n3wblog tech commentary and observations from the future

The very best technology 2008 had to offer

Between barbecues and golfing this weekend, I took a few minutes to drop some new hardware into my criminally-neglected PC. It’s been some time since I’ve added any parts to it and I’d gotten the bug recently when prod and I started playing Dawn of War II. StarCraft II got released last week and, better still, Civilization V is going to be out very soon now. For the first time in nearly half a decade, I’m actually looking forward to PC gaming and thinking that my Xbox 360 is going to be relegated to occasional late-night Blur sessions and playing back video from the network. That’ll probably change when Halo: Reach comes out and Gears of War 3.

package delivery

taking delivery of a tube of Arctic Silver. In its very own box.

The goal

See how much I can improve my LGA775-based system for $500. The motherboard is getting a little old, but they’re a pain to switch. Jumping up to a more modern i7-powered board is going to be a much pricier proposition and probably require completely new guts. Power-supply and motherboard. Plus, I’d probably feel more compelled to look at a 5000-series ATI card or comparable Nvidia. The whole prospect of going up to an i7 was more of a hassle (and money) than I really wanted.

The parts list

• Intel 3.06GHz Core2Duo E8400 (Wolfdale)
• 4GB Corsair XMMS DDR2 RAM @ 1066MHz
• MSI 9800GT graphics card

Installation was shockingly easy, and once again I had nice thoughts about my Lian-Li PCV600 case. It’s not the quietest, but it sure is nice to work in.

The biggest issue I had was the RAM. My BIOS firmware was a couple of years (!) out-of-date. That it was able to use the processor at all was a bit of a surprise. At boot-up, my machine sat on the ASUS logo screen but wouldn’t go any further. There were no extra beeps during POST so it seemed to be working. On a hunch, I pulled the new RAM and put my old, crusty RAM back in and that got me into the OS.

There’s something vaguely troubling about flashing your firmware with a tool that looks like Winamp from 1998. Telling me it’s connecting to ASUS’ servers in Taiwan is always exciting. What are they installing? Am I a new node in a botnet? Windows Defender didn’t complain though, so it must be safe!

After updating, I was able to put my new back RAM in and was rewarded with Windows telling me I had 3 whole gigabytes to play with. I reran the Performance tool, and this is what I got.

Old Perf

New perf

Yup. A whopping .1 increase, thanks to my marginally faster RAM.

The Real Deal

Well, those numbers may not be stellar, but there’s a significant boost in processor performance. Playing Dawn of War II felt noticeably zippier last night with no slow-downs or hitching as I’d experienced before. I was able to increase my resolution from 1600×1050 to 1920×1200 with improved framerates. The machine feels a fair bit snappier.

This is a fairly subjective measurement, but without bothering to go through the whole XBench rigamarole, this is what I get. Was it worth it? You bet!

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