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PC pawaa appu

I feel the need, the need for … more frames per second.

The last time I did a major PC overhaul was back in September 2003. The resulting system, based on an AMD AthlonXP 2500+ CPU and a Geforce Ti4200 graphics card, wasn’t a stellar performer even when I first got it but it served me well.

An upgrade was by no means necessary as I can certainly continue doing most the computer tasks I’m doing now for the next few years quite satisfactorily with this system. But I would like to get back into PC gaming once again and I would like to do that with some bells and whistles.

It would be nice to see more than 20fps at a resolution greater than 1024×768 on my 20-inch widescreen monitor and it would be great if I could try some of the stellar games I’ve had to skip because of inadequate hardware.

It would also be nice to install software without first having to deliberate over what I need to delete from a 30GB hard disk. Even downloadable apps have installers in the 1GB range these days and games are starting to need upwards of 10GB of space.

So, yeah, an upgrade was warranted even if it was not, strictly speaking, necessary.

I planned to use the Dell 2007WFP monitor, the Sony AW-G170A DVD-RW drive, the D-Link DSL-200i ADSL USB modem and the Wacom Graphire CTE-640 graphics tablet from the old system but the new PC was otherwise going to feature all-new components.


The first task was to decide on a good CPU and motherboard combination. It was essential to get this right as I was unlikely to replace either until it was time for another complete system upgrade.

Should I stick with AMD or switch to Intel? The Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs get a lot of raves but the AMD Athlon X2s still seem to have the edge in terms of bang for buck. After mulling it over, I chose the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+. It should serve me well for the next few years.

Once I settled on the AMD Athlon 64 X2 for the CPU, choosing a motherboard was relatively easy. I was keen on getting decent frame-rates in games so I immediately ruled out any motherboard with integrated graphics. Onboard sound, on the other hand, was essential as I planned to rely on that until I eventually upgraded to a dedicated sound card like the Audigy 2 Value or the X-Fi XtremeGamer.

After considering what I needed and how much I wanted to spend, I whittled down the number of candidates to two: the Abit AN52 and the MSI K9N Neo-F. There’s only RM10 price difference between the two motherboards and both have similar features.

I was initially leaning towards the Abit since I had a positive experience overall with the Abit NF7-S ver 2.0 motherboard in the old rig. However, I was a little concerned about the fact there haven’t been any reviews of the AN52 so I went with the K9N Neo-F.

Eye candy

The graphics card was another important choice. It had to last two years otherwise there was little point in upgrading to it.

The old system had a Geforce 4 Ti4200, which is still capable of playing games like Guild Wars. However, “still capable of playing” doesn’t mean playing was a wonderful experience. Frame-rates would frequently go south on me during battles or while in the larger cities in Guild Wars. (Kamadan, for instance, proved to be quite challenging for my old system.)

I had been faithful to nvidia since the GeForce 2MX so I planned on getting a GeForce card for the new PC. I still had quite a choice to make, though. Do I go with the 7xxx series or the newer 8xxx series?

I ultimately decided to go with the 8600GT. Judging from reviews, it’s not a significant improvement over the 7600GT but the 8600GT is a DirectX 10 card which makes it a nice futureproof choice since I will eventually make the transition to Vista and DX10 in a year or so.

The Power

I don’t intend to do any overclocking so a generic PSU that came with a bog-standard casing seemed sufficient at first. However, I recalled the niggling issues (1, 2, 3) I had with my current system when I first got it. It frustrated and baffled me so much I replaced the bog-standard PSU with another one shortly after getting my system.

Since then I’ve seen more quirky behaviour which I eventually attributed to an overloaded PSU. To give one example, I’d occasionally find my USB DSL modem isn’t being detected upon booting up. Removing and reattaching the USB cable solves this but it would seem to be a symptom of a system that’s crying out for more power.

After taking all that into consideration, I decided to pony up for a better quality PSU. Spending more than 10 per cent of my upgrade budget on a PSU was a little painful but I’m hoping this will pay off in the long run. I was keen on the AcBel True Power 450W but it was out of stock so I chose the Enermax NoiseTaker II EG425P-VE 420W instead.

I added a Power Kinetics 800A AVR as well. At RM65, the automatic voltage regulator didn’t cost much and it may save me an hefty repair bill some day.

Hot, hot, hot

Heat was another issue I had to consider. I’ve had problems with the current system overheating during graphics-intensive software — read: games — which would result in either a crash to the desktop or the system rebooting itself.

It doesn’t help that the past two years have been the hottest I’ve ever experienced. The fans are going full blast overhead but afternoons can be remarkably hot and stuffy.

At first, I dealt with the heat problem by removing the side cover from the casing but this only worked temporarily so I later got a standing fan and pointed it at the computer innards while playing gam- … graphics-intensive software.

I gather the Barton-core AMD Athlon CPUs like the Athlon XP 2500+ had a reputation for running hot so hopefully the upgrade to the Brisbane Athlon 64 X2 should reduce problems with overheating. I’m sticking with the stock cooler that comes with the CPU for now. If worse comes to worse, I’ll use the open-side-cover-and-use-fan as a stopgap measure once again.

I would really appreciate it, however, if the international community would do something about this damned global warming; it’s, like, totally affecting my gaming, ma-a-an.


The thing that really annoyed me about the upgrade was I couldn’t simply reuse my Windows XP CD for new system and would have to instead get a brand new license.

I did briefly consider upgrading to Windows Vista but that didn’t really make sense since I was concerned the programs I rely on would have problems running on Microsoft’s latest OS. Aside from that, Vista’s additional overheads will also result in a performance hit and I don’t think the eye-candy is worth it. Transparent windows? Flipping windows? Pshaw!


Final system components:

  • CPU: AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+
  • Motherboard: MSI K9N Neo-F
  • RAM: Mushkin EB2-6400 DDR2/800 1GB
  • Graphics card: Gigabyte Geforce 8600GT
  • Hard disk: Seagate SATA II 250GB
  • PSU: Enermax NoiseTaker II EG425P-VE 420W
  • OS: Windows XP with SP2 OEM
  • AVR Power Kinetics AVR 800V
  • Casing
  • Floppy disk drive
  • Windows XP (with SP2) OEM

Total damage: RM2175.

It’s a modest system by today’s standards but it’s a marked improvement over my old rig and that’s all that’s important.

Posted in Hardware.

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