How old does a budget PC have to be?

How did we get here?

The term budget PC can actually be a bit misleading. It’s very possible to have an extremely high budget, where financial constraints don’t matter, but most of us think of budget as spending less money. Budgets are typically associated with financial management, and living within your means. Corporations and Governments also have to adhere to budgets, though the latter doesn’t seem to think they have to. (Different subject, altogether).

If you are a PC enthusiast at all, you are typically trying to get the best performance for the lowest price. This may come in the form of buying a part used, or in some cases, refurbished. It may also come in the form of buying a less expensive part, seeking to upgrade later. This works well for newer parts, but it becomes more difficult with older ones. But what if your PC has a mix of both?

Can a new graphics card do well with an older processor. Is it even practical? In some cases, yes. Pairing a newer RX 6400 graphics card with a sixth generation Intel i5 in a PC sold as ‘broken or parts only’ is an example. I planned to put a mid tier graphics card in it, but the case was small, and I needed a low profile option. Older low profile cards just don’t do the trick, but I took the risk and was able to fix it. With a graphics card and a few other things, we had a two hundred dollars gaming PC. I used both newer and older parts.

Well, there’s your answer. New and Old.

Well, yes and no. Obviously mixing the age of components isn’t our only option. Using a different case, allows for a better graphics card and for a bit more, we can have a better PC. Our challenge there is to have the money we spend, show in the performance. Does going from spending two hundred to three, give us at least fifty percent better gaming? Chances are that it won’t.

Now, in most cases, one of the easiest upgrades will be to use a solid state drive instead of the hard disk drive, so yes we are mixing old and new. The memory modules can be new, but built on the older technology, reliable, but for this argument, old. There is also an influx of remanufactured older technology emerge in graphics cards and motherboards. That’s a harder one to call, but I have to group that with the memory, old.

What about our budget PC?

It actually gets more complicated. Some newer platform parts are available for the same prices as newer remanufactured ones. Both Intel and AMD have options for CPUs and motherboards for a hundred USD or less, each. That makes the core of the platform not too much more expensive than older systems, with better performance. So, maybe the way to go is new parts.

The honest truth is, older parts don’t give much of an upgrade path, but finding an old workstation or a PC that is ‘broken or parts only’, could be a great find, if you are careful. In my case, I saw a few things in the photos that helped me diagnose the issue before I bought it, and a twenty dollar SSD made my starting price 60 USD. If the case were bigger, the whole gaming PC could have been less than 175 USD, and done quite well. The only problem I have now is what to do with it.

I am finding the more I buy to tinker with, the less shelf room I have. I don’t seem to sell them as quickly as I buy, test and shelve them. Maybe that’s a different blog. We are getting to a point where PCs from even a few years ago, though, might outlive their operating systems, presenting a different problem. These systems are still solid and can perform well. I guess to answer this question, we may have to wait to see how long the software itself is supported.

The video that prompted all of this is here, but here are others and I will have to make a playlist.

There is also more written on the 40 dollar PC here.

Make The Most Of 40 Bucks: Waste Or Treasure?

How did we get here?

How do you spend 40 bucks? Gas, a meal out? The water bill? If you are lucky enough, you may be able to find a broken PC on eBay. Or, a non-working PC that isn’t broken. Technically, the listing was non-working, for parts, final sale, so I took a chance.

This started when I was looking for an ultra cheap alternative to building a PC and ended up with a server and a 300 budget PC, both. I decided to build the cheapest full system I could, and ended up scoring free accessories. A keyboard and monitor came from a corporate IT department, so I set my sights on the PC.

My goal was to find a non working prebuilt with an identifiable issue. After a bit of digging, I found one. For sale on eBay, a 5040MT Dell Optiplex, non-working, for parts. The pics showed a missing HDD or SSD, and a decent i5 with memory, so for 46 dollars, including the tax, I bought it. It even came with free shipping. Deal.

40 bucks Non-working, no returns

I was sure I knew what the problem was and it would be an easy fix. SSD’s are cheap, with a 500Gb going for around twenty eight dollars. A have a mouse and free accessories, so if the SSD worked, it would mean I now had a working computer, although a filthy one, for about 80. After a clean up, it will handle most tasks well, but I want more.

I have to admit, this PC, though non-working, came well packed like a new unit. Both happy and surprised, I have set to work cleaning it up and will test the ‘base’ model when that’s done. The video for the PC itself is here, but that’s not where it ends. This needs to be an ultra budget gamer; this is just the start.

The next part will be finding a video card that fits in the slim case and more memory. A few non traditional upgrades, and this thing will have a whole new life playing games. It may also see a renewed life as an office PC, but a month ago it was trash. Not a bad turn for the old Optiplex.

So, What’s next?

I will finish a good cleaning, and testing, then put the extra memory and SSD in with a fresh install of windows. I have two choices of video cards that fit, so I will try them both. Then I will test it against the $300 budget build that I didn’t get a chance to write about, so I will cover that in the next blog. It promises to be fun.

After that, I’m not sure. New homes are an option, or I can sell it to a small business on a budget. I almost always have at least one office computer around just for that reason. Come to think of it, I almost always have at least one spare older laptop. There’s a video in there somewhere. Later, but not too much later.

With care and a good eye, you can find a great deal that most people will miss. Getting the free accessories from the IT department was as easy as asking. The accessories came from the e-waste stack, and have a new home and even the monitor is a great find at 24 inches with a built in webcam. All because I asked for an older keyboard. You just never know. Now, I have to get back to cleaning this thing. It was a good 40 bucks.

Back top the blog stuff.

My new network server, is my old Optiplex? Seriously?

How did we get here?

To begin with, why would anyone need a network server? There can be several answers, including file storage, a plex server, or even a game server. Different uses means different ways of creating and storing data. There is no wrong way and virtually, no wrong equipment There are limitations, however, as to what you can do with what equipment.

In my case, I have a YouTube channel and keep not only raw footage, but finished videos. I do have a back up, of sorts, but it’s poorly done and not an elegant solution. There are duplicate files on two computers, and I use of a back up USB, and Western Digital cloud device. A device that needs to be reconfigured to be more efficient. Long story, short, I have no reliable, streamlined solution. I may not lose data, but it would be a pain to retrieve some of it.

Enter the HP FrankenDell. This computer has a Xeon E3 12700 v3 four core/ eight thread CPU on a Dell motherboard. It came from an Optiplex 9020, and has 16GB of memory tucked very creatively in an HP case from 2008. I’m looking for reliable file storage with something that runs efficiently, and the Xeon fits the bill. Originally, this a sleeper gaming PC, but the extra drive bays make it perfect. There is still the execution to tackle, though.

Setting up the network server?

One of the easier ways is simply create a new file on a hard drive and make it shareable. Doing this will give you an address of sorts that other computers on your network can find. The drive needs plenty of room and to stay connected to the network. The second step is to go to the next PC and find that drive location.

Click on ‘This PC’ in the file explorer. That presents you with a few options across the top, but it may require you right click on ‘This PC’ and chose ‘map network drive’. Select a drive letter you aren’t already using, and put in the address from the first PC. You need to use a double backslash ‘\\’ for this, so don’t forget. In my case, I also copied it to the desktop and changed the icon.

A simple test making sure anything going into that folder gets ‘dropped’ in the other PC’s shared folder and we were in business. It doesn’t solve all of my issues, but it’s a start. A start I can build on and improve. After ordering some new sleds for the additional dives, I have room for at least four or five drives and I can start the next step.

What is that, you ask? redundant storage, a raid solution to make sure I don’t lose data, and creating something I can access from anywhere. Those are some pretty lofty steps, but the first one was to get the ball rolling. Mission accomplished. The drive bays came in, so it’s time to add more storage, but very soon, we begin the next part, and of course, I’ll share the story.

The latest video on it is here, and to go back to the blog page, go here.

The HP Franken Dell. Scary project or a outstanding idea?

Not everything is a bad idea.

So, recently I tried a few fairly standard upgrades on an old Dell Optiplex. They were simple, but effective, and all was good. So, how did we get from there, to the HP Franken Dell? There were a few steps.

Over a year ago, I ordered the cheapest DX12 capable prebuilt PC on Amazon. It was a refurbished Dell Optiplex with an i5 4670 four core, four thread processor and no dedicated graphics card. It did come with dual channel memory, but only 8GB. Upgrades were relatively simple. More capacity on the RAM, an SSD instead of the hard disk drive and a graphics card. It wasn’t the best Gaming PC in the world, but for about 330 USD, accounting for price drops, it was solid. One of the videos benchmarking current games can be found here.

Then came the idea of upgrading the CPU, a Xeon. The choice of the Xeon came from the natural upgrade path (i7 4770) being more expensive. The E3 1270v3 has almost the same clock speed and the same number of cores and threads. It was also only 28 bucks and some change.

The surprise came when it turned out not to be an upgrade because of the GPU. A better GPU meant needing more room, and while I was at it, I might as well, pick up the motherboard for another 18. Nice.

Not an Optiplex anymore

Freed from the Optiplex case, I could test the Xeon with other video cards and find that the four core, eight thread actually performed very well, for a ten year old processor. The problem was, it was stuck in a lousy case. The temps were a bit high on the GPU side, but not horrible. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it.

At the same time, I was considering turning the old HP a6512p into a bit of a sleeper build. The fifteen year old PC wasn’t very capable of playing modern games, even with a decent GPU, but it did have a redeeming quality. A standard mATX fit inside and it took a regular size Power Supply. The same size motherboard that the Xeon called home. Hmmm. Nah, but maybe, just maybe, it would work.

I knew there were going to be a few issues; the front panel accessories being one of them. The front panel lacked the USB3 available from the newer Mobo and there was a firewire (1394) connection that was useless. An expansion bay including USB3 was cheap, so it made the list. Also on the list was something to help with the adapters I had already purchased that worked for the pink case.

Finally, the HP Franken Dell.

When it was all said and done, it worked. Temps weren’t great, but I know there isn’t a lot of airflow in that case, so it’s something to work on. Maybe a Noctua fan will move more air and be more quiet. As it stands, I have some room, but not a lot, for more drives and I have to consider if the FrankenDell will be a better solution for my server that I keep putting off. Noise and temps first, then I will explore more drives.

Overall, it was a fun experiment. Parts fit where maybe they shouldn’t have, and I can see why companies like HP and Dell try to now make proprietary parts. (Though, some of their parts could use a good swap). I don’t yet know what will become of the older HP motherboard and Q6600 that where originally in the 6512p, but I also have an AM3+ motherboard around somewhere without a home. Hmmm, I wonder if I should get a FX processor and pit it against the intel CPU’s like the Xeon. To be continued………maybe.

Link to the YouTube video about the HP FrankenDell.

And of course, back to the blog section

Buy a new laptop or dust off the old one?

How did we get here?

This all started when I was getting a bit frustrated with my PC set up in the office and needed a break. I pulled out my Dell Inspiron laptop from 2018 and began working on my blogs, and eventually, slides. I carry it with me occasionally, but almost never use it because of an annoying popping sound from the sound driver, and the bottom cover won’t stay on without some exterior help – tape. Tape is messy.

In any case, I had just gone through testing the new Xeon to compare with the older Optiplex and realized I had another four core, four thread older CPU. You guessed it, the laptop. The Dell Inspiron in my possession is a model 15 7567 from 2018 and comes with a GTX 1050 dedicated graphics card. When it came out it was a decent gaming Laptop. Now, it ranks faster than about 5% of gaming laptops. It’s only five years old. I say only five, but computer years are sort of like dog years.

Still, the Optiplex was only a bit older and it’s a good gamer. I’ve been able to show on the channel that with a little TLC, it performs well even in newer titles. The laptop, coming in with a processor two generations newer should be fine. The Inspiron comes with a 7300HQ processor and although it doesn’t meet the specs for Windows 11, neither does the Optiplex. (Who comes up with these names, by the way?) Inspiron for personal use and Optiplex for business use, I get it, but … different blog. The laptop also has a 1080P IPS screen, so I was able to test at full 1080P resolution.

Testing the laptop

My first thought was to compare it to the Optiplex with the newer RX6400, but that didn’t seem fair. I opted instead to test against the RX560 from that period. The i5 4670 probably did see some pairings with the RX560 4GB video card, and obviously the 7300HQ saw some pairings with the GTX 1050. It’s a match that was likely able to be compared at one point.

I then realized that the data I had from the RX560 was about a year old because I used that GPU in another build. So, even though the laptop needed driver updates, (lack of use), I chose to not to. I want to keep the playing field even. Both had 16GB of memory, but the Optiplex came equipped with DDR3 instead of the laptop’s DDR4. Speeds were 1600 and 2400 respectively, which should be close enough. After all the Xeon handled most every game I tested at more than 60 fps with and older RX480. It did even better with an RX 6600XT.

Both of those were written about in earlier blogs , but as we get deeper into the tech side of these, I will provide more detail. In this case, my results ranged from 17-20 frames per second in more difficult games like CyberPunk, to over sixty frames per second in Forza Horizon 4, all at 1080P, without adding any resolution enhancement. The 1050 is too old for DLSS, but will work with AMD’s FSR. It was not able to use raytracing. Just as well.

If it’s there, why not try it?

I did try a few examples of FSR, although I wasn’t able to compare against the RX560, but the 21 FPS in CyberPunk on 1080 High became 27, and the 28 fps on low worked out to 37 fps. Setting this to 1080P low with performance FSR and frame locked at 30fps, might just be the way to play a game like CPK. It’s ironic that AMD’s tech works on an NVidia card. Ok, funny, too. I have my own opinion on whether the big green machine cares about the consumer, RTX 4070 anyone?

AMD’s resolution tools do help this combo, some, but the problem again is VRAM. More and more games are using more GPU memory and it kills older cards. 8GB isn’t enough anymore, much less 4. Lower settings help, but even with updating all of the drivers, it’s still five years old. Newer budget gaming laptops eat this thing for an afternoon snack, and it doesn’t compare.

What’s next for the laptop?

First things first. I ordered a new bottom cover that will be here this week. No more tape. Second, I will clean up the 1TB drive currently in it and probably actually replace it with an SSD to hold some games and make it quicker. Then I’ll use it, or I won’t. I have Danny DD, my small form factor, but I carry my laptop to many of the same places out of habit. I need to be okay with one or the other. Drivers were updated as well, and that got rid of that annoying popping sound, though it still doesn’t sound great.

Whichever happens, I’ve discovered that I actually still like it. More than likely, I’ll use it a while to see what happens. I don’t know that I’d like a new laptop better, so I’m leery about dropping extra money, but I might end up taking it places more often. We’ll see.