On PC upgrades and diminishing returns

Like many of you, I’m giddily waiting on the release of Intel’s Lynnfield processors to upgrade my main desktop PC. This system is still trucking along with a first-gen, 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo E6400, having skipped three major generational steps on the Intel side—the first quad-core wave, the shrink to 45 nm, and Nehalem—and two on the AMD side—the first Phenom series, then the Phenom II.

In fact, I’ve barely upgraded from the build I wrote about all the way back in November of 2006. Sure, popping the side panel will now reveal an extra 2GB of RAM, a GeForce 8800 GT, and a 1TB Caviar Green. Oh, and I suppose I also switched sound cards and CPU coolers, but those were more like side-grades to get around driver problems and minimize noise, respectively. Point is, the core components are getting pretty long in the tooth.

I was wondering about that the other day. After all, I’m a PC enthusiast with a job and a reasonable amount of disposable income, and I like to play games. My computer should already be rocking some sort of 45-nm processor with a latest-gen graphics card (or two). At the very least, I should have four CPU cores.

What gives?

Sitting down and actually using this thing provides a pretty good explanation. In the past, I could readily feel when a machine was aching for a serious upgrade. Games started to choke, the operating system felt sluggish, booting up or opening apps took a frustrating amount of time, and occasionally, I didn’t even have the right slot in my motherboard for a new graphics card. This time? I can’t really complain about anything.

Here’s a good example: I finally grabbed Techland’s Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood last weekend. This month-old game ran buttery smooth and looked drop-dead gorgeous at 1920×1200 with the detail turned up. That’s using a three-year-old processor and a two-year-old graphics card, neither of which were even high-end parts when they came out.

I get the same impression with Windows and the software I use daily. Vista never felt particularly sluggish to me, and Windows 7 is even faster. Photoshop CS4 feels delightfully snappy, probably because it taps into the GeForce via OpenGL to accelerate the user interface. Firefox has been getting quicker and quicker with each new release. I buy my MP3s online these days, so I hardly ever use MP3 encoders anymore. And my other apps—Pidgin, Thunderbird, WinSCP, FileZilla—well, they’re not that resource-intensive to begin with.

The only exception I can think of is Armed Assault 2, which runs like a three-legged dog on heroin unless I turn down the resolution and disable post-processing. To my knowledge, though, Bohemia Interactive has yet to make a game that delivers smooth frame rates at launch. (I had similar problems with the original Armed Assault, and don’t even get me started about Operation Flashpoint.)

So, if I don’t really need to upgrade, why am I already pricing out a Lynnfield system in my head? Why am I excited about AMD’s upcoming DirectX 11 GPUs? Good question. I think a good part of it is my desire to tinker with new hardware and brag about my PC once again, if only for a few months. Another part is that, while I may not crave the extra performance, I certainly wouldn’t mind it.

This situation has made me re-think my priorities a little bit, though. I may just splurge for a low-power Lynnfield variant if Intel releases some. After all, it would be foolish to suffer more noise, more heat, and bigger power bills if performance isn’t a priority. The same goes for graphics—no foot-long, watt-guzzling cards for me, thank you. With current consoles still setting a hard ceiling for games’ graphical demands, a mid-range or mainstream card based on a next-gen, 40nm, DX11 GPU should serve me just fine.

I may even take a hard drive (or two) out of my desktop PC and buy one of those little Atom-powered Windows Home Server machines, like Acer’s easyStore H340. At that point, I’d be free to ditch my Antec P180 chassis and turn my main PC into a quiet little MicroATX gaming rig. That would involve finding a decent MicroATX motherboard, of course, and those can be hard to come by.

Or who knows; maybe I’ll just wait for Clarkdale. Two cores, four threads, low power, and low pricing—wouldn’t that be good enough?

Comments closed
    • [+Duracell-]
    • 10 years ago

    I haven’t found a reason to upgrade yet. I’m sitting on a Core 2 Duo E6320 OCed to 3Ghz, 4GB of Ram, and an ATI Radeon 4850. While I probably want some more FPS out of my other games, it can handle most, if not all, recent games with ease.

    Maybe when Lynnfield comes out, I will contemplate upgrading, but right now, I don’t need the additional power from better parts.

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 10 years ago

    I probably should not be allowed to make new threads instead of replying… *smacks face*

    • diademz
    • 10 years ago

    I have a similar config really since Oct 2006 – Conroe/Allendale E6400 @ 3.2GHz. Along the way the RAM got upgraded to 4GB RAM, some additional HDDs. For the most part it serves me well and is plenty quick with regards to standard stuff (surfing, Office, occasionally encoding etc). Dual-booting with XP and Win7 and it works well.

    The only letdown is the gfx; a 7600GT which was bought with the system which cost me a bomb then, which I am planning to upgrade to a GTX260 or similar. I used to play alot of games but just haven’t had the time lately.

    So am I going to upgrade anything else? I doubt it. It runs fine, and has been running fine mostly 24×7 for nearly 3 years now and I don’t see the need to change it to anything else.

    • firestorm02
    • 10 years ago

    lol, I’m sitt’n here typing on my AMD 4200 X2 with a 3850 AGP & 3GB of DDR2. Im totally happy with the system as it plays all my fav games with reasonable settings. I have no need or desire to upgrade for games or typical home desktop uses.

    Oddly I have my new dual E5520 workstation (4890 + 12GB DDR3) sitting right next to it……and its turned off!

    Consumer needs have plateaued and technology has exceeded demand. The only areas that are exploiting current tech are the workstation and server markets. I would imaging that the gap will only widen.

    • clone
    • 10 years ago

    I think the reasons for upgrading very often died with the introduction of dual cores.

    it took several more new computers for me to get into this opinion but my first dual core was an Opteron 170 I overclocked stable to 2800mhz with 2 gb’s of Patriot 500mhz ram and at the time an X1800 512mb and raided twin 74gb Raptors.

    I don’t look back on this system with rose colored glasses but I have come to the realisation that the system was more than enough even today so long as I replaced the graphics for gaming…. I see plenty of ppl talking about single core P4’s but the P4’s today are painfully sluggish when multitasking no matter how much ram you throw at them even with HT and socket 939 single cores are just as bad.

    today I sold 3 computers to customers and one of them was my Intel system an E8400, Asus p5q with 8gb ram and formerly a 4870 512mb graphics card and an 850 watt psu.

    the system is being completely split up…..the cpu, mobo and 4gb’s of ram are going to one customer.

    the other 4gb’s are going into a 2nd system.

    the 4870 and 850watt psu were sold to a different customer as an upgrade and I replaced them with a 400watt Silverstone psu and a 3870 512mb that I’m currently totally happy with.

    the replacement for my personal system will be an AMD 240 dual core and I won’t keep the 3870 if I can find a buyer.

    • swaaye
    • 10 years ago

    I think that the lack of serious progress can be mostly summed up with two factors:

    -pathetic I/O performance
    -single threaded CPU performance stopped going up like crazy

      • Krogoth
      • 10 years ago

      No, the real reason is the lack of a killer application.

      Eye candy in 3D games has already stop wowing people. Value-line CPUs (<$99) are powerful enough to handle most casual non-gaming applications without any real effort.

      I/O performance is more then sufficient for non-workstation and non-server functions. However, any improvement does not hurt either. It is different story for servers and workstation though. The demand for faster and greater I/O throughput will always be there.

        • swaaye
        • 10 years ago

        I don’t think that 3D improvements have stopped wowing at all. I think that there’s just a big group of people that only cares about the gameplay and they’ve always been happy with whatever visuals were included. There are lots of ways that 3D visuals can improve and I know for sure that I’m not done being wowed.

        As for I/O performance being ok, well I suppose it in some ways is. The fact of the matter is however that its performance is far behind other advancements. We’re just getting good at hiding its horrid ugliness most of the time. 🙂

      • jazper
      • 10 years ago

      SSDs are a big jump in that respect

        • swaaye
        • 10 years ago

        They are indeed. We just need to get them perfected to the point that they are undeniably superior in every way compared to HDDs. Getting there.

          • Krogoth
          • 10 years ago

          It is not likely going to happen on the GB/$$$$ ratio department. HDDs will around for bulk data storage that does not need super fast access and heavy-doses of bandwidth.

    • Umbragen
    • 10 years ago

    It’s called Consumerism. It’s a condition where /[

      • XA Hydra
      • 10 years ago

      q9300 + radeon 3850 here…. My friends and I play a lot of Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance and they are sporting Core i7s with GTX 280s. My machine runs the game just fine and never lags one bit, plus while their system are blowing wind from Dante’s Inferno, my machine is blowing out cool air. I’m all about low power consumption and low heat. In my experience it makes for a longer lived and more reliable machine, and I don’t have the money to be replacing stuff all the time like my buddies. If I wanna show this machine to my future great-grandkids it oughtta fire right up! LOL. I’ve been looking out for the geforce 9600 green editions but I have yet to see any materialize.

      • mnecaise
      • 10 years ago

      I tend to agree… I have a habit of running my machines for 4-5 years, until some cause forces me to upgrade and/or replace it. I bought the machine below when the previous motherboard died. Before that it was software that I had to run /[

    • mnecaise
    • 10 years ago

    Still using my Pentium D 805 (2.66 GHz). It’s seen one video card bump to a Radeon 2600 and an upgrade to 3GB; but, that’s it. I don’t use it for gaming but it is my primary machine at home and I use it for software dev and electrical engineering work. It runs Windows 7 fine. It’s “good enough”; so, for now, I see no need to upgrade.

    • ZGradt
    • 10 years ago

    Bah, you guys are just lazy. When I had room at my old house, I set up 4 CRTs on my AthlonXP just because I could. The first thing I did was load up a different show on each monitor and I didn’t really notice any dropped frames. Just having a 2nd monitor was a huge advantage because I can browse the web or whatever while I’m dead in CS and I’m waiting for the two scaredy cat campers to settle things. Now that I have 4 cores at my command (and 12 megs of L2 cache 🙂 ), I can do basically whatever I want, all at the same time. The only problems being bandwith / IO restrictions… But I can easily encode stuff while gaming now. I don’t need to schedule things to run unattended now, I just run them in the background.

    But most of the time I can’t really tell much of a difference between this setup and my C2duo, and I think most of what I do notice is the short loading times due to the RAID 0 storage setup on the quad core.

    I did see this coming when they started adding multiple cores. Nobody feels a need to upgrade since most apps you use every day are single threaded. To a single threaded app, there’s no difference between a quad core or a single core at the same clockspeed, and clockspeeds have been staying in the 2.5 to 3 Ghz range for how many years? It also doesn’t hurt that most developers are paying more attention to reducing bloat these days.

    I have been thinking about upgrading my 8800GTS 512MB to a 4570 though. My rule of thumb for the last 10 years is to upgrade whenever I can get one 2x as fast as my current one for under $200…

    • Ruiner
    • 10 years ago

    /opens up QuakeLive

    • 10 years ago

    I have a C2D E6400 @ 3.0, 4GB of RAM and a 9600GT Video card.

    In December (maybe January) I will upgrade my pc

    I usually upgrade my whole rig in 3 year cycles. but i always do incremental upgrades every year and a half or so (better video card, more ram, better HDD, etc)

    When i bought this pc i ran my cpu at the stock 2.13, had a gig of ram and had a 7800GS. Running the CPU at 3.0, adding the (faster) 4gb kit and the video card (this February) extended the life of my pc 🙂

    im still not sure if im onna get a corei7 or a corei5…..the price to performance ratio will tell me soon enough…

    • nsx241
    • 10 years ago

    I agree for the most part – this is certainly true for processors, graphics cards, ram. But the big upgrade I think should be on everyone’s list is SSDs. And arguably, it’s the one upgrade that will have the most significant impact on your system, as no matter how fast our processors got, we were still limited by this mechanical medium. No longer it seems.

    The only thing now is to wait for the prices to come down (thinking likely early to mid next year when they’ll be reasonable). I would seriously put SSDs ahead of any other hardware upgrades right now.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      sub-$200 SSDs 160GB+ with consistent quality performance like the Intel SSDs will have me biting. I’m not convinced about getting an LGA1156 setup in the near future because Sandy Bridge will require a new chipset :/ and AMD will still be on K10.5 for a long while which leads me to seriously consider a C2Q to drop in to my current system.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 10 years ago

    err double post, sorry

    • d0g_p00p
    • 10 years ago

    I have to say I am in the same boat. I bought a E8400 at launch and later a 8800GTS 512 with 8 GB of RAM for Vista. I keep telling myself that I need a new video card or something else for my gaming PC. However I look and realize that my PC is fine and that I don’t need to upgrade. However that upgrade bug keeps hitting me. I am in the market for a HD 4870 or a GTX 260.

    As things work, I’ll wait for the DX11 based cards and the mid-range Nehalem before I upgrade. I do look forward to the quad goodness though. My current build is probably the best computer I have ever owned prior to my Barton and nForce 2 build.

    • cegras
    • 10 years ago

    Did it really run that smooth? TF2 on a 1440 x 900 still coughs with 12 x CFAA on a 4870.

      • TurtlePerson2
      • 10 years ago

      It’s probably your processor. I upgraded my processor and saw huge TF2 improvements.

    • Chillectric
    • 10 years ago

    My 45nm C2D 2 Ghz laptop is all the performance I need save for maybe an SSD until SC2 comes out… then I got to look for a low power gaming desktop that can play it at 1920×1200.

    • SGT Lindy
    • 10 years ago

    I could not agree more. My thoughts are the following.

    Games in the PC world are for the most part console ports. Your rig there is as powerful or more powerful than a 360 or PS3. Bound in Blood will have anywhere from 10x to 100x the sales on the console as it will on the PC. So the game makers (for the most part) build so a game runs good on 360/PS3. They dont push past that…for the most part.

    If you are not running a 3d rendering software, movie making software, or high end games like Crysis then your PC you have there is probably overkill for everything else.

    Most applications still cant/wont use more than a single CPU, so having 2 cores for OS overhead is great for 95% of applications. Are there any PC games that will use a quad core? Are that not mostly GPU limited if limited at all?

    If I actually wanted to build a new desktop PC for gaming.(Desktop free for 2+ years now). I would get the cheapest Intel made mobo, a cheap dual core Intel CPU, 4gigs of RAM, and a video card that cost between $100 and $150. I would not buy a sound card if the mobo had one on it. It would run 99% of games at 1680×1050 no problem.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 years ago


        • SGT Lindy
        • 10 years ago

        If I had to guess a RTS would have been it, since they are CPU heavy.

        • Rakhmaninov3
        • 10 years ago

        Lost Planet used all 4 to help with its amazing snowfall and other intensely particle-heavy scenes.

    • alex666
    • 10 years ago

    I’m running two core2duo systems at 3.6GHz and 3.2GHZ with 4g ram and good video cards (8800GT, 4850, both with after-market coolers), raptors, both built in 2007, and still generally satisfied with their performance. I’m totally bored with what’s out there right now. I’ve been pricing a possible core i7 system because I love raw power, but the price is climbing higher than I want.

    I think maybe hardware, software, and OSes have reached a point of parity X quality X price that we’ve never really seen before. Other than maybe the solid state drives, new hardware gains all seem very incremental now, like we’ve reached the beginning of a stage where performance gains are not much more than diminishing returns.

    • PetMiceRnice
    • 10 years ago

    Excellent commentary Cyril. I once did a major system overhaul which ended up costing me a fair bit of money, but really was not worth the boost in performance I got for gaming or anything else. I ended up regretting doing the system upgrade and felt that I should have waited another year or so when I would have really appreciated the speed improvement. But even now, I often find myself with the system upgrade itch after having a computer for a couple of years, but more often than not a major upgrade is not really necessary. As you suggest, it has more to do with the idea of tinkering with something new.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 10 years ago

    I would say that you should get the 3.2 ghz i-core 5 when it comes out. You should have at least 3 ghz dual core. Quad core you can probably wait on for a few more years.

    As for other upgrades not really necessary though you should switch the graphics card eventually.

    I think the most important thing people can do is get the junk off their computers. Go through msconfig ad disable everything you dont use regularly. Consider replacing single function applications with multi-function ones to reduce the number of programs running.

    • blitzy
    • 10 years ago

    I have had the same urge to upgrade recently, but really for me there’s no point… the only games that I want to play at the moment are Dawn of War 2 and Street Fighter IV. Not really enough reason for me to splurge on upgrades for two games that I know won’t hold my attention for too long.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      I’m thinking of upgrading because I know that by the time I sell what I have now (or might get soon) it will have depreciated an equal amount in absolute terms although a quad core might actually hold more value than a dual core in 1.5-2 years. Then again for a little bit more in price for the CPU alone there will be some much better options in a month but that would require a new platform too.

    • Ryhadar
    • 10 years ago

    Question: What case is that in the picture for the blog?

    • MarkD
    • 10 years ago

    I can’t justify more than the utility player, and even that is overkill. I grabbed a Q9550 from Micro Center because I passed by one while I was on vacation. In all honesty, the Q9400 or an E8xx would have been enough.

    My P4 2.4C on an Intel D865GBF needs to go for two reasons. I’ve begun encoding and burning foreign TV shows for my wife. Bittorrent, DVD Flick, and the antivirus and antispyware software make it somewhat sluggish at times. The real justification was needing something to play with XEN and SUSE 64bit software on (work related.)

    No games, no upgrade treadmill.

    • phez
    • 10 years ago

    SSDs. /blog

    • Ashbringer
    • 10 years ago

    The problem with the hardware market, is the software market. Someone built it, but nobody came.

    You know how silly it is for me to own a multi-core CPU with 64-bit support, but yet majority of my games don’t support either technology? With games this is something you’d expect, due to how much demand games throw onto your PC. Yet emulators like PCSX2 and Dolphin do make good use of multiple cores and 64-bit.

    Then there’s homogenization between consoles and PCs. The reason we’re needing less hardware upgrades, is because majority of games are based on console versions. So a $100 graphics card and CPU will get you equivalent or better graphics to a Xbox 360 or PS3.

    Even applications like Nero has gone through how many versions, and can anyone notice any changes, beyond bugs fixes and drive support? If they do make changes, somehow the application demands more CPU attention while having no noticeable improvements.

      • Corrado
      • 10 years ago

      Nero has gone in the crapper recently because they keep adding features no one wants. Why do you insist on adding a media center, when just about every version of Windows shipped on a consumer PC in the last 3 years HAS WINDOWS MEDIA CENTER?

        • Chrispy_
        • 10 years ago

        Same argument for most software really.

        We don’t want 20 swiss-army-knives where you get a 20 useless knifes, 20 useless scissors and twenty cumbersome bottle-openers. I’ll take the knife block with the best knife for each situation, a real pair of serated scissors and a proper bottle-opener that can do the job without drama.

        There is so much overlap between common PC programs and the real problem is that each one thinks it is the best thing in the world for opening every exension it can handle. Sure, I know to untick that box but your average joe is going “where is my DVD playing software, WTF is this Nero, and where are the controls now?”

    • Cuhulin
    • 10 years ago

    I’m running a system with the same basic processor and vintage as yours — from December 2006 — and I agree with your sentiments. This is the oldest desktop I have used, and it’s basically pretty good. Oh, the added 2GB of memory (to 4), the TB and blu-ray drives, and the Radeon 4870 have helped, but the need to upgrade is really very limited.

    On the other hand, I am aware of its age from a parts wear standpoint. I had to replace the CPU fan recently, when the old one started make an awful grinding sound. The video card (Radeon 1550) that drives my third monitor is no longer supported by AMD. Lynnfield/Win 7 may provide enough benefit, added to some more assurance of longevity, to support an upgrade.

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    The only thing my x2-3600 is not adequate for – at the 1.9 GHz sto speed even – is gaming.

    I am extremely satisfied with the little chip. At the time I bought it – Feb 2007 – I was very torn between buying it for $105 or buying the C2D E4300 for $135. In hindsight, I very much made the right choice, as now I am big into running virtual machines. The x2-3600 has virtualization support, the E4300 does not. Furthermore, the little chip happily ran overclocked until I got into the virtual machines, which the chip would not stably run when overclocked.

    Just running on a 690G mobo, I can get the thing down to 75 watts at load, 60 watts idle. With a 4850 in there it is more like 105 watts idle, which is a darn shame.

    There are two reasons I need a new machine – first, I want the x2-3600 machine to be a 24/7 file / web / vm server. Second, the x2-3600 is actually a bit inadequate for recent games.

    I plan to build either a Lynnfield or Deneb machine, and the deciding factors are power consumption at idle, platform features, and platform cost. If I go with Deneb, it’ll be an X4-955 and will likely ride the GA-MA790FXT-UD5P. That’s the combo that the Lynnfield has to beat.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      Just be careful when you’re looking at reviews to check and compare the motherboard used. Although even mobo makers have jumped on the greenwagon there can still be a noticable difference between them for power draw.

      • flip-mode
      • 10 years ago

      Well, stink, this weekend I finally bought Crysis, and it plays just fine at 16×12 on my system. It lags every once in a while. If my system can play Crysis, what can’t it play?

      Speaking of Crysis – Wow. So far so great. Beautiful. A worthy successor to Far Cry so far. And I can save game! Game play is enjoyable. I should have got this game a year ago.

      Still, this will not halt my system build plans. My mobo leaves more than a little to be desired, and the CPU is struggling with Crysis.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 10 years ago

    Sorry, Cyril, I went off point on my last post.

    Wanted to say, I’m in the exact same boat as you. Why fix something that is not broken? I’m looking forward to Lynnfield, yea. But maybe not to buy one, but just to see how people are doing with it. To see how much different it is. I don’t know.

    The only thing is that my wife is now browsing off a 9 year-old laptop and I know it will just die one day. So, I want to replace it before too long. So, that is really where I’m stuck. Desktop or laptop. Build-my-own or buy-one-off-the-shelve? I know the desktop is not portable. We don’t have a dvd player for traveling, laptop wins. Small, laptop wins. Build it yourself? Laptop sucks the big one! So, I’m most likely to build one, so desktop it is.

    Question is when? Why? Pride? Ego? My wife could care-less!

    Anyway, great post! Keep it up!

    • danny e.
    • 10 years ago

    I for one am happy that TR now has blogs.

    • KyleSTL
    • 10 years ago

    Pentium 4 3.0Ghz Northwood and 7600GS (with serious Vmod and OC). Looks like I’ve skipped 6 generations of CPUs (Intel, at least) and 3 generations of graphics cards (on the nVidia side, 4 on the ATI side). Needless to say, I’m desperate for an upgrade ([fairly old] games run slow, starting to get audio stuttering, and many simple tasks take much longer than they should).

    • Pax-UX
    • 10 years ago

    I agree somewhat, but most people have a PC & a Laptop at this stage.

    But you’ve got it wrong, CPU is no longer the most import part of a gaming rig and hasn’t been for a while. I build around GFX card releases not CPU. I’m using an Intel Quad 2.66 OC to 3.2GHz rock solid never crashes with 8GB of RAM running a 4780×2. This PC was built at the release of the 4780×2. My next Games PC build will be the same thing.

    PC’s need to built differently:

    * Day 2 day = Power consumption
    * Workstation = chipset / cpu / ram
    * Games = GFX

    One of the things that pissing me off about this site is the CPU testing doesn’t included real life resolutions, which is now at least 1600×1200. But a stupid 1024×786 or 1280×1024, so what if the CPU is faster here then another one if all GPU’s top out at about the same point, it doesn’t make a difference when building a Game’s PC and if that’s my primary goal then you haven’t given up the information to make an informed choice. Yes it shows raw performance, but all I want is real performance. It’s the same with synthetic benchmarks vs real world usage.

    Laptop is my day to day computer and the games / work PC is only used for two things. Gaming and Video production. This things has got at least 3 maybe 4 more years in it. Unless Intel releases something crazy good and is cheap. At the moment the cost to get into Lynnfield is just not worth it to me.

    I’m waiting till its standard and cheap then I’ll think about an upgrade.

    • herothezero
    • 10 years ago

    I’ve tried three different times to upgrade my E8400 system, which I bought when that CPU was $300 upon release. I just can’t justify it, even for running ArmA2.

    I am looking forward to new GPUs, however.

    • dpmeersman
    • 10 years ago

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Our systems are similar in age and components and I play games like Grid and COD and they run fine. Yet I’m pricing a Core i5 system as well and probable will make the jump by late spring early summer next year. My current system has seen upgrades to 8 gig of ram (probably didn’t need it but my MB would support it and I’m running Vista64, and it sure didn’t break the bank, not with memory costs being where they are). If I make the jump next year, my current system will be in use for over 4 years, the longest I’ve ever used a computer without a complete change. Like you I have the disposable income but with things running smoothly I’ll wait another 6-9 months and see what’s available. My E6600 processor has been a great workhorse and I don’t feel that Intel has had processors in the past that lived up to their pre-release hype and continued to perform to my expectations for more then a year or two.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      Wait…you’ll expect to have at least your CPU+mobo for four years but q[

    • Decelerate
    • 10 years ago

    Lucky you.

    I wouldn’t even think about “upgrading” had my Shuttle SN25P not died last month. Currently running on a laptop.

    I am looking at another Shuttle, even if that leaves a bad after-taste in my mouth. After going SFF I don’t think I can ever go back to big boxes, and I don’t see another SFF alternative that’s conceivably appealing right now.

    • vikramsbox
    • 10 years ago

    When I started out it was with an AthlonXP2200+ with a 40GB, 5400rpm drive. When I first was forced to upgrade, it was due to a burnt out mobo, and I chose the S754 Sempron 2800+ with K8m800 mobo as it was the cheapest and I wouldn’t have to change the RAM to DDR2.
    I still remember how fast the system seemed as compared to the XP2200+. Now the HDD wasn’t able to keep up. MS Office and even Open office started up faster. Windows installation jumped from 60+min to under 30min, and booting times were perceptibly faster. I could feel that the system was much faster. I ended up adding a 160GB 7200rpm drive, a modest Geforce 6200, addl DVD-RW, and a TV Tuner card- all this in the same 220W PSu that didn’t even heat up under full load!
    My first real upgrade was to the Pentium Dual core E2160. I went by the reviews and judging by them, this thing should have rocked. But under normal usage (except TV recording and encoding) I could not make up any perceptible change.
    Over the days, I’ve added more and more to this build in my search for a perceptible change in the normal speed of the system while going cooler at its rear end. But nothing seems to have worked.
    This is not to say that the Core2Duos are useless or that technology is not progressing. But if we look at Cyril’s words carefully- we’ll see that he’s referring to the very old and tested conclusion that in 95% of the time, the cheapest and the best build will be the same in speed. We don’t spend all day playing games or encoding all the multimedia stuff that we can find- we do this (highest use for avg working user) only about 2-3 hrs a day, and there’s no sense in spending hundreds of dollars to cater to the remaining 5% of power usage when your old build is adequate.
    Also the more powerful CPU we get, the more power we search for the remaining components, and out we go, wasting hours and hours running synthetic benchmarks and games etc.
    Moot point- change your PC only if you get near to ripping off your hair. This will help you save yourself from ripping off your wallet.

    • FubbHead
    • 10 years ago

    I’m still on an Athlon X2 3800+.

    It’s starting to show its age a little, although not drastically. But I’m still looking forward to when my university studies are over, I hopefully get a decent job, and I can upgrade this old but loyal servant.

    • dragmor
    • 10 years ago

    I’m still using and happy with the Shuttle I built in March 2005. A64 3500+ 1GB of RAM and a 6600GT. It still plays all the games I want to play and handles my work. Plus the machine is undervolted so it only uses ~40w idle.

    In 2007 I built a Intel C2D setup, with a dual core running at 3.6ghz and a 7950GX2. But I sold it a couple of months later and went back to the Shuttle.

    I’m actually looking at picking up a SSD for the Shuttle. OCZ Solid 2 series looks like a decent fit if the price is cheap enough (the board only has SATA 1 anyway).

    • derFunkenstein
    • 10 years ago

    You guys with an E8400 with a 25-30% overclock might be missing the point of the blog post. Cyril is not only getting by on something roughly 60% the speed of your machines with 1/3 of the L2 cache, he’s very happy with it. Also, people with budget CPUs and super-high overclocks (E5200 @ 4GHz!) are not Cyril’s bretheren here because you’re also pushing 100% more performance from your machine. And I say “yay” for him. Being content with what you have can be very important.

    That said, I have non-gaming uses for a quad core. I use Sonar 8 Studio Edition and when I get hard and heavy with multiple VST synths playing with any audio effects at all in an audio bus somewhere, I do see CPU usage for just Sonar in the 40-45% range. For an equally clocked dual-core, that’s 80-90%, and on Cyril’s machine that probably means audio drop-outs.

    And in addition to that, there are some games that can use a third or even fourth coreSupreme commander last night had three of my cores going hard. Grand Theft Auto IV scales very well as more cores are added.

    All of the above is my hobby, so I put money into my hobby. Some folks collect things and put money into that. Other folks are competitive runners that put a couple hundred dollars into a pair of shoes, and they have to replace their shoes every month because they run 200 or 300 miles a month. Do what makes you happy with your spare time. 🙂

    • Prodeous
    • 10 years ago

    I guess it totally depends on what you are doing with your computer.

    If gaming is your thing, then maybe there is nothing to exciting.

    But for raw processing (photo/video editing, rendering, and such) the multicore evolution is truly exciting..

    For me, rendering is the target. Rendering Full HD on my curent PII X4 810 takes anywhere from 4 to 8 minutes render. And it is still not close to photo-realistic.. With more complex scenes it takes 20+ minutes per frame.. now try to make an animation.. of even 10 minutes…

    But I know that I’m a small part of the market, so I totally understand most peoples point of view.

    With regards to Graphics. I’m on a 4670, but I don’t play to much. However to me power efficiency is the key, so this one fits nicely in a sub 75W envilope. But I’m quite excited about the 5000 mid range vid. Even the current 4770 made me quite excited. Hope the 5K series will not have the availability issue as this one does.

    • sweatshopking
    • 10 years ago

    there really isnt that much out there to be excited about, however i’m do love to mess around with ubuntu and my 8800gt’s in SLI are needed to keep some of those games running at reasonable frame rates. things like farcry2 run Much slower in linux then they do in windows, so i wouldnt mind some better hardware. but really what i actually want is just games to run native in linux. then i can dump win 7.

    • bhanja_trinanjan
    • 10 years ago

    Of course, we need more performance! Especially on the graphics card. Just see what a DX10 game like Crysis can do to your hardware. We are yet to see a single card GPU that will run Crysis @ Very High(DX10) @ 1080P at an average FPS > 30.

    Crysis Physics @ Very High??

    Sorry, more CPU needed.

    What did you say? Crysis unoptimized crap? Hell No… Just a state of the art forward looking game choking “not too state of the art” cards.

    Same thing happens with 3D Mark Vantage. (Who cares that this is synthetic? Future DX10 games will run like crap on today’s DX10 cards.)

    Go figure!

      • sydbot
      • 10 years ago

      Eh, Crysis does not scale well above 2 cores; the X4 965 review shows that chip’s FPS marginally above the X2 550. It seems to like more cache than anything, which is a shame because I was considering going from a 4800+ to a Athlon II X2 250 with the main purpose of shoring up Crysis frame rates and bosting my h.264 encoding by 30-40%. But mostly for Crysis. Maybe the X2 550 isn’t such a bad deal…

      • TurtlePerson2
      • 10 years ago

      I’m not sure that I’m buying the Crysis is “state of the art” line. The game was released during the 8800 series. Graphics cards have come a long way and it still takes a >$300 solution to run the game at max settings with no slowdowns. How much better does Crysis look than CoD4 that I can hardly run it at high settings while CoD4 can be maxed out without dropping below 60?

    • Game_boy
    • 10 years ago

    Why aren’t you excited about /[

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 10 years ago

    Oops…missed the reply button…

    • Sunburn74
    • 10 years ago

    Well said, well said. I have an e8400 @ 3.9ghz. I eyed a q9400 on microcenter for $119 and a q9550 for $169, but I just couldn’t bring myself to make the jump. The problem was I couldn’t think of any app I run that could benefit from additional processing power.

    Heck, I bought a copy of crysis warhead 4 days ago and going in I thought I’d be able to best run it at 1600×1200 on my gtx260 216. Instead I ran it at 1920×1080 maxed out in every category; it was smooth as butter. I was shocked. Literally shocked. It’s kinda like winning the lotto. You’re pleased for the first day, but the second day you kinda have to decide what you’re actually going to do with the money.

    You see, I too had been pricing out upgrades to various parts, but apparently anything above my current system would be a complete waste. A new processor? Why? A better gpu? What for? More RAM? 8GB is plenty. DDR3? I have no bandwidth limitations. An SSD is pretty much the only potentially justifiable upgrade, yet my 1.5 TB barracuda is amazingly fast with loads, not to mention because my PC is on (or asleep) all the time,superfetch keeps everything precached for ultra snappiness 🙁

    What a topsy turvy world we live in when stuff performs faster than it needs to and its seen as a negative thing.

    Personally I think the issue lies with software developers. Whilst tech companies are continually pushing the envelope for faster, cheaper stuff, it’s almost like developers are taking a step back. Look at Win7: people actually called for it to have a smaller footprint and to use less processing power and etc. I mean really.Would anyone die if Win7 was larger and a bit more aggressive on the processing front, when you consider just how cheap and just how powerful hardware is today? On the gaming front, it’s even worse, seeing as all PC’s are getting these days are console ports.

    I dunno people… i dunno…

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      I’m jealous of those who have a MC or Fry’s nearby 🙁 I’d have surely gotten a q9400 at $120-130 if the closest MC to me wasn’t nearly the same cost altogether as buying online.

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 10 years ago

    I don’t understand why power use isn’t a bigger priority. We know things are fast enough, but they just keep getting faster, and power use for desktops has actually become worse over time, despite all the claims of huge advances in efficiency.

    Here’s how much power computers I have access to use at idle (where virtually all computers spend most of their time):

    5 year old Athlon 64 laptop: 36w idle
    Core 2 65nm laptop: 19w idle
    Core 45nm laptop: 18w idle

    6 year old Pentium 4 + Radeon 9600 desktop: 75w
    4 year old Athlon X2 desktop (no graphics card): 55w
    65nm Pentium dual-core + 8800GT: 115w
    45nm Pentium dual-core + 9600GT: 105w
    45nm Core 2 Quad + 4850: 95w (it has a much better PSU)

    Note that those laptop figures include the screen. When it shuts off, the 45nm Core 2 laptop goes down to 10w.

    All of the modern desktops I have access to use about TEN TIMES as much power as the laptops of the same generation, when doing the same things!

    You can say it’s about cost, as there are power regulation circuits which are not even present in the desktop parts, hence the distinction between the two.

    However, $300-400 laptops completely level any desktop in this regard, screen, battery, and all included, and desktops sure as heck tend to cost more than that.

    To my knowledge, even Atom nettops use drastically more power than their netbook counterparts. I’ve seen figures that say they’re at 40w idle, while the netbooks should be only a few watts.

    So why do you pay more for a desktop, only to have it run up your electricity bill? It makes no sense, especially considering that plenty of people leave their desktops on 24/7. Intel, AMD, and Nvidia surely know that, but none of them take any initiative to do anything about it.


    • etilena
    • 10 years ago

    upgraded from an overclocked 1.86GHz c2d + radeon 3850 to an overclocked 2.8GHz tricore phenom 2 + radeon 4850. don’t see a big difference in games as Cyril has mentioned, but for editing photos in Lightroom, the difference is huge. it’s just for processing RAW files from a nikon D300 and a 3s lag per photo is noticeable on the old pc when you have to go through a few hundred photos in one sitting. It’s still not the fastest I think modern processors can offer, but it’s smooth enough that it doesn’t disrupt your workflow.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    I’m having some upgraditis urges too and although the logical side of me seems to be losing a bit I’ve been able to hold off. I did a ton of hardware swapping for a few years and was able to buy and sell with good timing (little to no loss) sometimes but realized that when I did take a loss what was the point? Half the time my PC was in transition and while usable it was waiting for the next change rather than being fully used. The only ‘heavy-duty’ thing I do is mp3 encoding but I no longer need to do that in huge batches and even if I did I’m fine letting it run for a half an hour. Same for any new DVDs I want to encode although even that is becoming somewhat of a moot point what with storage becoming so cheap, why bother compressing them?

    As for gaming I’ve had as high as an 8800GTX and a GTX 260 and as low as a 9600GT (currently) which given that I don’t game a ton with the newest titles is fine. Maybe I’ve just become bored with the PC hobby since advancements are largely beyond my needs at this point. Shoot at one point recently I was thinking of just getting an integrated chipset mobo and being done with it. Maybe I’m just getting too old to care.

    What I’m really anticipating is more OpenCL apps that aren’t commercial. Where’s my OpenCL LAME, or x264, or one of the few other things that actually use my e8400 to its fullest? I can see using this platform with a hefty (relatively – probably midrange for the next gen) graphics card for a long time if OpenCL really takes off.

    Cyril – if you use your main PC for storage of files that can be just as easily streamed or stored in another PC a server box might do you well and also decrease some upgraditis. My main PC is a mATX htpc-style case and although it limits me somewhat from top-end cooling it works fine.

    • indeego
    • 10 years ago

    I was /[

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 10 years ago

    I got a P35, 9600GT, 2GB of DDR2, and an E5200, which overclocks to 4 GHz, to replace a socket 939 Athlon X2, a 6600GT, 1GB of DDR1, and a motherboard with a bunch of leaked caps.

    For the most part, I’m pretty disappointed. I didn’t get a new monitor, so I’m still at 1280×1024. Games that ran crappy still ran crappy, despite the fact that it’s multiple times more powerful, in ever way, than what I used to have.

    That’s because the games are crappy. And more crappy games are coming out than ever.

    For years now, I think the “limitations” have been more software than hardware. That will continue being the case until programming changes as radically as computer hardware is now changing.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 10 years ago

    wow. amen bro.

    • Ditiris
    • 10 years ago

    I think over the last few years we’ve seen GPUs and games mirror what has happened with CPUs and CPU programs. That is, the hardware is so fast now that there needs to be a big leap on the software side in order to take advantage of it.

    For example, for general productivity applications, any CPU from this decade will suffice. The programs just haven’t changed that much.

    There has always been a software/hardware spiral where the hardware advanced and then people went and wrote bigger programs to take advantage of it. Yay, more CPU cycles, now I can write all this code to make a paperclip talk! But you can only make a program so big, and CPUs are just so fast that generally the bulk of time waiting is for some other reason (disk access, network access, etc.).

    And for games, it is a huge investment to write a new program that really takes full advantage of a modern GPU. Couple that with wanting to reach the biggest audience possible, and game-makers are going to target the lowest common denominator. It seems to be more rare to see a game developer creating a game engine to fully exploit modern GPU hardware. But, tick tock tick tock, process lithography just keeps on marching.

    As one of the posters said, there are always going to be some programs that will take advantage of more CPU/GPU power, such as video editing, rendering, scientific computing, etc., but there’s just sort of an innovation malaise at the moment.

    New features were always what got me excited, handwriting recognition, bump mapping, anti-aliasing, etc. What’s the next killer feature on the CPU/GPU front?

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 10 years ago

      The next killer feature is ray tracing…but current video cards can already do that without having been specifically designed for it.

      We used to get clock speed bumps and a few of a specific shaders added here and there.

      Then that pretty much came to a standstill, and instead, things just multiplied outright. You basically get the same “speed” and function as you could have years ago, but with 50-100% more processors, every new generation.

      I don’t think software is ever going to “catch up” to hardware for PC uses, without a completely radical change. What are they going to do with a level of processing power that has continued to multiply beyond what’s necessary for the last several years? Even higher resolutions? Even more multi-tasking capability? Enough is enough. Now, it’s just overkill.

      In just a few short months, it will be 50% more overkill already. There will be 6 core desktop CPUs and mainstream Radeon 5000s with 1,200 shaders.

      A computer with a Q6600 and a 9800GX2 is a generation old, and still isn’t something that’s properly utilized.

      By the time something does that, as it doesn’t really appear to be happening soon, at best, things will be yet another 50-100% step beyond things that aren’t even out yet.

      So the best case scenario is that things “pick up” soon with, say, DX11, and then games will be two generations behind lol…

    • holophrastic
    • 10 years ago

    if you do now, what you did when it was new, why would you expect it to be less-than-sufficient? Good computers don’t become bad for people like us.

    I just upgraded last september from a P2 450MHz — 10 years with windows 98. Built a whole business on it.

    It would still work. Alas, I needed to play a game once in a while. And it couldn’t run IE7. being in the web development world, I needed to run IE7.

      • Spurenleser
      • 10 years ago

      That is the best reason to upgrade I’ve ever heard! “I needed to run IE7” 😀

      Props for running such an old system for so long.

    • Coran Fixx
    • 10 years ago

    I agree completely. I have a e8400 @3.6 and don’t even see anything on the horizon to get excited about.

    I am going to have to get into video editing just to justify an upgrade.

    Maybe I’m just getting old.

      • Faiakes
      • 10 years ago

      Don’t think you’re getting old, wiser maybe.

      I have an E8400 @ 4.0 With its 6MB of L2 cache and the memory running at 600 (1200) I doubt I’m lacking in CPU power. Just like you, I don’t see any good reason to upgrade to i5/i7.

      At best I’ll get a GPU with 1024MB of RAM as I play at 1920*1200 and the extra memory is needed.

      • insulin_junkie72
      • 10 years ago

      Indeed, HD video encoding is making me consider pulling out my E8400 out of my P35 board and popping in a Q8400 . H264 encoding is making my E8400 feel the pain.

      I don’t game anymore, really (have a 8800GT), so even the stock 2.66 of the Q8400 would be good enough for everyday tasks. Extra cache does squat for video encoding, so no need for a higher-cached model.

      I’m happy with everything else, so I don’t see the point of going i5 or AMD, since that’ll require a new motherboard for certain, and perhaps new RAM depending on which way I went.

      • Beomagi
      • 10 years ago

      2 pc’s, both with 4600’s @ 3.0GHz.
      Not quite as nice as 8400’s but then again, why are netbooks doing well?…

        • pullmyfoot
        • 10 years ago

        My main gaming rig is still a 520+X2 @ 3ghz and a 4850. Im still happy with that though im finally looking at the 720 X3 for an upgrade. I built my sister a computer that was faster than mine last month for internet browsing and the Sims 3 -.- (well CPU wise) Its got an Athlon II X2 @3.9Ghz in there, though an inferior 4670 I stole from one of my other systems.

        Bottom line is, Im happy with my 5200X2 and my 4850. It even plays Crisis at 1650×1080. Every other game I play I can put on high settings. And this is a 4+ year old CPU we have here.

        The only reason I want to upgrade really is to see how high I can clock hat 720 (and to see how well it performs beside that AII X2)

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