Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Upgrading my old computer

I have enough money saved to consider upgrading my computer again. Unfortunately, I'm always very uncertain in these sort of decisions. Plus, my computer is really old. I bought it in late 2004 and in computer years, that's ancient. But last year I raised its RAM from 512MB to 2GB and noticed significant improvement.
Anyways, now that I want to use my computer as a reliable design platform, I need to get ANY video card and a decent monitor. These improvements should make the design programs not run as slow with large documents and have fairly believable color accuracy. I've heard of the stories where people ruined their computers because they didn't research. Well I've researched a lot now and I recommend people who are looking to upgrade to do the same.

I had to figure out all the specs on my computer first. You can check DxDiag by going to Start > Run, or Windows + R. Under the Display tab should be the graphics card. My computer is from 2004 and I have VIA/S3G Unichrome IGP with 64MB of integrated graphics. That's garbage now and it's no wonder I can't watch full screen video, much less anything HD.

I looked up the specs of my computer model and I found a full page of specs on the manufacturer's site. Googling HP Pavillion a800n brought it up. This particular model has 3 expansion slots: PCI, AGP, and DIMM. PCI graphics cards are almost non-existent now. AGP is the way to go.
I have no idea what is in one of the slots already, but I still have 2 left.

I also need to know the maximum power supply the computer can take. I opened the computer, dusted it, and looked on the sticker on the box.
It says max 250W meaning I was limited to 250W cards, which is really hard to find since the wattage isn't always mentioned.

For a computer this old, finding a graphics card it can use is impossible to find in retail stores. Newegg.com seems to be a reliable source for parts. The user feedback is great and parts seem to be in good condition. I'm considering a graphics card for about $40 and the feedback is motivating. Almost all of the buyers say it "breathes life back into old machines". And that it's perfect if you have no video card. Then it must be perfect for me, right?

Then after that, I should be able to buy a new high-def monitor with better color support. I've been using this Hyundai Imagequest crap since 2004. Using the lagom LCD Screen test, I was never able to get good results on contrast. It must be bad for my eyes if the color white looks red or a slightly blue. My current screen resolution is 1280x1024, which is okay, but isn't enough room to work with. The widescreens at school are wonderful and I have plenty of room to work with. 5:4 just isn't a screen ratio that's used all that much anymore. You can check TREZ's eXtreme Tracker stats for visitors and their screen resolutions. There's a growing trend.
Oh, and did I mention how laughably outdated my current monitor's gamma settings screen looks like?
Ugh. It's like 1999 all over again. >_>

So basically, I've had a taste of the best, and now I can't go back. School starts Monday for me and it looks like I'll be having a full Mac day as well. All the computers there are very nice. I hope now they upgrade the Windows computers to Windows 7, because it's sad to see such a large screen wasted on the Classic theme.

I estimate the monitor and graphics card to cost a total of $200. Even though the computer is old, at least the monitor will be good for a new computer. Good thing I backed up all 20GB of my stuff the other day. Any losses would be negligible.

That reminds me, I think I need a new keyboard too...


Anonymous said...

From that angle, it looks like a modem card.

Anonymous said...

Mine even Older 2002 ;D even great

Feckno1 @ Youtube :D

T.J. L said...

As someone who used a 1.3 GHz Celeron with integrated Intel graphics (that didn't even support DirectX 8) for 6 years, I feel your pain of using an older system.

That said, be careful with power supplies. The max wattage is more of a sum total for all your components. In other words, if you got a 250w graphics card, you'd be leaving no power for your processor, motherboard, and hard drives.

Mega Rock.exe said...

I heard of someone who got it working on that sort of power supply. I hope nothing goes wrong with the system because of this. If not, I hope I can find a new power supply to replace the old one. But that's as far as I'm willing to go as I have already bottlenecked the system.

Mgamerz said...

You have a 64MB IGP from 2004? You need to upgrade your motherboard before you buy upgrades for that one. (too late). Cause prices for hardware for that are going to skyrocket since they'll be somewhat rarer (new) and you'll not have PCI 2.0... and you'll have a terrible processor

Mgamerz said...

Oh, and you can hook up two power supplies to one system. I have one on my old one, I had a server card from 03 that guzzled power and sucked. Look up online the pinout of the power cable to the motherboard, and you can use a paperclip to complete the keep-alive circuit (which is what kills the power when your pc turns off). Just use the switch on the back to turn it on or off before and after the thing shuts down. Granted though, you can't use hibernate.

Mgamerz said...

Okay sorry for like a million comments, but this post is seriously WRONG. "PCI graphics cards are almost non-existent now. AGP is the way to go." AGP is dead. PCIe (2) is where it's going, AGP has been dead for years. You'll be lucky to find one, which apparently you did. DIMM is a type of RAM, which all DDR (2) (3) are. Your Gfx card isn't going to help at all with HD, since it has nothing to do with graphics (unless you had like a CUDA but those are high end cards and programs).
I got a laptop with CUDA/i7, it's super nice... except when you get high end toys you realize that like every 3 weeks the thing is outdated. STUPID SANDYBRIDGE CHIPSET.
And I can help you identify whats in your case. It's probably a modem card, but it also looks like it could be a LAN card. If you aren't using it, pull it out. Won't do a thing to your machine in the PCI slot, it's just wasting power and processor cycles Send me a message on trez (poison phoenix) if you need help with computers, I'm incredibly good with them (should have got certified but I... was lazy)

Mega Rock.exe said...

The upgrade is supposed to extend the life of the computer. I really don't expect it to last me 2 more years. If I said AGP was the way to go, I meant in terms of what my computer could handle. AGP is the best slot it has and the new card has slightly improved graphical performance overall. I am actually considering removing the card if there is no difference between my current setup.

Mgamerz said...

You won't notice much of a difference unless you use graphic programs (not image editing, but more like 3D). You might notice some speed with many windows and some web browsing, but normally it won't. Vista and 7 support using the GPU for more tasks though, but mileage varies. Anything pretty much beats IGP. I have a 128MB Quadro FX in my old machine, it's a server card, ITS HUGE and from 03, and drinks more energy than my car. But it still bat my Unichrome Gold.

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