DOC­TOR

Stor­age Tech­nol­ogy Bud­get Builds Lap­top Up­grades

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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.

Stor­age Con­fu­sion

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?

–Ken Payne

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.

BIOS Fol­low-Up

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?

–Trevor Gi­ampieri

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.

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