new PC build

I think we badly need another PC in the house. Of course this is sort of a strange statement given that we presently have a Dell 800 and Thinkpad 42 (laptops), an EEE 701 and a Dell Mini 10v (netbooks), the current kids/gaming rig (whose evolution I described in detail here) and an aging Dell minitower handmedown that originally shipped with Windows Me.

The problem is that I never got around to upgrading the handmedown, and am right now running the rig with the Asrock mobo, the AGP card, and DDR 400 ram with a dual-core chip. The Asus mobo is sitting around unused. My original plan of moving the DDR400 ram and AGP card to the Asus mobo and buying new DDR2 ram and a PCE-e card for the Asrock had a fatal flaw: it’s hard to find a decent PCI-e card for the Asrock, since all the compatible PCI-e cards seem to be discontinued on newegg.

Also, the rig gave me some major headaches the last few days. While playing WoW suddenly teh entire PC would completely freeze – not BSOD, but literally freeze so solid that nothing responded, not even the three-fingered salute. Only a hard power cycle would wourk, and then i would sometimes be able to boot up and other times the primary boot device would not be found. To summarize, the problem only triggered when doing heavy graphics load, but manifested as a boot device problem. I initially suspected a corrupt MBR or a failing video card fan, but why was there a connection between video card use and booting up? Ultimately after taking the PC apart, vacuuming the inside, and poking around, I realized what had happened – the fan on teh video card was full of dust (because the PC was on the floor.) This caused the fan to seize up, and vibrate the card – which was causing the SATA power connection on the hard drive to jiggle loose a little bit. This was because inside the case, the power cord from the CPU to both units was on the same bundle, and also rested a bit on the video card vertically.

Let me tell you, the diagnosis for the above was not as easy in real life as it was to type.

Anyway the PC is vacuumed, the power cords reseated and reorganized, and the PC is now up off the floor. And i was able to get back to Azeroth yesterday to tweak the guild settings and bank without crashing. But the whole affair made me realize that this was the only PC in the house that can actually play WoW at all – with the exception of the Dell Mini 10v, which is also kind of remarkable if you think about it.

At any rate, i need to upgrade the hand-me-down now, but finding the right PCI-e card for the gaming rig is not easy. I have two choices here:

1. persevere and find a compat video card for the Asrock machine, and build the other PC as I originally planned (though Id probably buy a new case). This will require about $50 for a PCI-e card from this list (if I can even find one!), and abouut $80 for 2 sticks of 2GB DDR2 667, along with a power supply and case (~$150). Total: about $300, and reuse of everything I’ve bought so far.

2. give up on the old Asus mobo and just redesignate the gaming rig as kids PC, then buy myself a shiny new kit. The total: $500. Only $200 more than the upgrade path, but sort of an admission of defeat.

I guess there is also option 3, which is to upgrade the present gaming rig as in option 1, and then redesignate that as the kids PC as in option 2. The downside, other than the total cost, would be that I’d be throwing away a perfectly usable P4 chip and Asus mobo. Admittedly these are outdated and ancient, but for a kids PC running W7?

I am just loath to discard the old mobo, and also the whole reason I bought the Asrock was this idea that I’d do incremental upgrades. I suppose option 1 would be the smarter route. but finding the PCI-e card for the asrock is the real sticking point – ive searched in newegg for every card in the list but cannot find the exact products. There are some similar matches, but I am uncertain if those would work. For example, the compat list has “GeForce 8400GS Foxconn GF 8400GS/256M” but none of the 8400GS cards on newegg are Foxconn. Would any of them still work? I need some advice here!

UPDATE: I am really confused as to what cards are compatible. Here’s the website for my asrock mobo; would this $100 card work? or this $40 one? if yes to both, what am I really getting for the extra money?

15 thoughts on “new PC build”

  1. I used to play WoW occasionally on my EEE PC 701 before the magic smoke escaped from the charging circuit. Low frame rates and it required some magic in the file (hand-editing the screen size down to 800×480, then making the file readonly so the game couldn’t change it), but it worked well enough to run around killing skinnables, which is all I really needed because I’m boring.

    Had to quit doing that when the game got so large that it couldn’t quite fit on a 16GB flash drive, though…

  2. My inclination would be to go with a new PC. The hardware requirements of WOW certainly won’t go down with the release of Cataclysm. I have no opinion concerning the specific new hardware you are asking about though. Call me old fashioned, but I still think a gaming PC should have the video RAM separate from the computer’s main memory.

  3. Incremental upgrades of a PC never work very well, I find – for reasons you’re discovering now. By the time it’s a few years old it starts to get cheaper to buy a new machine – that will be faster, as well.

    (Seriously, a PCIe x4 as its main slot? Replace it. Putting $40 into it is throwing away $40. Buying 667mhz DDR is also throwing money away. (Especially at those prices!)

    If it’s that picky about video cards (as their FAQ suggests), seriously just replace it.

    I spend $1300 on my current Windows/Gaming machine – and as an i7-920 with an ATI 4870 and 6 gigs of 1066 ram, it’s still perfectly good two years on and looks to be more than enough for the next two, with at most a new video card.

    Point being if you buy a very good MB and CPU and the fastest available RAM, it’ll last longer. Buying cheap stuff that leaves your experience slow almost from the day you bought it, and replacing it with whatever’s cheap the next year is only dubiously less expensive… and at all times during the process you have a marginal computer.)

    (On the other hand, if all your gaming is WoW, none of that really matters, and a cheap box like a Dell Xino HD might more than suffice, and take up less space while being basically silent…)

  4. hey aziz – if you’re just doing wow you might think about rigging up a quiet htpc with the nvidia ion. hook it up to your tv and it can multifunction as an (admittedly VERY limited) gaming rig, web-surfer/netflix-watching, kids pc + dvd/blu-ray player.

    here’s some details on one i built for myself last year:

    obviously the specs on your machine would be different and component costs have come down even since i bought all my junk. maybe not the right choice but it definitely would fit your budget.

  5. I’m seriously tempted to buy the new rig. But the difference is $200 or more – that’s not minor cash. The question I have for you Sigivald is, what is your assessment of the relative advantage of the combo deal over the upgrade? WoW is pretty much my only game, I’m just not going to get more hardcore than that because its about the social for me, not the framerates. I prefer my Wii games to anything I’ve ever seen on xbox or ps3, for that matter πŸ˜›

    Zach, to be honest I don’t really need a full-fledged media PC, and anyway I dont want to play WoW on my TV. For media I will probably get a Roku or equivalent (and the recent Wii-Netflix combo has also been a boon). Also, yor budget was about $400 (not including W7) which is still significantly more expensive than my minimal upgrade path.

    My main concern is, will the graphics cards I’ve listed above actually work with my Asrock? if so, i think thats the way to go. the price difference is basically the cost of the new iPod Touch this september πŸ™‚

  6. Looks to me like those PCIe cards *won’t* work in your motherboard. The motherboard only has a x4 slot, and those are x16 cards. You’ll need to find a x4 or smaller card to fit.

    A PCIe card can go in a larger slot (so a x1 card can go in a x16 slot), but not into a smaller one.

    At least, that’s how I understand it.

  7. Hmm. There is actually one more option, if you’re feeling adventurous.

    The only thing that prevents a x16 card from working in an x4 slot is that the x4 connector ends and the end of the connector is probably closed.

    If the end of the connector is open, you *can* install an x16 card in the slot, and it will negotiate with the motherboard to operate in x4 mode.

    If the end of the connector is closed, you *could* dig out the trusty Dremel moto-tool and open up the end of the connector so that an x16 card would fit into it.

    I’m a klutz, so it’s not something I, personally, would do…

  8. the card I have now is AGP, though, and the whole reason I boiught the asrock was theoretically to upgrade to pci at some point πŸ™ maybe i just need to bite the bullet. But I dont understand how the nvidia cards have the same model numbers but can be a different pci format.

    the odd thing is that when i look at my asrock mobo, the pci slot is not as short as the one depicted here in the wikipedia article. so is it really x4? Its the purple slot in the image here:

  9. ah we posted comments at teh same time. can you tell from the image of teh mobo whether the slot is open or closed?

    and what does it mean if the x16 card operates in x4 mode? is it a performance penalty?

  10. Before you get out the Dremel, though, I’m not certain a x16 card that doesn’t have an external power connector could get enough power through a x4 PCIe connector.

    If you go that route, you’d probably want to go with the $100 card because the $40 card doesn’t have an extra power connector.

  11. I couldn’t tell from the picture, and I see no clues in the manual. You’ll have to take a look at the thing.

  12. Hmm. That picture looks like they’ve put a x16 connector on the x4 slot. If that’s the case, you should be good to go, although I’d still be wary of power issues.

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