> Speed Boosts > Up­grade Quan­daries > Per­ished PSU

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Mo­bile Speed

Hi, Doc. I have a Core i52540M, with 6GB of LPDDR3, and a GeForce GT 520M graph­ics adapter. They’re so slow, though! I use Gi­ga­byte’s OC Guru and MSI’s After­burner soft­ware, so can I crank that hard­ware up to run even faster? – Com­puter Bro THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: At the end of the day, you’re work­ing with a more than six-year-old main­stream CPU and a GPU with just 48 CUDA cores. No mat­ter how ag­gres­sively ei­ther is tuned, the ab­so­lute im­pact in to­day’s games will be min­i­mal.

More­over, there’s a good chance that the chas­sis de­signed to han­dle such a com­bi­na­tion wouldn’t be for­giv­ing of in­creased heat out­put. And be­cause mo­bile CPU and GPU cool­ers are of­ten linked, ad­just­ing one com­po­nent may af­fect the other. Try­ing to tune both could trig­ger ther­mal throt­tling at the point where you wanted higher per­for­mance. So, while it may be pos­si­ble to over­clock what the Doc pre­sumes is a lap­top, us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of SetFSB and Throt­tleS­top, your po­ten­tial up­side is lim­ited.

The Doc does un­der­stand your plight. After all, he got his start mod­ding a 7.16MHz Tandy 1000 back when his friends were all get­ting 486-based PCs for Christ­mas. If you’d like to im­prove your sys­tem’s re­spon­sive­ness, you’ll get much more mileage from an in­ex­pen­sive SSD. That should make the ma­chine a bit faster.

To Up­grade or Not

I bought my PC seven years ago. Although that’s eons in the tech world, my Alien­ware Aurora R3 still holds up well against many of to­day’s main­stream con­fig­u­ra­tions. Ad­mit­tedly, I have up­graded a num­ber of com­po­nents, adding a 2TB Sam­sung 850 EVO SSD, four 8GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1866 mem­ory mod­ules, and a GeForce GTX 970 4GB video card.

But I’d like to go faster (again). This ma­chine has had its quirks. Over the past cou­ple of years, I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of boot prob­lems. Some­times it goes to the boot screen and stays there, re­quir­ing shut­down and a restart. Other times it stops dead while load­ing Win 10. Some­times it gets con­fused as to which drive to boot from, look­ing to my D:\ drive rather than C:\. Jump on­line, and you’ll find plenty of Dell users hav­ing is­sues with th­ese ma­chines, and most of the is­sues got worse after Win­dows 10 launched.

Should I re­place the moth­er­board, pro­ces­sor, and power sup­ply, which I sus­pect will cure the boot is­sue, then up­grade the RAM and graph­ics card again, or buy some­thing to­tally new? To give you an idea of what I was look­ing at, the Alien­ware Area-51 I specced out was just shy of $6,000. That’s a lot, but if it serves me for an­other seven or eight years, the cost seems more rea­son­able. Most of my use cen­ters around photo pro­cess­ing, gam­ing, and brows­ing the In­ter­net. I also re­cently added an Ocu­lus Rift. So, what would you do?

–Tom Struck­man

THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: The Aurora R3 was a good-look­ing sys­tem dur­ing the golden age of In­tel’s Sandy Bridge. That mostly plas­tic chas­sis isn’t for ev­ery­one, but Alien­ware’s Area-51, in the Doc’s opin­ion, is even more po­lar­iz­ing. Then again, if you dig it, the Doc won’t try con­vinc­ing you oth­er­wise. Let’s in­stead turn to prac­ti­cal­ity and value—two words sel­dom as­so­ci­ated with flag­ship PCs.

By the time you swap out your moth­er­board, CPU, mem­ory, power sup­ply, and graph­ics card, you’ve re­placed every­thing ex­cept for stor­age. At that point, it only seems right to add a big PCIe-based SSD for your games, and a hard drive for those photo projects. So, you’re ba­si­cally talk­ing about a com­plete re­build in­side of the old case ver­sus an en­tirely new sys­tem priced close to $6,000.

An Area-51 up in that range would have a Core i7-6950X, a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, 64GB of RAM, and a 512GB SATA-based SSD, with 8TB of mag­netic stor­age spin­ning at 5,400rpm, right? If you’re gam­ing, though, a quad-core Core i7-7700K is ar­guably smarter (even years down the road, thanks to its much higher clock rate). Drop that into an Aurora with the same 64GB of mem­ory and GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, a bet­ter 1TB PCIe SSD, and a 2TB 7200 RPM disk, all for around $3,500. Spend some of the

dif­fer­ence on a G-Sync-en­abled 4K dis­play, and you’ll still come out way ahead.

A Fork in the Road

Hey Doc­tor, You helped me in the past, and now I come to you again look­ing for guid­ance.

I have an MSI Z97 Gam­ing 5 moth­er­board with bad mem­ory slots. I was run­ning two 8GB DDR3-1600 mod­ules for a long time, and am now lim­ited to a max­i­mum of 4GB from one stick if I want the sys­tem to POST.

The rest of the PC in­cludes a Core i7-4790K and GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edi­tion. I have a fall­back ma­chine with a Core i7-2600 that I plugged my RAM and graph­ics card into, and it’s work­ing well enough. How­ever, I do ex­pe­ri­ence a lot of in-game lag that I never en­coun­tered on the 4790K. I didn’t think a slightly older CPU would cause this is­sue, but it seems like a log­i­cal place to start.

As far as I can tell, I’m down to two op­tions: buy an­other Z97-based moth­er­board, even though they seem to be rather pricey right now, or shell out the cash for a Core i7-5820K, which I’ve been eye­balling for a year now.

Nei­ther is par­tic­u­larly at­trac­tive, see­ing as I’m about to dump some ma­jor cash into parts. But I’m not in love with the 2600’s per­for­mance enough to stay with it. Do you have any ad­vice on which way I should go? –Brad THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: The Doc would also be sur­prised if your Sandy Bridge-era 2600 in­hibits game per­for­mance no­tice­ably com­pared to a Haswell-based 4790K. Have you checked the tem­per­a­ture of your older Core i7 un­der load? Might it be suf­fer­ing un­der old/dry ther­mal paste, re­sult­ing in throt­tling? How do the two PCs’ stor­age sub­sys­tems dif­fer? Does the new one ben­e­fit from an SSD, while the old one sput­ters be­hind a me­chan­i­cal disk? Have you logged CPU uti­liza­tion in games to try cor­re­lat­ing the hic­cups you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing? There are many vari­ables here, and if you’re se­ri­ously not look­ing to up­grade right now, con­sider fo­cus­ing en­ergy on trou­bleshoot­ing. After all, the 2600 is still a solid CPU.

If an up­grade is still in the cards, the Doc sug­gests a Core i7-7700K/Z270-based mobo combo, land­ing in be­tween the cost of your two op­tions. Why not buy a new Z97-based board? Well, you could. In fact, if you hadn’t men­tioned the 5820K, the Doc would prob­a­bly have sug­gested as much. So, what about the 5820K? If gam­ing is your top pri­or­ity, a six-core chip op­er­at­ing at up to 3.6GHz of­fers lit­tle real-world ad­van­tage over Kaby Lake. Ex­tra PCIe con­nec­tiv­ity used to be a plus, but multi-GPU con­fig­u­ra­tions aren’t as com­mon th­ese days, ob­vi­at­ing the need for lots of ex­tra lanes. The old 5820K still sells for more than $400, and com­pat­i­ble moth­er­boards com­mand a pre­mium.

Per­for­mance Sab­o­tage

Hello Doc. In a long-gone Max­i­mumPC fo­rum thread, cer­tain poli­cies at In­tel and AMD (maybe Nvidia, too) were dis­cussed. It was be­lieved that per­for­mance could be ar­ti­fi­cially lim­ited by a graph­ics card’s BIOS if some­one paired an AMD CPU with an Nvidia GPU. The same choke point would ex­ist with an In­tel CPU and AMD GPU. This was ac­knowl­edged to ex­ist. Mean­while, no such bot­tle­neck ex­isted on an AMD/ AMD or In­tel/Nvidia match.

Does this is­sue still ex­ist, or has evo­lu­tion caused it to fade away? Hope­fully, you’re able to find in your ar­chives where this was cov­ered. I also hope I’m de­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion ac­cu­rately; it was a long time ago, ad­mit­tedly. –Ron Rus­sell THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: Over the years, both AMD and Nvidia have been caught cheat­ing in cer­tain bench­marks to im­prove their po­si­tion against the com­pe­ti­tion. Some­times the “op­ti­miza­tions” in­volved not ren­der­ing parts of a scene, and some­times the com­pa­nies took sub­tle qual­ity short­cuts. The Doc has even seen de­vel­op­ers de­lib­er­ately add un­nec­es­sar­ily tax­ing work­loads to games that pe­nal­ize one com­pany more than an­other.

At other times, AMD and Nvidia were more or less sen­si­tive to plat­form per­for­mance by virtue of their re­spec­tive ar­chi­tec­tures, preva­lent APIs, and mul­ti­thread­ing. For in­stance, Nvidia’s driv­ers are well op­ti­mized for DirectX 11-based games, and you’ll com­monly see GeForce cards lead­ing com­pa­ra­bly priced Radeons in bench­marks. Mean­while, AMD’s highly par­al­lelized GCN architecture ex­cels un­der DirectX 12, of­ten al­low­ing those same Radeons to jump ahead.

Back to your orig­i­nal ques­tion, though. As far as the Doc knows, there was never a de­lib­er­ate throt­tle added to AMD/ATI graph­ics cards to hurt per­for­mance on In­tel-based plat­forms, or on Nvidia cards to slow them down on AMD-based PCs. Such a move would only serve to hurt per­for­mance in an im­por­tant mar­ket seg­ment.

Dead PSU?

Hi, Doc. I have a cus­tom rig I built a few years ago. One night, I de­cided to fire it up, and noth­ing hap­pened. I guessed the PSU was dead, and to be sure I re­moved it from the sys­tem and tried to plug it into an­other out­let. Same thing. Is it safe to as­sume that the power sup­ply is, in fact, gone? – Stu Parker THE DOC­TOR RE­SPONDS: When in doubt, try the old pa­per­clip test. Dis­con­nect your power sup­ply from all of your other hard­ware, make sure it’s un­plugged from the wall, and flip its switch to the off po­si­tion. Hook up a case fan in case your PSU re­quires some load at­tached be­fore it’ll turn on.

Next, bend a pa­per­clip into a U shape. Grab ahold of the 24-pin ATX power ca­ble and lo­cate the green wire (there should only be one). Insert one end of the clip into the con­nec­tor cor­re­spond­ing to that green wire, and the other end into any of the black (or ground) wire con­nec­tors. Set the ca­ble down, plug the power sup­ply back in, and flip its switch back to standby. If your PSU is still good, its fan and the case fan should start spin­ning.

In­tel’s Core i7-7700K is bet­ter for gam­ing than an older 5820K.

It’s not a par­tic­u­larly high-tech so­lu­tion, but a sim­ple pa­per­clip can help de­ter­mine whether a PSU is, in fact, de­ceased.

For just $50, an SSD drive can make a lap­top much snap­pier.

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