It all started when my sister asked me one day if she could play GTA and Overwatch on her MacBook Air 2011 . If you were like me, you would’ve laughed and had to explain this to her after:
No mainstream game (even Overwatch) would run smoothly on a computer without dedicated graphics.
I felt bad knowing that she wanted to play these games, but the only way she could do so is to either play on my laptop (i7-6700HQ / GTX 960M) or my desktop (i7 -3770K / GTX 980Ti). Unfortunately, both of those systems are unnaccessible throughout the week as I brought both of them with me to college.
graduating from high school this May so I decided to give her a graduation present – build her a PC.
Begin the Search
My budget – $200 after all rebates, if possible, cheaper. The idea was that I would take an old PC I have lying around, try to max out the CPU for that socket, stick a GTX 1050 / Ti in it (depending on budget), and call it a day.
The base tower I had in mind was an old Dell Inspiron 530 that my parents bought 10 years ago. It has an LGA 775 socket and 4 RAM slots, so I could place a fairly new CPU and max out the RAM using the DDR2 sticks I already had. However, one thing was very striking to me about using this desktop as a base:
It has a 300W PSU.
The minimum requirements for the 1050 / 1050Ti is 300W, so I would be dearly pushing it, especially with a pre-built system PSU, which aren’t the most reliable. Here I arrive at Issue #1 which is “do I buy a 450W PSU to be safe or risk it?”
Then, one day after Sunday Mass, I’m talking with my priest, who also shares an interest in computer hardware, about a laptop he is working on. He also then showed me 5 HP DC7900 Workstation PCs that were used by the local school board but then donated to him. He told me he I was free to take one of them if I was working on a project, little did he know I actually was. I agreed with him that I could have the computer and I would give him some RAM he needed for his laptop in return.
Returning home I open up the DC7900 and have this:
- Core 2 Duo E8400 (LGA 775)
- No RAM
- No Hard Drive
- An abnormally large heatsink for a pre-built system, which is definitely a plus.
- A couple small internal boxed fans, which run extremely quiet and leave the system cool.
- A 365W PSU – Jackpot
Great! A PSU that I won’t be petrified of exploding when running alongside a dedicated GPU. Since this came in what was a Workstation I was also more confident in the real load that this could handle, as not all PSUs can handle their rated wattage unless stated as “continuous power”.
Here’s what I put in it:
- Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 – $25 (paying more than double for the Q9650 was insane, also this chipset isn’t compatible with the Xeon LGA 771 -> 775 Mod so I was stuck with the Q9550 for best value)
- EVGA GTX 1050Ti Superclocked Gaming – $150 -$20 Rebate = $130
- 4 x 2 GB DDR2 667 MHz (on hand)
- 300 GB WD Blue 2.5″ (I found this in a laptop; later she opted to buy her own 1TB HDD so I won’t count this cost.
Total Cost – $175 ($155 after rebate)
I got all the parts together and got to work, and after plugging in the power and HDMI cable, success. I then proceeded with standard protocol to install Windows 10 and all the drivers and normal programs (GeForce Experience, Steam, Battle.Net, etc.)
How well does this $155 PC actually work? The results may shock you.
With everything working, let’s do some benchmarks. The benchmarks I have in mind are CPU-Z, PCMark8 Creative (Accelerated), and 3DMark Fire Strike. I chose these programs primarily because they are free, so that I can run the full benchmark without limitations. I will be comparing overall performance as well as performance per dollar in the 4 following systems:
- The system built in this article (Intel C2Q Q9550, 8GB RAM, GTX 1050Ti) – $150
- My sister’s laptop – 2011 MacBook Air (i5-3300U, 4GB RAM, Intel HD 4000) – $600
- My laptop – Lenovo Y700 (i7-6700HQ, 16GB RAM, GTX 960M) – $500 (The story on how I got that deal is for another day, yes it’s brand new)
- My desktop (i7-3770K @ 4.0 GHz, 16GB RAM, GTX 980Ti) – $600
(benchmarks coming soon)
For a grand total of $155, this isn’t a bad computer; it has a decent CPU, VR-ready GPU, and the capabilities of playing many AAA games today at half the cost of a console. However, there are a few limitations and I’ll list the solutions to each:
The Q9550 was launched in Q1 2008. That’s old… Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely better than any Celeron or Pentium CPU’s that most prebuilt systems come with. However AAA games (such as GTA V), require a much more powerful CPU, sometimes a modern i3 doesn’t suffice for some games. In GTA V, my FPS count on the lowest settings were no different than that on Very High settings, which concludes that I have a hefty GPU, but the CPU is what is lacking.
The fix to this?
Well as I stated the LGA 775 socket is long gone, as well as its successor (and its successor, too), so I’ll have to upgrade the motherboard as a whole, as well as upgrade the RAM to DDR4. I was able to luck out without buying RAM since I already had 8GB DDR2 on hand.
GPU Bottleneck (Kinda)
I have a brand-new GPU in a 10 year old motherboard, sounds good right? Well, it’s not exactly wrong, or bad, just not perfect. My motherboard has a PCIE 1.1 slot – a standard that is just as outdated as the LGA 775 socket. The upside is that they are cross-compatible among generations, as they all use the same socket. The downside is that because I am using a newer card in an older socket, I’m not getting 100% of what I could be getting. Some users report only a 5% average decrease in performance, but still sucks that I won’t be able to get all what I paid for at the moment. Like the CPU, changing the motherboard is the only option to fix this.
Lack of USB 3.0
USB 3.0 has been around for a while, but not old enough to be available in the motherboard. Overall this is barely an issue unless you wanted the high transfer speeds. To connect a VR headset, you would firstly have to upgrade the CPU, as well as the motherboard, which will most definitely give me USB 3.0 as an option on whatever board I choose. Case closed.
tl;dr, upgrade the motherboard and CPU next. The system only runs as fast as its weakest point(s).