Storage Technology Budget Builds Laptop Upgrades
Upgrade or Replace?
Dear Doc, ever since a friend recommended your magazine in 1999, I’ve been hooked. It made me want to build my own rig. I love the combination of hardware and software, and the trends you introduce. Keep up the great work!
After all that time, I finally put together a rig for my 10year-old son last year. It’s a family hand-me-down with a few upgrades. When he’s ready for a better gaming experience on his birthday or Christmas, what are the best upgrades available? He’s playing Fallout 4,TheElderScrollsV:Skyrim, and Assassin’sCreedSyndicate at medium quality presets.
The system is an HP Pavilion p7-1007c, with an AMD Phenom II X6 1045T, 16GB of Patriot DDR3-1600 memory in two 8GB sticks, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 660, and a 650W power supply. The cooling is stock; nothing is overclocked. I recently bought an MSI GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 6G. If I put it into this PC, will a bottleneck somewhere else limit the card’s performance? I have another system it was destined for, but that’s another story entirely.
Thanks for any help you can provide to a long-time MaximumPC fan in Phoenix!
– Joaquin Pantel
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: The Alvorix motherboard in your HP system supports up to 95W CPUs, and the Thuban-based Phenom II X6 is top of the line for its Socket AM3 interface. That rules out a CPU upgrade.
A GeForce GTX 660 is already quite an upgrade from the Radeon HD 4200 graphics built into AMD’s 785G chipset. However, the GeForce GTX 1060 should be notably faster if you choose to send it your son’s way. A conservatively clocked CPU like the 1045T might hold the 1060 back a bit, but high-quality graphics settings should be available at playable frame rates on an FHD display. Of course, it helps that someone stripped out HP’s stock 250W PSU and replaced it with a 650W upgrade somewhere along the line.
How about an SSD? If the p7-1007c is still leaning on its stock 1TB drive, you’re losing a lot of responsiveness to the mechanical disk. Even a 128GB or 256GB SSD for your son’s favorite games would cut level load times tremendously.
Hey Doc. I’ll be building a new PC in the near future and I’d like to know which SSD to use. I’d like an Intel PCIe or M.2 drive. However, I’m unsure if my OS will boot from it. I’d prefer to use a single storage device, so I’m springing for at least 1TB of capacity. I understand that some SSDs aren’t bootable. Can you help clarify the ins and outs of an upgrade?
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: A lot of new storage-oriented terms and technologies were thrown at PC builders in 2014/2015. Suddenly, client SSDs could be attached directly to the PCIe bus. There were also the NVMe and AHCI non-physical interfaces to consider. Finally, motherboards started including M.2 slots, supporting legacy SATA SSDs, PCIe-based SSDs communicating through AHCI, and NVMe PCIe drives.
Whether or not your PC will boot from a modern Intel SSD depends on several factors. First, your motherboard must have the right firmware. Many board vendors enabled support up and down their Z97- and X99-based portfolios in 2015. Check that the latest UEFI version is installed, and that it explicitly calls out NVMe support. Next, what OS are you using? Windows 8.1 and 10 support NVMe PCIe boot devices natively. Win 8 requires additional drivers during installation. Hold-outs with Win 7 need a specific Microsoft hotfix, though even then mobo compatibility is dicey.
Intel sells two 1TB-plus PCIe SSDs: the SSD 600p and SSD 750. The former is available as M.2, and qualifies as somewhat mainstream (peak sequential writes of 560MB/s aren’t much faster than SATA 6Gb/s). SSD 750 drives are markedly faster. You’ll find them in familiar 2.5-inch packaging with an SFF-8639 connector, or as expansion cards that drop into a PCIe slot. Both highperformance models require airflow over them, so plan on purchasing an extra fan or two if you opt for the SSD 750.
Be warned that high-end PCIe-based drives command a premium. And while they’re great if you need massive throughput, SATA is viable in most enthusiast environments.
Long Windows Update
Dear Doctor, I know my PC and OS are old, but I really like the
way they’re set up. Most of my work on this machine involves Outlook, web browsing, and listening to music. In many ways, I find it easier to control than my Windows 10 PC.
Here’s the issue I’m having with my HP Pavilion m7790y running Windows Vista: Two or three months ago, Windows Update stopped working, even though Microsoft still officially supports the OS. When I click “Check for Updates” or “Automatic,” I get an endless cycle of checking with no results. I’ve tried this several times, letting it run for hours, with no luck. I tried Safe mode, toggling updates off and back on, and disabling apps that run in the background. Nothing works. I even tried System Restore, but that didn’t go far enough back to cover my last good configuration. Microsoft Fix It wasn’t any help, either.
Although I’ve tried to diagnose the issue by searching online, none of what I’ve found matches my situation exactly. I’m guessing that something needs to be reset in the registry, but I need an expert like you to help. I’ve been a subscriber for 18-plus years!
– Gary Leonardo
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: The Doc doesn’t have a PC with Windows Vista installed, unfortunately, so he can’t verify the efficacy of this fix. However, a Microsoft Community member has a procedure that other folks are finding helpful. Check out https://goo.gl/5sNwgt for details. The Windows Update Agent is broadly blamed for the delays you’re experiencing.
Although Vista is still officially supported, its lifecycle does end in April 2017. Further, Microsoft introduced a patch in June 2016 to solve the same issue in Windows 7. While your setup seems to be running fine otherwise, Vista is clearly on the way out, and it may be time to consider upgrading.
Pro PC on a Budget
Here’s the skinny, Doc: I’m a mechanical engineering major, and have come to the realization that I may need a beefier rig. I’m Kingston’s HyperX Predator is available in
M. 2 and add-in card form factors. a gamer at heart, but have also put my machine through its paces with rendering and design projects. At this point, I believe I’d benefit from newer technology, as my hardware is going on four years old.
Is there any way to put together a workstation and gaming machine that even a college brat could afford? Or, could you help me with a list of worthwhile upgrades for an ageing Haswell-based system? Thanks for the help.
– Christian Waters
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: Has it already been that long since the Haswell architecture was introduced? The Doc doesn’t know which fourth-gen Core processor you currently use—a dual-core i3 needs replacing far more than a quad-core i7. However, neither Broadwell nor Skylake represent significant enough upgrades to suggest swapping out your CPU, motherboard, and memory.
A similarly old graphics card would probably put you in GeForce GTX 700/Radeon R9 200 territory. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 is one of the Doc’s favorites right now, both for its ability to outperform the previous-gen flagship, and its availability under $400. That would probably be your most rewarding upgrade.
Not sure where you are with storage, but an SSD is mandatory. And make sure important school projects, movies, and music are saved to a redundant array—whether that’s a couple of internal disks or a networked appliance. And if you’re currently gaming/ working on a single monitor, strongly consider a second or third. The Doc swears by three for maximizing productivity.
Upgrading a Laptop
Doctor, as a long-time reader, I trust your sound advice. I recently bought an Acer Aspire E5-575G-53VG laptop. To my surprise, it has an open RAM slot, and the system drive is a 256GB M.2-based SSD. It also has an available SATA bay for adding more storage. Even with its discrete GPU, it lasts for 10 to 12 hours on a full charge.
I am considering adding another memory module and a second hard drive. Should I buy a Samsung 850 EVO SSD or save money and go for a mechanical disk? Is it worthwhile to swap out the M.2 card for a 512GB Samsung SSD? I am looking to extract as much speed as possible from this laptop, because it needs to last me at least three years. I mostly use it for traveling and some discreet gaming while I am on the road. It runs Fallout4 at moderate detail settings right now, so I expect it to be decently fast for a while yet. Your advice is greatly appreciated.
– Stephen Fraser
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: You have to love upgradeable mobile platforms. The E5- 575G-53VG comes with 8GB of DDR4 in an SO-DIMM format, so feel free to add a second 8GB module. Just don’t expect that to have a resounding impact on performance. The same goes for storage. A 256GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD, which is what that machine sports, is going to be fast and responsive. Higherend SSDs might be a little faster and a little more responsive, but adding capacity is the only way the Doc could justify a replacement. As for your empty bay, pop an inexpensive mechanical disk in there. That 256GB SSD will only stretch so far, and 2TB hard drives sell for under $100.
Unfortunately, the go-fast parts that’ll keep you happy with your Aspire for another three years aren’t serviceable. The laptop is competent for under $600, but consider its unpopulated ports and slots an extension of functionality, rather than an opportunity to exploit untapped potential.
Doc, I was the one who asked about the Acer BIOS the other month (thank you for your help clearing that up). I looked but cannot find a download link. I still want to update the firmware to get as much as I can out of this machine, at least until I can afford to build a beautiful new PC. Could you point me in the right direction?
THE DOCTOR RESPONDS: The Doc pulled your system’s BIOS information from Acer’s support site. The latest version is downloadable from https:// goo.gl/cLSttx.
Adding a DDR4 SO-DIMM to your laptop may not do as much for performance as you’d hope.
Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 is faster than last gen’s flagship, and cheaper.