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Case In Point: Navigating The Upgrade Minefield

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Case In Point: Navigating The Upgrade MinefieldLoyd Case's latest Case In Point column, titled "Navigating The Upgrade Minefield", is live. Here's a snip from the piece...

"Whenever I build a system, I always build it with one eye towards the future. I like to think that I’ll upgrade the system over time. Maybe I’ll swap in a new CPU, maybe a new graphics card, upgrade the RAM, etc. But these days, it’s not so easy.

I can’t remember a time when the upgrade picture has been so confusing. Just think of the situation as it exists today..."

Case In Point: Navigating The Upgrade Minefield

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rapid1 replied on Mon, Nov 2 2009 2:09 PM

     This is a good article, and many of the points are very relevant. However; I am currently in this situation, I have a neighbor who wants a PC for photography work. I have several systems lined up on Newegg in wish lists. I am concerned about the sata 6 USB 3 issue, but not to a considerable level I guess. This means I would like to give him that ability from the build stage, but as the article pointed out it is not critical (I can add the in pci-X slots later if needed).

     The thing largely on these two components or capabilities for me on a system for photo work is SATA3. Having this on board specifically for this type of system seems to me a good idea. Plus adding a USB3 card to a PCI-x slot is ok, but when you’re talking about HD tech it is going to be around for probably at least the next 5 years. One issue I have with storage is SSD. Yes I know they are considerably faster, but I see it as a technology with a brick wall coming up rather soon (a year to a year and a half). This is because it has been stated by Intel when talking about their new mem tech, which would apply to these devices as well. When nand hit 22nm that about as far as it can go. Seeing as they just hit 32nm, and they run their research in the tick toc way I see two more upgrades for SSD and they will end because they cannot go any further.

     This is somewhat of an issue so I will most likely set his PC up with 3 hard drives in a raid 5 configuration. The next issue is this; CPU choice especially right now is hard. I could of course go with AM3 and 8 gigs of memory. For about a hundred more I can go for 1156, then for roughly the same price I can go with 1366 with 6 gigs of memory. I am thinking in most cases especially photo editing and media manipulation the 1366/920 is going to perform about the same as an 1156/860 with the memory differences.

     Then I also want to build a system with an upgrade path the dual channel and triple channel difference for me on the uses he requires seems to be a positive, the upgrade path for the two Intel chipsets seems to me to also be the most confusing on the 1156 side of things as it is supposed to accept the Sandy Bridge path. Then the 1366 is supposed to accept the Gulftown which I would think is the best path or socket for the future. Also as I look at the AMD side of things AM3 is supposed to accept Bulldozer as well automatically. So I can build him a great system today, but what will it's future be say 1.5-2 years down the road will I be able to drop in the next CPU, and which of those CPU's is the best choice? I am thinking 1366, but am stuck on this choice all three paths with all the same components (GPU, Ram, and HD throughput and storage amount) are within 100 bucks up or down. The AMD Phenom is of course the lowest prices with 8 gigs, the 1156/860 is next for about 75 more, and the 1366 is about a hundred more with the tri channel config’s at 6 gigs.

Which do I choose looking at the future for him and his usage pattern? I am really leaning toward 1366, but am quite unsure of the future between these 3 sockets!

 

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hko45 replied on Tue, Nov 3 2009 5:39 AM

If you're setting this up for PhotoShop, you should rethink your HD configuration (3 HD in Raid 5):

HD1 -  Fastest drive for OS and programs ( 2 SSD in Raid 0)

HD2 - Scratch disk

HD3 - Storage, largest drive sets you can afford ( 2 in Raid 2 or 4 in Raid 10)

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hko45 replied on Tue, Nov 3 2009 5:42 AM

Whoops, I meant 2 drives in Raid 1 for HD3

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realneil replied on Tue, Nov 3 2009 10:30 AM

Good read. The way I do it is to get the best that I can afford with the funds available. This is a far as I can go towards future proofing.

Future Proofing in today's world of technical advances is probably not possible anyway at the rate these advances keep occurring. You need an uninterrupted cash stream to keep up these days, or maybe find a way to get manufacturers to consistently send you new things to test out and review. (wink!)

So a look at the budget is first in the process for me, then I get the best I can by shopping around. It usually works out just fine. My older equipment works well for use in Linux Boxes too.

 

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Dave_HH replied on Tue, Nov 3 2009 4:29 PM

Hey Neil, how's that new rig of yours doing? :)

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If you want to make this even worse, add a requirement for ECC RAM and then you're really in a doozy.  I personally need it for live video and audio work, which obviously is a small segment of the workstation market.  This upgrade has been a total nightmare for me because I'm additionally looking at Crossfire support for the visuals.  My system isn't impossible, but a spare $1,000 is.

Good article though, this would have saved me quite a few hours last week.

EDIT:  Actually you know what, I don't think I'm going to upgrade completely afterall.  I thought about your Core2Quad comment and I think instead of ditching my 965P motherboard that's currently corrupting every RAM stick I throw at it, I'm going to RMA everything in my system and upgrade only the CPU.

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Nov 4 2009 1:50 PM

Yes, my neighbors budget for me on building this system is 1500. However, he needs everything, display, dvd drives, printer, windows etc.. So that 1500 is not very high, for a half way decent flat panel capable of photo work (not top end just capable) you can drop 175-200, which leaves me 1300. I also need a decent gpu which I'm thinking 5850, that leaves 1050. Now I need to decide the CPU which is the hardest, I am thinking for photo work and everything which goes with it the i7920 would be the best, and that chipset also goes the direction I want. I don't know which I'm going to settle on yet it will be either an i5/860, and i7/920, or maybe a top end Phenom. I am most worried about capabilitie's for photo work, and of course an upgrade or chipset roadmap as well. Of course anything I build him will absolutely floor his expectations, he has not had a computer for 3 years now I think, that was also not top specs either. So anything I put together for him will blow his expectations 100 miles high performance wise I am sure of that.

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hko45 replied on Wed, Nov 4 2009 4:01 PM

You still didn't say whether this rig was going to be running PhotoShop. If so at the very least, have a separate disk for OS/programs and storage. (You were going to get 3 HDs anyway for Raid 5 -- I'd use 1 for the OS and two in Raid 1 for storage.) But the most important thing is to get the most/fastest ram you can afford (PhotoShop CS4 can run 64-bit so you can (should) try for more than 4 GB). As for GPU, you could blow your entire budget on a Quadro FX4800 alone -- seriously, at least get a GPU that has support for OpenGL.

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Nov 4 2009 6:03 PM

Thanks HKo45, I have thought about other implementations. However I also have a 1500 dollar budget, and I need a high end gpu display, keyboard, mouse, printer and everything else. So SSD is not a possibility. I have also thought about 2 in raid1 for OS and apps, with a large drive for storage. I think that a 3 500-1000 GB drives in raid 5 gives me better performance than raid1, and more safety in the functionality of raid5. If I do raid0 it is fast, but I don't want it to go out in 6-12 ad you know if you loose a raid0 array you have nothing left. I have definitely consider the jbod thing as well I just  think raid 5 with 3 drives gives me the best outcome. This computer is going to blow away anything he has ever used anyway. So the performance hit he takes with raid 5 will not be noticed anyways.

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Nov 4 2009 6:06 PM

Yes the main focus of this computer is going to be Photoshop/or GIMP. The Jbod 1 OS 2 raid 1 storage setup is also one of my options to. I wish I could grab a SSD for the single disk, but a budget of 1500 for everything does not really leave that as an option.

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hko45 replied on Thu, Nov 5 2009 5:29 AM

For PhotoShop, your first priority is to get as much ram as you can get (4GB min). Yesterday, when running PhotoShop CS4 on my laptop (4GB), I got a message that it could not do a blend because I had insufficient ram. As you scale back your GPU (for budget's sake), just make sure it can run OpenGL. On the topic of disks: I like to put only my OS and all programs on the C drive (no data) because I can then use an image backup (Acronis) simply on that drive--at which point I care less about safety than speed. My data resides on another drive where I can use whatever backup process I want. In the case of my laptop, I have my data backed up both on an NAS drive and a usb drive. Right now I'm limited to a laptop (Dell Precision M6400 w/ 2 22" monitors) because I'm hoping to move soon so I'm planning to get my dream PhotoShop system after the move.

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realneil replied on Wed, Dec 16 2009 6:34 PM

It's slicker than Snake Snot.

Like a Fire In a Match Factory!

It's profound!

It's smooth,...like Southern Comfort,.............

It's the best computer that I've ever had.

 

Thanks!

 

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Jan 20 2010 12:44 PM

umm is this a copy repost of my own comment? It sure seems so, Someone must be desperate for post points.

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He is catching up with me oh my!

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Shhh! Replying to his post only makes his point total higher!

Lol and only 78,780 more points to catch up to Bob!

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realneil replied on Wed, Jan 20 2010 3:18 PM

So if he stays busy,.......real,........real busy,......

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Jan 20 2010 3:58 PM

Gibber you will never catch Bob unless you post all day evvery day for a year or maybe 2 lol.

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rapid1 replied on Wed, Jan 20 2010 4:00 PM

Either way the upgrade minefield is an extremely harrowing one now. There are just so many choices and for each component that it is just confusing especially for a general user who does not have extended component knowledge.

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realneil replied on Wed, Jan 20 2010 4:35 PM

I solved that one by buying AMD only for years. My budget required it, so I ignored the Intel side altogether. Then I won the Intel unit from this site and I've explored the Intel option a little. Now they're offering some lower cost products that deliver good performance and they're giving AMD a run for the mid and low range gaming segments.

Yes, it's all a little confusing,......but it's worth reading up on.

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Soupstyle replied on Wed, Jan 20 2010 9:24 PM

I also have been working on AMD parts for a while (since when they actually had better chips) due to the fact that they seem to have been better or equal on performance/price (as Intel may had performed better but had a huge premium on that extra performance), seemed to have more offering in the cheap to mid-range products, the fact that AMD stuck with chip slot sizes for longer than Intel (thereby letting me upgrade without getting a whole new system longer) and in the interest of fostering competition.

I know that AMD stuck around more due to taking on massive debt than my purchasing their chips, but it made me feel like I was trying to at least encourage competition, if AMD were to go away and no one was driving Intel to innovate, then everyone would lose.

 

P.S. - Great article Loyd.

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realneil replied on Thu, Jan 21 2010 8:40 AM

I agree that without AMD in the picture to tone down Intel a little, prices would be much higher than they are right now. Competition is good for us, the consumers. 

The same thing is true in the GPU markets, looking at all of the interactions between NVIDIA and ATI. We lost several players in that market years ago and for a while I thought we may end up with just one choice for video cards. What would happen to prices without the constant back and forth between these two companies?

I really wish that the 'Apple' and 'UBUNTU' effect had more influence on greedy-ass Microsoft, but so far adaptation of both OS's is too slow to throttle them back a little. This is a real problem for us out here in reality-land, so I try to set people without any computer experience whatsoever up with UBUNTU whenever I can. I squawk about the 'free' aspect and that they can usually find software on that platform that will do most anything that they want to. I squawk about the fact that viruses are written to exploit windows with their huge corporate market share and not written so much for Linux-based systems. If they never knew and experienced Windows, it works in today's economy.

I proactively try to whittle them down to size whenever I can,........even though I love to 'game' on my Win7 boxes.

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Soupstyle replied on Thu, Jan 21 2010 11:00 PM

The problem is that companies love their legacy software, which was written on MS OS, while the hardware could be from any vendor. The fact that MS keeps legacy support for previous systems means companies won't let their IT admins switch to anything else. Plus the fact that games are almost exclusive to Windows means there won't be a change in most of the home PC market too.

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realneil replied on Fri, Jan 22 2010 9:41 AM

Ubuntu is releasing server versions for free to companies to use. It's based on standards and is interoperable with any OS. I'm told it's quite secure and very fast.

Anyone I do work for is usually part of the home market. Ubuntu is a viable solution for those that don't have any prior experience with computers. There are still allot of them out there. If they don't know what they're missing, they're in bliss with something that just works.

The free aspect and the fact that almost ANY computer will run Ubuntu at viable speed is another selling point. Ubuntu's hardware support is quite extensive nowadays. There is another new and improved home version release due out soon to play with.

Free is really, really good!       Big Smile         If you could game on Ubuntu like you can with Windows, Microsoft would be in serious trouble.

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Soupstyle replied on Fri, Jan 22 2010 6:40 PM

I agree, but the question is how to get people to move to a different platform, since the software developers that are making a profit (i.e. game developers) for the most part do the easiest thing and produce games for Windows only to get the overwhelmingly large % of the market.

You sort of end up with a chicken/egg problem between games & software vs. users and how to get them to switch to a different OS platform. People use windows because everything is made for it, people develop software for windows because everyone uses it.

That initial sale of MS-DOS to IBM is probably the single biggest business deal in this century, and continues to shape our computing environment. We are very lucky to have Linux for free and OSX to keep MS from making each OS release and service pack at insane prices.

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I wouldn't necessarily call it a "MINEFIELD", it's a lot simpler and cheaper for that matter, to upgrade these days. Back in the day it wasn't very clear which to choose AMD or Intel... Well for gaming I guess AMD and it's FX series was a killer but choosing which processor to pick OVERALL is much easier now.

In the low end we are looking at my beloved Q6600 on Intel's side and AMD's lowest Phenom processors I believe.. So here you'll want to stick with LGA775 which I STRONGLY go against considering it will eventually be replaced with LGA1156/1366. So if you want future-proofing.. spend a lil' more, it'll be worth it in the long run.

In the Mid Range we've got Intel's Core i5/Core i7's LGA1156 platform and AMD's PHENOM II (I believe).

Finally in the high end which everyone should be aiming for if you don't want to upgrade in the near future, we've got Intel's monstrous LGA1366 Platform. Basically buy the Core i7 920 or wait for the 930 to come out. Anything above the 920 costs too much and really the performance boost is minimal considering what sort of beast the 920 is at overclocking.

If you have patience, you might as well wait for AMD to come out something that will REALLY compete with Intel and if you are buying Intel, you can wait for the 8 core processors to come out..

I predict that this will be the best time for building a gaming pc... In the past people would have to spend upwards of 5 grand to get a decent system, nowadays people can get away with only spending 1500 for a great system.

And in regards to RAM, LGA1156 just get 4GB (2 DIMMS) and for LGA1366 6GB (3 DIMMS). Seriously stick with Corsair Dominator's they are great at heat dissipation and offer a lot of overclocking headroom. (Price ain't bad either) -- Remember DDR3 ONLY

Finally for GPU's, right now ATI 5XXX series boast greater performance than Nvidia's GTX 2XX line but not by much. I for one will wait for what Nvidia has to offer with it's GTX 460/480 lineup as should most people.

Other things to keep in mind... Intel has made it really easy for people to pick graphics cards.. In the past if you bought a motherboard, you were stuck with either ATI or NVIDIA but now with the Nehalem platform (most of them), we have the freedom to pick whatever graphics card we want. This will ultimately lead to more competition between ATI and NVIDIA which is always great for the end user as it leads to increased performance and better prices. 

One last thing I'd like to add, not to start any sort of argument and also keep in mind I am no fanboy, I'll gladly buy ATI or NVIDIA which ever one offers more performance, but ATI is doing really bad financially. Even though ATI offers better performance RIGHT NOW (pre-Fermi), it is losing lots of money and despite NVIDIA not bringing anything to the table, it is doing much better than ATI financially. Who knows how well Nvidia will do when their next gen graphics cards come out. I only hope they don't end up being rebranded GTX 2XX just like how the 9 series cards were for the 8800's.

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Great article. It's true that at this point technology will just keep increasing exponentially. Having a system that can keep up with the latest tech will become increasingly more difficult. I think future proofing will be at its best right now, but come 10 years I believe that everyone will have a hard time keeping up. If anyone does decide to upgrade their computer, and they have an LGA 775 socket, I'd reccomend saving up some extra cash and upgrading to the LGA 1366 sockets instead. That's at least what I plan on doing. 

I think the best strategy to keeping your computer hardware up to date is saving some money every month and making a change at the critical level...to the point where you can begin saving again. It's a rinse and repeat sort of thing. 

 

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Komando_93 replied on Tue, Feb 23 2010 10:46 PM

The bright side of this upgrade minefield is the constant innovation and competition unseen in areas such as the console market

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