Upgrade my PC or buy new system?

The Budget: I have about $900 to play with. Naturally I’d rather go beneath that level, but if needs must…

The Background: My PC from 2007 has done a yeoman’s job for the past four years, but I need a boost. I work at home and am on this computer a crazy amount of time. I use it for image editing/creation (Photoshop & Fireworks), web design (Dreamweaver and, alas, FrontPage), and the usual word processing stuff. I also play games, mostly singleplayer FPSes. While I’m not a major gamer by any stretch, I still wanna play new stuff now and then.

The Current System:

Dell Dimension E521
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 4400+ 2.3 GHz
4GB RAM (4x 1GB; the only upgrade I’ve made to the system)
Vista 32-bit (so I know that 4GB isn’t really 4GB)
ATI Radeon X1300PRO w/256MB
1 PCIe x16 slot
19" Flat Panel monitor w/speakers
305W PSU
Hard Drive, 320G, S2, 7.2K, 16M Unleaded, Seagate-GL
DVD+/-RW, 16, TSST SATA, Black

So far, the system’s worked darn well for my work needs (though sometimes things get a little slow when I’m flipping between Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Word, IE, FF, Opera & CuteFTP simultaneously). It’s my “play” needs where it falls down, hard.

As I said, I’m not a huge gamer, mostly Half-Life 2 mods and STALKER, but I want to be able to play more modern games (especially Portal 2, baby!!!). The newest game I’ve been able to play is Amnesia. Most games look at my weenie video card and smack me in the face for my effrontery in assuming I could run 'em. Call of Pripyat was supposed to be able to run on my system, but after I purchased it, the game says my video’s too low. Sigh.

The Conundrum: Is it worth it … or even possible… to upgrade this system so it’ll suit my needs for the next few years? Everything I’ve read about upgrading E521 Dimension graphics cards indicates that a big problem is my low-wattage PSU, and the need to add fans for cooling. I can’t imagine being able to upgrade the Power supply myself… I’ve upgrade memory and sound cards before, but that’s where my expertise ends. So I’d probably need to pay someone to make whatever upgrades I need, right?

Or is it just throwing good money after bad? Should I just buy a new system? And if so, what recommendations can you give me? I know everyone hates Dell these days, but with only one exception I’ve had nothing but good luck with their systems.

As a test, I priced out the following Dell Studio XPS 7100 system for $871:

Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64Bit
AMD Phenom™ II X6 1045T + ATI Radeon HD 5450 1GB
Microsoft® Office Home and Student 2010
SERVICE PLAN 2 Year Basic Service Plan
No Monitor
6GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz - 4 DIMMS
1TB - 7200RPM, SATA 3.0Gb/s, 16MB Cache
No speakers (my monitor has speakers attached)
Dell Consumer Multimedia Keyboard
THX® TruStudio PC™
No Dial Up Modem Option
Dell Laser Mouse
SECURITY SOFTWARE McAfee SecurityCenter, 15-Months

(I don’t need a monitor or speakers – my current monitor is fine, and it has speakers attached.)

Is this a good system? Any recommendations of other brands? Or should I save my money and do stuff to my current system?

(OH and also, I’m not the type to build my own system. Just not comfortable doing that much tinkering. Which is a pity, I know, 'cause I’d probably save a bundle if I could. So I’m looking for pre-fab configurations.)

The TLDR Version: Upgrade or buy new? And if new, can you recommend any systems?


Buy new. I don’t think dropping a new video card into that system will be enough – your cpu is just old and slow enough that it will probably immediately become your next bottleneck. And buying a new cpu means a new motherboard and RAM, at which point you’ve upgraded most of the machine. Plus, if you buy new you can dump Vista and get Windows 7.

And your selected system looks good to me. Although I always build my own desktops, I’ve generally had good luck with Dell so I think it’s a good choice for people who don’t want to build their own systems.

Is there a reason why you are going with a Dell?

If not, skip them. This person got a quote from CyberPower of $939 for an overall much better rig:


If building the PC yourself is out of the question I would consider:

  1. Buying the parts yourself and bringing them to a PC shop for them to put together.

  2. Check out specialty shops like ibuypower, falcon west, cyberpower, etc first.

  3. There’s a doper who builds PC for a living. you should be able to find his thread in the Market place. Maybe ask him for a quote.

By the way, the build you posted is very weak in the GPU category. Can you drop it (and buy your own separately) or upgrade it?

If you give me the resolution of your monitor I can suggest a card that will serve you well.

Thanks Giraffe and Kinthalis, I appreciate your responses very much.

I feared that might be the problem (having to upgrade pretty much everything). And switching to Windows 7 is definitely another plus! Though I’ve never had a problem with Vista – certainly not like others have had – I’ve heard much better things about Win7.

Familiarity and comfort. I’ve had 4 Dells since 1993. One lasted from 1993 - 1997 (and I only got rid of it to upgrade), the other from 1997 - 2005 (best computer ever! worked perfectly from day 1 till the end). The only dud was my 2005 version, which froze on and off until I finally bought a new one in 2007. Which is where we are now – a system that’s been great except for the video card issue.

So I’ve had good experiences with 'em. I’m not married to Dell, though, so if another maker is highly recommended, I’m definitely willing to switch.

Wow that thread was just from this morning! Is that you? I’ve never heard of CyberPower. Is this a retailer? Or a parts seller? Do you pick out the parts individually and then they put it together for you?

That’s drachillix, right? Hmm that’s a good idea. I’ll have to think about that one!

Oh dear… this is embarrassing but… what is the GPU? Do you mean CPU? Or is this a graphics thing?

My monitor’s 1449x900. Thanks very much!

GPU is the graphics processor unit.

Ah thank you, Harmonious Discord. :slight_smile: So which of the listed features is the GPU? Does this just mean the graphics card?

If so, then yes, I can get a better card. Available:

(There were other choices but then we get into the 'too expensive for choie category.)

I could lower my sights and go with an Inspiron rather than the Studio XPS, and instead splurge on the video card. Or is that short-sighted?

Or, again, I could skip Dell and find something different. I’m open. :slight_smile:

Tomshardware is a good site for getting performance comparisons of different graphics cards. Here is a list of a bunch of different comparisons, from benchmarks like 3DMark06 to actual framerates in real games. The Radeon 5450 is pretty obsolete already – in the Mass Effect chart, for example, the 5550 is all the way at the bottom. And it’s faster than the 5450, according to a quick Google search.

The graphics card is the single most important component to get right if you want to play current games, so I’d definitely look into a system with a card that’s higher up on those charts.

GPU is part of the video card and can be a chip or multiple chips. It really doesn’t matter. You need to look at performance benchmarks for the cards and do a performance against price decision.

Video Card Benchmarks

I didn’t intend to pick out a system for you, just answer your question. I have to research everything when I want to purchase because I don’t keep up on this between purchases. I run a HD 5750 and it’s a good card. One that is almost the same is the HD 5770 on your list. I wouldn’t get less of a card than that.

Choose a faster running CPU over more cores as most programs are going to be running on one core.

choie, of your listed GPU choices, I’d go with the 5770 for $130. It’s the same Phenom chip as the one you first suggested. so no change there.

One question - what is the power supply on your suggested machine? I notice you list your old one as being 305 watts - that’s way low. Dell likes to scrimp on their PSU’s. Even 400 would be low but workable for the machine you’re considering. I tried to look but Dell’s website is such a crying pain in the ass. Anyway, ask someone at Dell before you buy.

That said, at that price, I’d still rather buy a Dell than any other manufacturer. I’ve had nothing but good from them.

Also look at the Dell Outlet store (http://outlet.dell.com) for discounted systems. Some are refurbished and others were simply returned without being used. For example, this system is $819:

Studio XPS 7100 Desktop
Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium
Processor AMD Phenom II X6 1045T (2.7 GHz)
1.5 TB SATA II Hard Drive (7200RPM)
8 GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz (4 DIMMs)
6X Blu-ray (DVD+/-RW + BD-ROM)
1GB ATI Radeon HD5670 GDDR5

Closest I could come with my parts

LG DVDRW 24X SATA Dual Layer
Asus Motherboard AMD AM3 760GB/SB710 PCI Express DDR3 SATA HDMI LAN microATX
USB Optical Mouse
USB Keyboard English USB 107 Keys Slim Standard Black
4x Memory 2GB DDR3 240pin 1.5V 1333MHz NON-ECC
Mid Tower Case 3236 3/1/6 Drive Bays USB+Audio+Fan Black/Silver
Microsoft Software Windows 7 Home Premium 64Bit English 1PK DSP DVD
HDD 1TB SATA3.0 Desktop Storage 64MB Cache Bare
AMD CPU Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition 3.2GHz AM3 125W Retail
GTX460 SE DDR5 1GB PCI Express mini-HDMI/DVI

the 5450 video on that dell has a benchmark score of 322

VS a reasonably priced card like a Radeon 5770@1636 or GTX 260@2223

I used a slower CPU but that gtx260 is 7x the graphic performance of the dell box, I am also using 8GB of ram for better long term performance under heavy multitasking that you obviously do.

Price on PM.

pcsr use only below this line
103418, 86424, 86337, 84551, 84551, 74506, 62642, 61802, 105944, 108774

That’s a great system. That GTX 460 is really what you want for long term gaming. At your resolution you’ll max out almost any game, and at 1080p it will still run most things on high.

A 460 GTX SE already struggles to deliver 60 fps in current games at 1680 x 1050 @ 1x AA. It’s hardly a forward-looking card.

Since drachillix’s build is dumb (microATX board in ATX case), I did a good one for him to make for you. You can see it here.

Palooka, I greatly appreciate your input and the time you took to put together the system (the keyboard/monitor/mouse references are funny but not applicable… since I work at home!). But I wish you’d be a bit more polite to drachillix, who’s also trying to help and offer his expertise.

Anyway the system drachillix put together seems terrific but is still a bit out of my price range, though I certainly understand the pricing with what appears to be solid quality parts. Unfortunately, with shipping the system will leave my wallet’s comfort zone. :slight_smile:

I have another question, btw. My current computer has Bluetooth capability and I use that for my wireless keyboard & mouse. Would I be able to switch that to a new PC? I think it’s just a USB dongle and software, which I still have, so wouldn’t that be a way to save a few bucks (by not adding the mouse/keyboard)?

Going back to my original idea of upgrading my current system. What exactly would it take, in the worst case scenario? It might be more effort but maybe the money saved would be worth it? Or is it really just hopeless?

EDITED TO ADD: Oops, Merneith, I forgot to answer your question about the power supply for the Dell system I priced in my OP. Apparently it’s 460W.

That usb bluetooth dongle can plug into the new box probably without a hitch and I can adjust my bid accordingly. You also have a new PM with some adjustments based on your PM.

How long do you plan on keeping the new system? A four year upgrade seems kind of short to me. The way I figure it is: budget/expected years of use from machine = actual cost of machine.

Let’s say, for example, you bought the old computer for $1k. For 4 years, that’s $250 a year. You could have bought 2 $500 computers, and been better off.

In my case, I bought a $400 laptop with the expectation it would last 1-2 years. My actual budget was $1.2k over 3-6 years, so I am going to buy a new laptop every 1-2 years and the newer $400 laptop will be much better than one that cost $1.2k 4-6 years ago.


So anyway, looking at the current issue, it sounds like you want a serious machine as cheaply as possible. What I would recommend is to get the best video card you can get, a motherboard with 2 video card slots, and whatever else will fit for your budget. That way, after 2-3 years, you can spend an additional $100-200 or so, fit the 2nd card in there, and give yourself a little obsolescence insurance.

SLI and crossfire boards often require identical cards. Even different firmware revisions can kill proper dual card functionality in some cases making SLI after the fact a kinda dicey method.

choie - 460w is a workable number for that Dell machine.

I’ve never been a fan of the dual video cards either. Inevitably, 3-4 years down the road, there’s a new version of dX out that I’d rather get in a newer card.

I’d guesstimate that doing it my way would add about 2 years to the functionality of a gaming machine for ~$100.