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Discussion Starter #1
Hi,

I have a desktop computer that's closing in on eight years that I'm looking to improve on. Basically, I think I need to replace rather than upgrade, but just wanted to see if anyone could provide feedback and basically convince me that I'm not going to see much improvement going the upgrade route.

My computer currently has:
- a Biostar M7NCD motherboard with an AMD Athlon XP 1700+ processor (socket 462)
- one chip of 512MB 266MHz RAM
- AGP 8X video card (which I don't think is the problem)

The upgrades that are floating in my head are replacing the RAM with 2 x 1GB and maybe trying to find a faster processor, though I'd likely have to resort to eBay and I'm not sure about buying a (likely used) processor via that route. I built the computer from scratch myself and have put plenty of upgrades into it (firewire card (sadly we bought a firewire video camera when that was the next big thing), tv tuner, card reader, etc). The computer is used mostly for minor photo and video editing and slows to a crawl whenever I do pretty much anything (even just opening a web browser, but more so when I'm doing photo/video stuff). There's a tiny little part of me that's thinking about trying a mac, just because I've heard so much about how that's their niche. However, I already have photoshop for windows, so I don't know if I want to drop extra money on new software. I haven't touched a mac in nearly twenty years, so I don't have much experience, and what I do have didn't leave me wanting more (I've always thought there's a reason that computer stores have a "computer" section and a "mac" section), but that was a long time ago and maybe it's time to change. Lastly, I am capable of building my own computer and enjoy the process, but with the prices on prebuilt systems being so low, it almost seems I'd be better off buying rather than building my own.

Any thoughts??
 

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Before my current desktop, I had an XP-powered PC custom-built by a local shop. It was a great machine. When it finally failed on me, I did a bit of looking around and - because the local shop was no longer in business - I ended up with a really nice Acer desktop from Best Buy. It was well-spec'd and well-priced, and it has been very reliable for almost two years now.

Unless you're a power user or serious gamer, and as long as you know what you want/need from a PC, a well-reviewed PC from a "regular" retailer should do you just fine.

Just my 2¢. And, of course, YMMV. :)
 

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My computer currently has:
- a Biostar M7NCD motherboard with an AMD Athlon XP 1700+ processor (socket 462)
- one chip of 512MB 266MHz RAM
- AGP 8X video card
Not enough RAM is the most serious shortcoming on that PC. Photo editing takes lots of RAM so the slowdown is most likely being caused by paging virtual memory to disk. The CPU isn't great either but a faster replacement will be difficult to find.

From the M7NCD specs:
Code:
• Memory:
2 x 184-pin DDR SDRAM DIMM
Maximum 2.0 GB
DDR 200/266/333/400
If you want to keep using this PC, I recommend upgrading to 1.5 or 2 GB of RAM. Adding just 1GB to make 1.5GB would be a big improvement. Note that the processor is limiting RAM speed to DDR266. Faster RAM can be installed but it will fall back to DDR266 with this processor. 1GB of new DDR RAM can be picked up for about $30. I wouldn't spend much more than that on this PC since it isn't worth much. If you can find a faster used CPU, it might be worthwhile.

Having said that, a replacement PC is the best choice. If you want to DIY, there are some good buys in AMD motherboards and CPUs. Just a rough estimate:
Case+PS: $75-$100
mATX Motherboard: $75
AMD X2 CPU (3GHz): $75
500GB hard drive: $50
DVD drive: $20
4GB RAM: $75
Win7 x64 OEM: $125
Keyboard and Mouse: $30
20" Monitor: $100-$150
Total: ~600

You should be able to get some good deals during Boxing Day week and beat most of those prices by a significant margin.
 

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Upgrade is doable, but it would cost you nearly the same as buying new these days..

The price of products tends to form a parabola ("smile" on a graph)
When it's brand new, really expensive.
As time goes on, it gets cheaper.
Then by that time, something newer comes along, demand reduces, and the price rises.

DDR1 ram is pretty expensive these days because of this.
You're looking at around $50/gb for DDR1

You can get 4gb of DDR3 for that price.

Your optimal solution is to replace, and DIY, as scarybob suggested.
For your needs, you can easily build a replacement for not too much more than buying 2gb DDR1.

You can find prices lower than bob's suggestions, too.
Case - as low as $40, including moderate PSU (or reuse existing case. PSU will most likely need to be upgraded too.. often the mainstream cases come bundled with a 400-500W psu, so might as well do that)
4gb DDR3 - $50
1tb HD - $60 - if you're doing video editing, i'd get the 1tb. WD blue 1tb's are regularly 60-65 these days, if you shop around.
dvd drive - $20 (though I imagine you already have one?)
keyboard, mouse, monitor - $0 (reuse) - might want a new monitor though, not sure what you're using.

That brings the cost down significantly.

Cons to prebuilt are often low quality components and little to no upgrade path.
 

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New....

+1 for going for new.

ScaryBob has it about right. I would go custom myself. Several places around here will let you pick your parts and they will assemble it for about $40, $70 if you want them to load the OS as well.

Photo editing and video editing require lots of memory so I would go for 4 gig + and Windows 7 64 bit. For editing you would also want a discrete graphics card as well. Something like a GeForce 240 would work great and they run under $80. And spring for a bigger drive - 1 TB drives are under $100 now, you can never have enough drive space if you like photos and video.

Last but not least as someone who repairs pc's for friends, stay away from box store desktop pc's. Generally speaking they are built to hit a price point and to look like the latest greatest thing. But they have custom built boards that are missing features and slots/ports etc that allow you to upgrade or customize later. (that's how they get you to buy a new one every couple of years)
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thanks for all of your input. Going new was what I figured I'd end up doing. A local shop is selling DDR1 RAM for 20$/gb right now. For the short term, is upgrading to 2gb likely to give a significant performance improvement? Even simple things like right-clicking an icon can take what seems like an eternity before a menu comes up. I don't remember it always being that slow, is it possible the processor has just slowed down with age? I reinstalled windows xp a few months with hopes for improvement but saw none.

As far as box store prebuilt computers, I've heard all kinds of problems with manufacturers putting in cheap components where they can. I've never known anyone who owned an acer built computer, but the reviews of them are usually pretty strong. Are they any better than the box store computers, or do they fall into the same category?
 

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$20/GB for DDR is a reasonable price for a local store. It is possible to find it cheaper but that usually involves ordering from overseas. I would put in 1GB initially. That is the only upgrade I would make to this PC. It still won't be as fast as a new PC but the RAM will prevent paging. An AMD Athlon XP 1700+ is not a fast processor but it shouldn't be responsible for excessive delays.

I don't remember it always being that slow
You might want to uninstall or disable unnecessary software, especially programs that start automatically (usually indicated by icons on the taskbar.) Software bloat is quite common with Windows. Memory resident Firewalls and AV scanners are often the worst for system bloat but I don't recommend disabling or uninstalling them completely.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I've heard plenty of people say that upgrading RAM is the best bang for your upgrade buck, but I've never had much luck before. However, I put the new RAM in (2GB) and I can't believe the difference it made. It's like a whole new computer! Should be enough to tide me over until the quad core processors come down in price. Thanks for your opinions!
 

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General statements like that don't really work, though.
Sure, it worked for you, but if the memory isn't the bottleneck for someone else, it's going to do nothing for them.

What you need to do is identify what your bottleneck is and upgrade that component.

How? Well windows provides lots of statistics (even moreso in vista/7)
If you go to task manager and click on the performance tab you can see your memory and page file statistics.
If your free memory is a very low number, RAM would benefit you.
(in XP if your total used is more than you physically have installed, more RAM would benefit you)

Typically if you have less than 1gb you will benefit from a RAM upgrade. 2 or less, it depends on your needs. 4+ you shouldn't need to upgrade unless you want to edit entire videos in memory :p

Today, I'd say the best performance upgrade is an SSD. Your computer will "feel" so much faster.
 

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In this case we knew the problem was RAM. Photo and video editing takes a lot of RAM. Despite what MS claims, XP requires a minimum of 512MB to avoid paging. Photo editing typically requires another 512MB minimum, more with large photos or if editing multiple photos. For video editing, you pretty much want as much RAM as possible, both on the motherboard and video card.

I agree that analysis is the best solution, especially if the problem is not obvious. RAM shortages and CPU overload can be spotted easily in Task Manager.

The Biostar M7NCD has only IDE disk interfaces (no SATA) so an SSD drive will be limited by the IDE bus speed and a SATA to IDE interface. I have tried a SATA drive on a SATA to IDE interface. It's dismally slow.
 

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If your going to build from scratch i always take a trip over to tomshardware. They annually do System Builder Marathons in the $500,$1000 and $2000 ranges. I usually use there recommendations depending on local supply.
 
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