Help Me Build My PC Catch-All

KEA_Lightning wrote:

My dilemma: Trying to upgrade both Moto's and my pc with new Video Cards and SSD's. I have $500 to spend but would like to stay under budget.

For the video card, I am looking at either a HD7870 ($170) or R9 270X ($240). https://secure.newegg.com/WishList/MySavedWishDetail.aspx?ID=23918406

For the SSD I am looking at 120GB ($80) or 240GB ($130) (both systems have a 1TB drive currently) https://secure.newegg.com/WishList/MySavedWishDetail.aspx?ID=32318848

Moto's current video card is an HD5870 1GB and mine is an HD6950 2GB and we both run at 1920x1080 (23" monitors) in all games played. I have many options I can go, but I am not sure what would be best overall. Looking for some input.

1. Is 120GB a big enough SSD? (Steam, BF4, DayZ, Minecraft)
2. Since the 7870 and 270X and virtually the same card performance wise, would it be smarter to get the 7870?
3. Since our current video cards play our current games with medium to high settings (50-70fps is typical), should I only worry about SSD's?
4. Any other thoughts?

What is the goal of your upgrades? SSDs are only going to improve load-times in games, not actual in-game performance. I love my SSDs for sure, but if I only had a limited budget and gaming performance was my top priority, I would invest all of it into a GPUs. Get two $250 cards and you'll be able to max out almost everything at 1080p.

Yeah, I agree. The current best use for SSD's is as an OS drive for applications. If you're just putting games on it it's not really a worthwhile upgrade if you're interested in faster game performance. Throw it all into videocards.

Also, you're talking about 120gb SSD's? BF4 will, by the time they get done with DLC, take probably over a third or even close to half of that all by itself. It's already 30GB and they've only released one map pack. The last one was what, 8GB? Assume a similar size for the next four packs and you're over 50GB on just one game.

120gb doesn't go very far with game installs these days.

I would skip 120GB drives and go for 250 or higher. If your PC was for just email and internet 120 would be fine, but as soon as you start adding things to the mix you're going to run out of space quickly.

Well, you know, both those cards are really quite good at 1920x1080, at least if the drivers are still working well. I abandoned my 5870 because of driver issues with old games, mostly, and the fact that AMD was changing architectures completely in the 7XXX series... I figured the drivers were going to be getting worse, not better. But if they're holding up, that hardware is still quite strong... maybe not enough to run Battlefield 4 at max settings, but most games should still look darn good.

Since the 7870 and 270X and virtually the same card performance wise, would it be smarter to get the 7870?

It's my understanding that they aren't virtually the same card, they are the same card, with different nameplates. So, yeah, buy a 7870 if you're going to buy one. But I'm not sure the 7870/270X is really going to be much faster than what you have. I think you'd have to go up to a much more expensive ($350) 280X to be certain you were truly upgrading. That 5870 was expensive as heck, and it was really a beast for the generation it was in. Your 6950 doesn't have quite as much muscle, but it's still a very strong card.

Since our current video cards play our current games with medium to high settings (50-70fps is typical), should I only worry about SSD's?

Yeah, that's probably the direction I'd focus more. I think you'd need to get into the $350 video card bracket to get a significant upgrade, and that's way out of your budget range.

Is 120GB a big enough SSD? (Steam, BF4, DayZ, Minecraft)

Um, well, I don't think so. I was on a 160 gigger for quite awhile, and that just wasn't quite big enough. I was always having to think about space, and it would be much worse in 120. The 240 I'm currently running, on the other hand, is dramatically better.... that extra 80 gigs made a tremendous difference for me. I rarely need to think about space on a 240.... I just naturally remove old games fast enough to keep enough space free.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but I think I'd nudge you toward a pair of 240-gig SSDs, probably Intel 530s, and suggest waiting awhile yet on the video cards. Wait until either you've got more money saved up, if you just want an upgrade for the sake of upgrading, or until you're not able to get the kind of graphics you want out of new games.

Good points. Boot and Load time are the only factors for looking at SSD's. A BF4 map can take roughly 60-90 seconds (sometime longer) to load.

Another way of explaining it: the 5870 was the flagship card of the 5XXX series. It was the fastest card you could buy. The 6XXX series was not a huge jump forward in performance terms, only a minor bump. But AMD did some wacky stuff with numbering, so that the old 57XX became 68XX in the new gen, and 58XX became 69XX... they added 1100, not a thousand. So your 6950 is a slightly cut-down version of the 5870... with the slight improvements in the silicon, it ends up being pretty similar, probably a little weaker overall.

But now you're looking at a 7870/270X, which is a performance class down from where you've been. The 7000 series is on a smaller process, so it has more transistors and runs faster (unlike the 5000->6000 transition), so there is definitely an improvement between comparable cards across generations. But the 7870 is not a comparable card to what you have: it's much cheaper. The 5870 was about a $400 card, and your 6950 was probably about $350, and you're talking about replacing them with a $200 class offering. The new generation is faster, but not that much faster.

The 280X is the rebadged version of the 7970, which is a direct descendant of the 5870. It would be a definite upgrade for both your cards. But it's about $350. Sadly, there's really nothing in the AMD lineup between the $200 270X and the $350 280X.

On the NVidia side, the 760 slots in nicely at $250, and is a fair bit stronger than the 270X. But I think that card would probably about match the cards you have, rather than upgrade them.

This is still progress: the same performance is quite a bit cheaper than it was two years ago. But it's not the giant strides that we were seeing eight or ten years ago.

Also, FPS is not a priority as long as I can maintain 50-70 fps and the game still looks good. Jumping to a 7870/R9 270X or even a GTX760 would allow us to run on High/Ultra settings well above 60 fps. That would be a plus, but map load time would make me smile more. The cost of our current cards was not an issue at the time, now they are. I still need to think about power budget though as I believe both pc's are only 550 watt. I need to check that later tonight.

KEA_Lightning wrote:

Good points. Boot and Load time are the only factors for looking at SSD's. A BF4 map can take roughly 60-90 seconds (sometime longer) to load.

Look, I have BF4 on an SSD, but that's because I'm already running an SLI setup. I've put as much money as I'm going to into videocards. While I do tend to be one of the first few people into a map if not the first, it's really not worth it if you have any urge at all for a videocard upgrade. Just put the money there. It'll be a much more noticeable effect.

Currently, I'm waiting until I can get a quality 500GB or higher SSD for $250. The Samsung EVO is currently pushing down toward $300. Soon as I can pick up one of those or a better one for that $250 price my Steam drive gets replaced.

But I'm doing that for pretty specific reasons. Basically, the fewer standard HD's I have in my rig the happier I'll be. If I can get rid of one more I can remove a hard drive cage and clean up my case a little better.

The only way for me to do that with my current drive setup is to buy a new case, which I really don't want to do

I dunno, I hate the load times too. BF4 maps are brutally slow to load off an HDD. China Rising maps seem to load quicker than the core maps, though, similar to what happened with BF3. If you're content with your current framerates I'd probably do the SSDs first.

I've been having an issue with my very old machine that a buddy suspects might be bad RAM. It's frequently (but not always) incredibly slow to boot into Windows (15-20 minutes). Once in Windows, things seem fine, except that transparency effects are massively slow. Sometimes, boot time and Windows performance is fine.

I'm going to try pulling various RAM sticks and see if having one out stops the problem from happening. Unfortunately, I don't have any known good sticks to test in there. I've got two 1gb sticks and two 500meg sticks, so I'm actually not sure how well it'll run with just 1gb of RAM, so maybe this won't be the best test anyway...

Now, if it does turn out to be bad RAM, does anyone have an idea where to get DDR2 for a reasonable price? Amazon has some shady-looking stuff for $40 for 4gb, and Newegg has name brand stuff for double that. I can justify $40 to keep this thing limping along until I can upgrade, but probably not $80.

Also, would it hurt anything to test by pulling one stick at a time? I know RAM used to have to run in pairs, but was DDR2 past that point? I haven't mucked around in hardware-land for a while.

Chaz wrote:

Also, would it hurt anything to test by pulling one stick at a time? I know RAM used to have to run in pairs, but was DDR2 past that point? I haven't mucked around in hardware-land for a while.

It is perfectly OK to test each RAM stick one at a time.

Double post

Cool, I figured, but wanted to check anyway.

Also realized that unless I somehow have one bad stick in each pair, I'd only need to get 2gb of new RAM anyway, since only one pair would need to be replaced.

I've been having an issue with my very old machine that a buddy suspects might be bad RAM. It's frequently (but not always) incredibly slow to boot into Windows (15-20 minutes). Once in Windows, things seem fine, except that transparency effects are massively slow. Sometimes, boot time and Windows performance is fine.

That could also be a heat problem; you might want to use CoreTemp to check what temps you're seeing under load. A good load program is the Intel Burn Test. If you set IBT into the largest memory mode you can manage, it will also test your RAM indirectly... if you get errors from it, then either your CPU or RAM is malfunctioning.

Note that, with CoreTemp, you want one of the alternate downloaders; the main link has (optional) crapware in it.

Microcenter has these for $90.

I was thinking about getting 2 or 3, 2 for my overstuffed data and 1 as a backup. I've never heard of this line before, can anyone weigh in?

They're actively hiding the RPM rating, so they're probably quite slow, and they have a short warranty, only two years. If you decide to use them, make sure you make backups, preferably onto drives of a different make and model.

Should be fine for bulk storage, but there's a good chance they'll kind of suck for trying to run programs from.

Thank you, that's what I was afraid of.

Any recommendations for a lot of storage but still have a decent enough speed for data access?

Malor wrote:

They're actively hiding the RPM rating, so they're probably quite slow, and they have a short warranty, only two years. If you decide to use them, make sure you make backups, preferably onto drives of a different make and model.

Should be fine for bulk storage, but there's a good chance they'll kind of suck for trying to run programs from.

I think those are basically Greens from what reading I did. Not a bad deal for bulk storage. Not a primary drive.

This is my primary data drive right now. It's fine but it needs to spin up when I access it and that drives me up the wall. Also, it has no redundancy. Baby pictures are also in the cloud, but I can do better.

So ideally, I'd like to get three 2 or 3 TB drives in a raid 5 and toss those in an old AMD machine I have sitting downstairs for data retention, redundancy, and also use that box to transcode and stream (it has a phenom 9950 in it, that should be fine). I also need to pick up a raid card since the mobo I was planning on using doesn't support a raid natively.

So what would you guys use in that situation? Also I'd be happy to get and recommendations for the OS for this streaming box. I've got an MS account so really anything is an option.

Malor wrote:

Wisdom.

Saving for later.

So ideally, I'd like to get three 2 or 3 TB drives in a raid 5 and toss those in an old AMD machine I have sitting downstairs for data retention, redundancy, and also use that box to transcode and stream (it has a phenom 9950 in it, that should be fine).

Well, remember that RAID is not a backup. It exists to prevent downtime from drive failure, so that a machine can stay up and running, albeit with degraded speed, after a disk failure. It accidentally protects against one, and only one, form of data loss... but there's a lot of other ways to lose data. So anytime you set up a RAID, you should also be setting up another volume that's big enough to hold at least a full copy. If you can't afford the backup volume, you really can't afford the RAID.

If you're not ready to buy six drives, then I'd suggest buying two instead: use one as your actual storage volume, and then use the other as a backup, with a separate filesystem, and preferably versioned backups. The built-in Windows Backup will do an okay job with this.

As far as speed goes... if you've got gigabit networking, it can be nice to get a RAID5 going, because most individual spinning drives won't keep a gigabit saturated.... it typically takes at least two. But, especially if you go out to 4 or 5 wide (giving you 3 or 4 data disks), you don't need anything all that quick.

I also need to pick up a raid card since the mobo I was planning on using doesn't support a raid natively.

Linux's software RAID is really good, and will save you a ton of money. Those hardware cards are expensive as hell. But, they do have one really major advantage: the better ones can have a battery added to them. This improves your reliability substantially, because OSes depend on drives reporting when they've written critical data.... and most drives lie their little heads off to look better on benchmarks. When you've got a battery-backed RAID controller, you can put it into a more aggressive caching mode, where the controller can actively lie to the OS about data being committed. This is safe, because even if the power fails, the pending write will be saved by the battery, and committed to disk when power is restored. This makes sudden power loss much, much less risky.

Another approach would be to skip the RAID card, and get a UPS instead. If you can make sure that Linux never experiences a sudden power failure, you can be nearly certain that the filesystem will stay intact.

But if you don't want to use Linux, you really don't want to use Windows software RAID. You want some kind of hardware controller, but good ones are expensive. Areca has an excellent, excellent card, the ARC 1224, but it's $430. And then the battery is another $130 on top of that.

The battery is a GIANT win for performance; these cards default to being safe, and they do that by disabling all drive caching, because, again, drives lie. Putting the battery on lets the controller use its own gigabyte of RAM as a cache, and the performance increase is HUGE. (this is the "controller lies to the OS" that I was talking about up above... the controller knows the data is safe, so it tells the OS that it's successfully gotten to the metal, even though it's just in RAM. Then it schedules the actual write at a convenient time to maximize throughput.)

I'm using an older model of that Areca myself. It is GREAT hardware.

So:

  • Simple approach: buy 2 drives, install Windows. Share one drive, back up to the other drive. You're in no worse shape than you are now.
  • Complex but cheapish approach: Buy 6 or more drives, use Linux software RAID to make two volumes. Share primary disk via Samba. Backup with rsync. If you don't know any Unix, this will be very, very painful to learn. But you don't have to buy $560 worth of RAID card, and it will be fast as hell.
  • Improve safety: add a UPS to the above. If you can ensure that Linux never loses power, its software RAID is much less likely to be screwed up by the damn lying hard drives.
  • Simple but expensive approach: buy 6 or more drives, a hardware RAID controller, and a battery. Set up two RAIDs, one primary and one backup. Install Windows. Your operational complexity, after you make the RAIDs with the controller, is about the same as the first option. From Windows, it looks like you have two disks, just unusually large.
  • Optionally, add a UPS, which will let you shut down Windows gracefully in a power failure. The RAID battery offers some data protection, and boosts performance enormously, but a UPS improves safety even more.

The other issue to be aware of with RAIDs is if your motherboard fails, for example, and your RAID controller was built into the motherboard... you can be kinda screwed. That happened to me a build or two ago and I vowed to not run a striped RAID at home any more. RAID 1 is decent from a backup standpoint though, given Malor's caveats.

Oh, and note that that controller has "SFF-8087" ports, which can be used to connect to drive enclosures. You can buy hotswap bays if you want to be serious about your storage, which will let you identify and remove a failed drive by a blinky light on the front, without even taking the computer down. (this is what RAID is really for.) But it also comes with breakout cables, so that you can just wire up a bunch of drives without needing anything else.

The other issue to be aware of with RAIDs is if your motherboard fails, for example, and your RAID controller was built into the motherboard... you can be kinda screwed.

That's true of any hardware RAID controller, no matter where the hardware is... if it fails, you typically need another controller of the same type to recover data.

Linux software RAID, however, should work on any machine with SATA ports. So that's what I have on my server ... a hardware RAID controller with battery driving the main RAID, and then a Linux software RAID backup. Even if the controller dies, and I can't replace it, I can get to the data from any motherboard with four SATA ports.

You speak wisdom. I think I was overshooting here. I don't particularly want to buy another UPS for downstairs.

I'm going to toss one of my 150 GB raptors (using them for game installs) into this new machine for the OS, then buy a 2 TB WD Black for primary data.

I'll back that and the rest of my stuff up to a 3TB Toshiba/Hitachi that I'm dubious about but the price is right, I can toss my 1.5 TB seagate in there temporarily if I need more space.

Now I just need to figure out what OS to stick on the new machine. I'd like to toss a Linux distro on there as an excuse to learn it but I don't know if I have the patience.

And Malor? Thanks as always =)

Allow me to pipe up from the back with a question, please.

I'm looking for a graphics card to replace my 2 1/2 year old GTX 570, which is just starting to struggle a little. I don't play FPSs or anything requiring massive frame rate, but I'm thinking my current PC is going to have to last me for a year or two yet, so I'm hoping to give it some botox in the form of a new card.

Current PC specs

i5-2500K
600W PSU
16Gb RAM
Windows 7

Advice for someone looking to spend about £150 - £200 (I'm UK based) ?

oilypenguin wrote:

Now I just need to figure out what OS to stick on the new machine. I'd like to toss a Linux distro on there as an excuse to learn it but I don't know if I have the patience.

Well, a fresh install on a system you're not depending on is always a good time to try something new. But running basic filesharing is a fair bit easier from Windows, as it's all GUI-based, where you usually are editing an (easy) text file to configure Samba. (that's how Linux speaks the Windows filesharing protocol.) You could always try it, and see what you thought, and convert back to Windows if you didn't care for it.

davet010 wrote:

I'm looking for a graphics card to replace my 2 1/2 year old GTX 570,

Well, we're sort of defaulting to the NVidia 760 right now, at $250 US. AMD's 270X, at $200, is a little weakish at 1920x1080 or 1200, and the 280X, which is a much stronger card, also costs a lot more, up at $350. Nvidia's got kind of a sweet spot there for price/performance/total budget.

The 770 is the current version of the 570 you had: it's also $350. If you want to spend that much, though, the 280X is somewhat faster.

Not sure how the prices will translate to sterling, but hopefully that'll give you an idea where to look.

Oh, you know, after pondering a few moments -- Windows Backup is a pretty compelling reason to use Windows. It's not the best backup or anything, but it's included on the disk, it's easy to set up, and it's free.

Backup on Linux is something you have to really think about. It's more of a project than a thing that's waiting for some minor configuration and a 'go!'.

Any makes to steer clear of ? This is the cheapest 760 I can find at the moment.

http://www.microdirect.co.uk/Home/Pr...

Well, avoid MSI, their customer service is awful. I don't know anything about Palit. I usually buy EVGA.

If you can find one that fits the budget, a 760 with four gigs of VRAM could give you a fairly significant boost to service life. The new consoles have a ton of VRAM, and four gigs will much more closely approximate what they have on offer.

edit: I don't see any 4G 760s on that site. It looks like the extra 2 gigs adds about $50 over on Newegg.

Yeah I would avoid MSI. They are crap for RMAs

Now that being said... I have a very well cared for MSI twin frozr gtx680 4gb that I will sell for 225 plus shipping.