My main home PC had reached essentially an unusable state. The video was so distorted that you couldn't even read text much of the time. I had to live with it as it slowly decayed as I had no funds to spare to do anything about it.
But this month I got a $500+ "profit sharing" from the job -- we didn't lose as much money as we could have this quarter -- so I had something to work with now.
As (at least) the bad video had caused system crashes over the last few months, I knew I also needed to do a fresh install of Windows, and so I purchased a new AGP card (an ATI 1950pro -- I splurged a bit here) and hard drive from Newegg. The day that they arrived, I opened the case and vacumed out the dust, replaced the video card and put in new hard drive. Wow, the video card needs 2 power plugs and is essentially as long as an ATX motherboard is wide. I power it up to check things out.
Nothing happens. No lights, no fan, nada. Crap. I fiddle around with the plugs, trying without the video, and so on. I even checked that the power switch was doing its thing and tried shorting the associated pins on the motherboard.
Fortunately, I had an old underpowered PSU lying around and using it instead gave the same results, so I pretty much figured I had lost the motherboard as well.
In retrospect, there was evidence that my motherboard was also limping along. Things like forgetting its BIOS settings and some of the other crashes that really didn't seem like they were due to video problems.
So, back to Newegg. And now I've got a quandary. I've got a brand new and pretty reasonable AGP video card, and an old Pentium 4 CPU/motherboard to replace. I really wanted to get one of those new Intel Core2 CPUs, not one of the real fancy ones. There just don't seem to be motherboards that support AGP and the new Socket 775 CPUs.
Except that I found one. The ASRock 775Dual-VSTA. It uses a VIA chipset, but get this, it also supports either DDR1 or DDR2 RAM, and has a PCI Express slot! And it's under $60. Eh? It's also got a pretty nice Realtek 6 channel audio. The only thing missing (for me) was IDE Raid. I've been in the habit of having a pair of mirrored hard drives so that I'd be able to have a better chance to recover data before they *both* were to go bad.
I've never heard of ASRock motherboards, but for $60, I figured I'd give it a chance, so I ordered it and a Core2 6400 CPU. That put me over the $500, but not by much.
They arrived earlier this week, and it all worked just fine as far as I can tell. And now I've got a motherboard that really does allow me to piece-wise upgrade. Faster RAM? Better video? CPU with more horsepower? All check, and all independent from each other.
The only negative for this motherboard is the placement of the IDE and floppy plugs. They ended up being far enough away from, respectively, my optical drives and floppy and there was no way that the cables could reach, even if I didn't have a "wall" of a video card to plug in as well.
So, I dug around in my basement and recovered a much smaller old ATX case I had previously set aside and moved everything into it. The video card is even more of a wall to bypass with the smaller case, but I can *just* get the IDE cable to reach the optical drives and the floppy has slack to spare.
I've reinstalled Oblivion (which I've been longing to get back to since my computer stopped being able to handle anything that pushed video) but haven't really tried it yet, but it seems to be running just fine at "High" with 1280x1024 resolution. I'll really see if it has issues with it this weekend.
Anyway, I thought I'd share about this motherboard. It really has an unexpectedly nice collection of features at a pretty cheap price, from my experience.