSU. Using the most efficient parts in the world doesn’t mean a thing if your power supply wastes 30-40% of the energy before it even gets to them.

Obviously, this is all a very preliminary exercise. A lot can change in the computer industry in 3.5-4 months, which is how long I’ve got before actually putting this plan into action. Prices fluctuate, new products and hardware revisions hit the market… who knows what things will look like in August. We should be seeing new lineups from both ATI and Nvidia before the end of the year, additional processors in AMD’s Phenom II line, likely the same for Core i7 and a whole new mainstream line with the Core i5 processors. There’ll be more motherboards released for all sockets, as well a healthy bit of competition as prices adjust to make room for all the new hardware. I’ve also got my fingers crossed for more price drops for DDR3 RAM. With a lot of planning, even more research, and a bit of luck, hopefully I’ll come out with a strong machine for the money I drop on it. I look forward to sharing the upgrade process on T+L.


May 2, 2009 - Posted by | Personal, Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I`m building my own gaming pc on a budget of under £400, i think i have the best system for the budget i have, you can follow my progress at the squidoo lens.

    Comment by Dave Knowles | July 6, 2009 | Reply

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