Building A Better Computer.

Today there was supposed to be a review of Dark Souls PC edition. There isn’t. Partially this is down to a paucity of time available for writing on my part. Mainly, though, it’s down to the port performing so utterly terribly on my 3-4 year old computer (some of the bits are 3 years old, some of the bits are four years old) that it’s unplayable. As you may have heard the PC port of Dark Souls is one of the worst PC ports in history, with a fixed resolution and no graphics scaling and performance issues even worse than those experienced by console players. Frame rates regularly dip into single digits (especially in the foresty bit) and since Dark Souls is a game where a player relies in large part on their quick reactions to get them through a fight it’s nigh impossible for me to play. If I reviewed it I’d be reviewing this horribly broken piece of crap and not what the game is supposed to be, and while that would carry a delicious sense of schadenfreude it’s hardly news that the PC port of Dark Souls is terrible and you should be prepared to put up with more than your fair share of awfulness even if you have a good computer.

The thing is, it’s not just Dark Souls. I’m running into more and more games that my ageing piece of kit just can’t cope with. Mechwarrior Online and Planetside 2 both suffer serious slowdowns when a fight starts making those unplayable too, and while those are betas with their own performance issues it’s becoming obvious to me I can’t just get by on avoiding the graphically intensive stuff any more. I’ve enjoyed the lack of progress in the console market keeping system requirements static for the last couple of years or so, but they’re starting to push forward again as developers refocus their efforts on the PC as the cutting edge. So despite swearing that I would never ever do this again, I need some computer component advice.

Last time I built a computer I ended up with what I’ve got sitting in front of me. It’s worked reasonably well up until now, with the minor niggle that the ATI Radeon HD5700 has some weird incompatibility with another bit of kit inside the computer (my money is on the RAM) and so throws up a bluescreen a couple of times per week depending on what drivers I have installed. Before that I had a 4850 that fried itself inside of a year, and as a result I’m establishing a single rule for this exercise: no ATI graphics cards allowed. They’re more trouble than they’re worth in a custom build. Besides that I need recommendations for the following:

  • A modern processor.
  • A motherboard for it to go in.
  • A mid-range NVidia graphics card that provides a nice balance between budget and performance.
  • RAM. RAM is nice and uncomplicated as you just pick the one that goes into your motherboard, but the catch here is that I’m going to need eight gigs of the stuff as I don’t trust what’s currently jammed into my machine any more (and I also don’t think it’d be compatible with a new motherboard either).
  • Possibly another hard drive, as this one is full. This isn’t essential, though, especially with the recent-ish floods in Thailand pushing hard drive prices up in response to the cut in supply.
I already have a decent case that’s served me well for eight years now and I intend to keep the power supply on (500 watts, in case you were asking) so that reduces the total cost of this upgrade, which is good because I only have a budget of £300-400 to play with. Unfortunately I know nothing about modern computer hardware so I’m going to need some pointers as to what is currently Hot and what is currently Not. Any recommendations as to components and any links to guides to the current hardware scene would be greatly appreciated, and who knows? I may even post a comedy log of my attempt to build the bloody thing as and when I get around to it as a warning to any other poor sod who thinks a custom build is a good idea.
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14 thoughts on “Building A Better Computer.

  1. Smurf says:

    What’s your processor? I have a Q6600 that I was considering upgrading but looking online it seems to be quite easy to overclock from 2.4 to 3 with only the addition of a better heatsink/fan and increasing the voltages. You can go higher but that involves messing about with more settings which I won’t bother with.

    So all I’m going to to do is buy a new hard drive, stick windows 7 64 bit on it and then shove in 8 gig of whatever the best RAM my motherboard will take. I think crucial have a tool that you can download that will tell you.

    I recently bought a 560ti. I can’t actually remember the brand.

  2. Tom says:

    1GB Gigabyte GTX 560Ti OC, 40nm, 40 1 £149.56
    Intel Core i5 2500K Unlocked, S1155 1 £129.99
    Asus P8P67 LE Rev.3.0, Intel P67, S 1 £65.67
    8GB (2x4GB) Corsair DDR3 Vengeance 1 £41.80

    Total £387.02

    This is what I got from about a year ago and it’s served me pretty well so far (I also got an SSD which has been a massive pain in the arse so I’d recommend holding off a bit longer and a monitor which it sounds like you don’t need). I doubt a regular harddrive would be too much more, and you could probably shave £10-20 or so off the graphics card if required – it might even be a bit cheaper now.

    • Tom says:

      Ah, that’s without VAT, sorry, so it’s actually another £70 or so on top of that.

    • Hentzau says:

      560 Ti seems to be a popular nVidia card, anyone care to disagree?

      • innokenti says:

        Nope. Looks good.

        What Tom said basically. That’s roughtly what I’d go with, but with AMD instead of nVidia.

        As a slightly cheaper motherboard alternative – MSI Z77A-G43. A little cheaper but still very good.

        Also, check out the recent(ish) RPS columns on hardware. I believe they say the same thing though.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I had lots of problems with an ATI card causing an occasional blue screen – it froze and went into a sound loop, then bluescreened. Turning Catalyst AI OFF fixed the problem completely.

    • Hentzau says:

      That’s not something I ever tried (although I did try damn near everything else) but I suspect it’s something of a moot point now; I’ll soon be rid of it anyway, and two bad cards in a row has been enough to turn me off of ATI for a decade or two. Not that nVidia are going to be any better, but that’s how the free market is supposed to work, isn’t it?

  4. Godot says:

    If you can stretch to a SSD, even just a small one to stick Windows on, the performance jump is pretty obscene. Genuinely one of the things that will make the biggest improvement to general PC performance.

    I know one guy mentioned problems, but honestly I’ve had none.

    • Hentzau says:

      I actually didn’t know SSDs were as cheap as they are, and it’s looking very attractive as an upgrade for six months time. Right now it’s pushing my budget just a little bit too far.

  5. jiiiiim says:

    unfortunately there aren’t any aldiputers going free, I suggest you put off all upgrades for that.

  6. psihiuspsih says:

    Find a 2GB+ card for the love of god – I have a GeForce 560 Ti with 1GB ram and I already see via nvidia inspector that my video RAM tends to get full, and I don’t run in FullHD because I have old CPU (Q6600) and it limits my card. Your minimum card should be 560 Ti or better 660 Ti – anything less is not worth it in your case.
    Also, 500W PSU should be swapped for a 600W one with 80%+ efficiency – you will probably end up with a Quad Core CPU that at peak performance will use quite a lot, plus a GPU – and you may end up using more that 500W PSU can provide (not to say that many Chinese PSU’s can deliver 2/3 of the declared power at best). Good PSU will last long, so it’s a good investment.
    DDR3 ram is very cheap, so think about adding 16GB for the future (I know you can buy 8Gb and stick other 8GB later. But I recently updated my PC from 2GB RAM to 4GB RAM and I had to through out my old 2GB KIT because it was incompatible with new 4GB kit – I wanted to have 6GB). With 16GB your file system will preform much better (my 8GB work PC preforms much better than with 4GB)

  7. omgrobots says:

    A new system means one of the first things you’ll want to decide is the platform. You could go the AMD route but I’d suggest doing a lot of research beforehand to make sure your getting the performance you want. Your safest bet would be going with Intel’s new Z77 chipset since I imagine that you will not want to be upgrading for a few years.With the Z77 chipset you have two options: either an IvyBridge CPU or a SandyBridge CPU. You’ll save $10-30 (at least here in Canada) going the SandyBridge route and you won’t see a huge difference in performance compared to IvyBridge. That said, if you drop a SandyBridge chip into a Z77 motherboard you won’t be able to use the new features that Z77 offers; not that these are real game changers though. I recently built and overclocked an i5-3570k system and have had zero issues with the new IvyBridge chip or the Z77 chipset nor have I heard much in the way of defects or issues with the new chipset.

    If you have any interest in overclocking your Intel CPU then you’ll want to pick up a ‘K’ series CPU which offers an unlocked multiplier. Otherwise you can save some more cash and do without. You’ll want to save as much as you can in this area in order to pick up something like a GeForce 660/560 ti.

    Memory is dirt cheap at the moment but, on a budget like yours, I wouldn’t bother with 16GB unless you know you’ll use more than 8GB.

    Given the power efficiency of Z77 and even current graphics cards you could probably get away with keeping your 500W PSU. There are calculators online that can better guide you in this area (e.g. As noted earlier, however, a quality PSU is always a good purchase and if your lucky will last you many years.

    One last thought regarding parts: SSD’s are relatively cheap right now, especially older models such as the vertex 3 (have two, no problems and fighting not to buy another), so if you squeeze one in now or in the future you won’t be disappointed.

    Just in case you don’t know, and are two excellent sources for part reviews and parts recommendations based on varying budgets.


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