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I have a Dell Dimension E510 running Windows XP. Its most important gaming specs are:

Intel Pentium 4 3.0GHz CPU

1 GB of RAM (with a max of 4 GB)

ATI Radeon X300 with 128 MB

Typically I enjoy playing Counter Strike Source online, but find that it is often difficult to play due to delays. Other games I like to play are Guild Wars, and find that it is ok for the most part. I have the greatest difficult with Battlefield 2.

I have looked on amazon and have found that for about $60 I can upgrade to a 1GB video card, and for another $60 I can max out my RAM to 4 GB. However, I do not want to upgrade without first understand where my slow down is.

How can I determine where the resources are needed? I typically attempt to open up the Windows Task Manager to view the CPU and Memory utilization. I have not found a way to monitor video card metrics. The CPU hovers around 60% and the memory can get under 50 MB under certain circumstances.

Additionally, I have further concerns that my wireless connection to the desktop is less than optimal. How could I understand if: (1) a sub-optimal internet connection makes the game slow, or (2) a sluggish system is due to something other than network resources?

While upgrading both the video card and memory is not a tremendous amount of memory ($120), I would hate to upgrade and not see a difference in game play.

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Originally posted on Gaming - gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/19991/… –  ChrisF Apr 13 '11 at 10:41
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4 Answers

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Firstly, wireless connectionss will always suffer from lag, eventually, during online game play - packet loss is inevitable over the air. If I were you, I'd first test a hard lan connection to your router and see if the problem goes away. Then, upgrade if it doesn't.

This will be an an easy upgrade, at least.

http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/dim5150/en/sm/specs1.htm#wp1052310

Your gfx card is pretty much plug and play with a PCIe port. So, popping it out and putting a new one in will take less than a minute or 5 if you have fat fingers. Be careful not to break the latch that holds the existing card in place. It doesn't need to go up all the way.

You will notice a significant uptick in the overall speed of the computer if you update the gfx card and the ram.

But consider the cost. If it costs you $300 to upgrade or repair, you may want to consider waiting it out and buying a new computer. If things haven't broken, it's only a matter of time before they do. $300 dollars now, plus another $200 for repair parts in 6 months would be a loss.

Be careful about the graphics card recommendations from the other guys, your power supply may not be strong enough to support them. Something like an ATI Radeon 5670, would be more than enough of a substantial upgrade for you to notice performance differences. From the look of it, your motherboard doesn't have a mini pci, but just be aware that most newer graphics cards take up two slots (where the cables attach to at the back of your comp) so if you have another pci card plugged in directly underneath your present graphics card, you'll be hard pressed to find a new card, that's worthwhile, that will fit in one slot. Usually, Dell pops in a sound card under the gfx card, if you need to take it out, feel free to do so - but you'll have to remember to enable the onboard sound in the bios. You won't really notice the difference there, although onboard sound does steal cpu cycles...

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Don't you get a warranty for all new pieces? Most online shops give, like, a 3-year warranty for all parts, even more (like 10 years) for RAM. If they break down, it doesn't cost you anything to get them replaced. The 300$ "upgrade" I recommended below is, pretty much, a new computer - a Motherboard, CPU, RAM, GPU, 650W PSU (which should be more than enough). Either way, I wouldn't recommend buying prebuild machines, as they tend to cost a bit more than buying the pieces and assembling them yourself. Of course, only if you absolutely know you're up to it. –  Ragnar Apr 13 '11 at 9:49
    
On the new pieces, yes. But on the existing pieces the warranty is likely out of date. What I'm trying to get at here - is that if he's planning on upgrading, it may be better to wait, save, and buy a new computer. As depending on the age of the computer, other systems may begin to fail, increasing the overall cost of ownership. –  Brandon Bertelsen Apr 13 '11 at 10:09
    
"Firstly, wireless connectionss will always suffer from lag, eventually, during online game play - packet loss is inevitable over the air" Simply, plain not true. You only need 'ping' to prove this or a basic understanding of networking. –  Rushyo Apr 13 '11 at 14:17
    
That's right, latency must not exist in your world. Nor other people using the same xmit frequency. –  Brandon Bertelsen Apr 14 '11 at 4:56
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There's no point in upgrading that computer, as it is around two generations old. To get even a semi-decent performance, you'd need to get a new motherboard and CPU which, coupled with a new GPU and RAM, means almost an entirely new computer. If you want to get a new GPU, you'll also need to get a new power source, as I can imagine that the one you have is equally old. You're looking at around a 300$ config, which is semi-decent, something like this:

enter image description here

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Only answer which isn't plain wrong in multiple areas. –  Rushyo Apr 13 '11 at 14:21
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I ended up buying a 1GB EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GT 430 video card. It was on sale directly from EVGA for $49 after a mail in rebate. This was one of the few cards that fit my system without requiring an updated power supply.

I also got 2GB of Crucial RAM from Amazon, which raised my memory from 1GB to 2.5GB by purchasing 2x1GB sticks. The motherboard had a total of four slots with each slot supporting a maximum of 1GB.

I first put the video card into the system without the RAM. When I did this I went from about 15 fps to 50 fps which is about an improvement of 3x. The average ping also decreased by about 30 ms. This was the case across all of the three games mentioned that I play.

Next I plopped in the RAM and saw another dramatic jump from 50fps to 150fps, which is another increase by 3x. I was very happy to see that both upgrades made a measurable increase in performance.

While the gameplay was much better, I still experienced delays which where very bothersome. In the end I plugged into the wired network and saw ping times drop from 150 ms to numbers around 75 ms after switching off the wireless connection. This allowed the games to play as they where intended.

As suggested, I probably should have plugged into the wired network first as mentioned by Brandon Bertelsen. However, I was able to see that the video card and memory where without a doubt impacting network performance. There where noticeable changes when the video card was put in, and then additional improvements with the RAM. They included better resolution, and graphics quality/details.

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If you choose to upgrade:

  • There is no point to upgrading to full 4GB if you're running 32-bit XP. Add just 2GB for total of 3GB. This will further reduce your upgrade cost (2 x 1GB DDR2 800 - $35).
  • For graphics card you might want one that is compatible with PCI-e 1.1 (most PCI-e 2.x cards should, but there are exceptions). Also you want entry level one, that will not have a great power consumption. So I'd suggest something like Radeon HD 5450 w/ 512MB DDR3. It'll cost you $35.

Total upgrade cost $70 (prices from Newegg). It's definitely not worth it to invest anything more with base system so old.

On the other hand, if you really want significant improvement, that will let you play modern games, rather buy entry level gaming system, like for example XPS 7100. But that's $500 for baseline model.

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