Guide To Upgrades With The Greatest Effects (Part 2)

12/14/2012 2:55:07 PM

Intel Core i5-2500k

Intel Core i5-2500k

Still one of the best chips on the market in terms of pound-for-performance, the Intel Core i5-2500k is a Sandy Bridge quad-core which runs at 3.3GHz out of the box. At around $240, it’s far from cheap in absolute terms, but there’s no doubt that you’re getting every drop of performance out of that money. The Core i5-2500k has reportedly been routinely overclocked as high as 4.4GHz without failure, so you can potentially get a 33% improvement on its clock speed free of charge. Some have even reported overclocking it to 5GHz with no ill effects!

The Intel Core i5-2500k is also the first in the range to offer the Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU, which gives better performance than any other on-board graphics processor except its successor, the Intel HD Graphics 4000. It won’t blow your socks off, but it will allow casual gamers to get away without a dedicated graphics card. There’s no question that you can get cheaper processors than this, but ultimately it’s hard not to appreciate the bargain it represents.


There’s a school of thought that holds that you can never have too much RAM in a system. In modern systems, that’s not quite true, but it’s also the case that most systems would benefit from a little more memory, and when RAM is so cheap, it’s probably the best bargain upgrade available today.

Like CPUs and SSDs, adding more RAM to a system can result in all-round performance enhancements that are visible across the entire spectrum of uses for your PC. In terms of how much is enough, it’s hard to say for certain, but there are restrictions worth paying attention to before you cram your motherboard full of the stuff.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that if you’re not running a 64-bit operating system, your PC won’t actually recognize more than 4GB of RAM, so adding any more than that is pointless. Secondly, you should make sure that you’re buying RAM appropriate for the speed of your motherboard’s interface, and not paying for capabilities you can’t use. And finally, you should remember that RAM can only speed your computer up to a certain point.

Games, for example, don’t require as much memory as you might think. Extra RAM capacity is primarily helpful when running multiple large applications at the same time. Games do count as large applications, but generally they run solo, and rarely require more than 1-2GB of RAM at any given time. Graphics artists can reasonably expect to have to run the likes of Photoshop, Premiere and After Effects at the same time, so in those circumstances extra RAM could be massively beneficial, but no one’s trying to playing Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 simultaneously on one computer.

When choosing RAM to buy, then, you can safely cap your budget somewhere between 8-16GB without fear that you’re going to lose out. It’s actually more important to spend your money on RAM that’s been well-tested and rated to fast clock speeds than on buying a lot of it. Faster gaming RAM is a little more expensive than the generic sticks destined for bog-standard office machines, so look for this if you want to get the best performance for your money. You don’t pay a lot extra, but it is undeniably better.

Recommended Purchase

Corsair Vengeance 1600MHz (2x4GB set)

Corsair Vengeance 1600MHz

Corsair Vengeance is a brand popular with gamers looking for fast and reliable memory at prices that won’t leave them penniless. The line is built around modules that have been specially selected for high-performance, meaning they can take a little more punishment than bog-standard budget memory - essential if you want to do some overclocking and get even more speed for your money.

A pair of 4GB sticks of Corsair Vengeance memory will set you back around $64 for 1600MHz PC3-12800 memory, so it’s no slouch in its capabilities. The only downside is the absolutely massive heat spreader on the standard modules -make sure you have the necessary clearance over your slots before buying them!

Graphics Card

The graphics card is arguably the most specialized component in a PC, and these days, the popularity of on-board graphics chipsets means it’s quite easy to run a computer that doesn’t even have a dedicated graphics card. That said, no matter how fast a processor you have, you’ll never get visuals that outperform even a half-decent graphics card with an on-chip GPU. And if you’re a gamer, there’s no doubt that the best way to upgrade your system is to get a graphics card.

That being the case, you might be wondering if there’s any way to avoid blowing most of your budget on a single component. And unfortunately, the short answer is no. It’s possible to overclock graphics cards for better performance (assuming you can combine it with adequate cooling improvements), but in reality, every penny spent on a graphics card is going to directly translate to better in-game performance, so you have to spend as much as possible.

Graphics cards can have additional costs associated with them too, because they’re nearly unique in making a rather significant dent in the power demands of any system. If you buy a high-end graphics card, you’ll need to factor the cost of a new PSU into your purchase as well. A 500W PSU should be adequate in most cases, but do check prior to buying one how much you’ll have to spend and what the power demands of your system are!

Compared to most components, finding a bargain graphics card is difficult. Development is quick, and the turnover of models means that prices fluctuate constantly. Unlike CPUs, which have a clear brand leader, it’s less clearly defined whether you should go for AMD or NVidia hardware. In general, NVidia cards are considered more expensive but better made, such that they can be overclocked more readily. AMD cards, by comparison, are generally held to be better value but hotter-running, and thus harder to overclock.

Recommended Purchase

AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB

AMD Radeon HD 6870

If you’re looking for a gaming bargain, the Radeon HD 6870 is probably the best you can expect to find. Available for $159, the fact that it’s sub-$160 and a strong performer makes it a rare beast indeed. Try not to be put off by the fact that it’s a last-generation card; it still runs faster than modern competitors in the same price bracket. Although the amount of RAM looks low, it’s enough to run any game at resolutions of 1920x1080, which is the most common resolution for modern monitors.

Bear in mind that this card isn’t going to be an especially worthwhile upgrade if you already have a dedicated graphics card, but if you’re in the market for one and have relied on your on-board chipset up until now, there’s no question that it’ s a bargain worth looking at.


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