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.

The most I can get out of the Xeon?

How did we get here?

Some may remember me testing the Xeon ‘replacement’ for the CPU in my Optiplex, that wasn’t a replacement. Long story short, the Graphics card was the issue and I need to do something else. I opted to throw it in another case with a different motherboard and better GPU. That was better, but I thought there was still more I could get out of it. But how much?

To find out, I borrowed the RX 6600XT from my gaming rig in the living room. It won’t stay in there, obviously, but I know it’s capable and I have some tests with similar CPUs. Its the most powerful GPU I can get to easily, so I put it in, expecting the pink case to now be an easy bake oven. I was wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Performance was better than expected and temps were perfect. The CPU and GPU both stayed in the mid to high sixties on the high end; something I never saw coming. The pink case has horrible airflow and hates anything more powerful than a Casio watch. For some reason, though, this combination loved it. I’m sure it will be better in a different case, but for testing, I’ll take it.

The important thing, though was finding where the CPU bottleneck would come, and test comparisons to the other processors. I say test comparisons, because in real world scenarios, paired with a mid-budget GPU playing games in 1080P, there is no difference. Admittedly, with the better GPU I also added more RAM, but the games never used it, so it wasn’t a factor. This thing is solid, and it will probably be the ‘go to’ PC for playing games in the bedroom, if I bother to set it up.

Xeon? for real

Getting one of these and testing against some of the newer four core. eight thread CPUs, was a great choice. It’s a much better than trying to hunt down and pay twice as much for an i7 4770, and it makes me want to see how the larger socket E5 Xeon’s do. That’s another experiment, though. This one goes down as a success, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. Talk about a surprise. Great performance, cheap price and low temps. There isn’t much more you can ask for.

One of these paired with an RX580 is a perfect budget Gamer and 1080P is no problem with anything you want to throw at it. Now it’s time to get my 6600xt out and maybe try a GTX1660. Hmm.

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The Xeon results are outstanding.

For Starters

I originally put the intel four core, eight thread Xeon in the Dell Optiplex to see if it out performed the original CPU. It didn’t. More accurately, it performed near the same because the limit became the graphics card. The GPU, in turn, was limited by the size of the case, so what could I do?

The only good answer was to put it in a different case. That skews the experiment, though, because that puts it on a different platform that might help it run better. I wouldn’t know what made the difference. But, an Optiplex motherboard would assured that things would be relatively equal, and for 18 bucks, it was a no brainer. So, off to eBay I went.

Then came a different issue. It’s not the same connections. Adapter cables cost me another twenty seven, but they came next day. Sweet. Everything showed up, I installed all of the parts, and turned it on. To a great shock and surprise, it worked the first time. That isn’t a normal occurrence, so yes, I enjoyed it. Now, on to the testing.

I decided to match it not only against the older CPU in the Optiplex, but to test it against newer CPUs, six generations younger and again, was surprised. It held it’s own against a tenth gen i3 and 11th gen i5! It is even keeping up with a processor that has more cores and threads, the 11400F. Again, as it turns out, it’s only limited by the graphics card. We’re on a roll.

So, what’s next for the Xeon?

It performed great against the two newer processors with a mid range GPU, so the next step is a better GPU. The mid range is a very capable RX480, that has shown it’s worth even in 2023, but now we need more. I have an RX6600XT to use, or an RTX 3060Ti, and either should prove worthy. The AMD card is easier to get to and test with, so that will be next, but first I have to record this video. Technically, there are two more benchmarks, but there won’t be an issue, and I will set the stage for the next video with the results. This turned out far better than I expected.

Which brings me to my next thought. Do I post the result charts here, or not? Obviously, I won’t post all of the charts, but maybe a couple. I probably could do an average, but I don’t have combined numbers yet, so I don’t know what extra effort that is. Leave me some thoughts, and I’ll mull it over. In the mean time, I’ll post a few pics and we’ll wait for the video. It should be ready mid-week, then I can move on the next part.

I think I like this Xeon.

Was it actually an upgrade? Xeon in an Optiplex.

How did we get here?

So, the most recent upgrade to the Dell Optiplex was the addition of an Intel Xeon E3-1270v3. A four core, eight thread CPU built on the Haswell platform similar to the i5 4670 that came with the rig. There had already been a few upgrades, each bringing this modest office PC closer to being an actual budget Gaming rig. The video is found here.

The idea was simple enough, a more powerful CPU without spending a lot of money had the chance to turn it into a bit of a powerhouse. It didn’t work out that way. By all accounts, doubling the amount of cores on the CPU should have made many jobs much easier. Instead we reached a different issue, the Graphics Card.

I tested both CPUs on games and benchmarks at 1080p. It’s the most common resolution in games and should have relieved the GPU of stress. It didn’t. It didn’t actually create any advantage at all. Most tests showed similar results for each processor, leaving no clear winner. But why?

What went wrong?

The biggest limitation is the size of the case. Only certain GPUs will fit in the small form factor, and even the best available isn’t adequate. I say the best available, but I should clarify, the best available at that budget. There are better GPUs, but at a much higher cost, and the difference may not be worth it. The fact is, you can build a cheaper, better performing, new PC for what it would cost.

Heat seemed to be another issue. The set up didn’t overheat, but it did get warm and that wasn’t a help. Incidently, any PC built from new parts will most certainly have better airflow. Temps on the CPU averaged about ten degrees more and the GPU was the same. Heat in small areas is always a problem and this set up is no exception. More, slightly faster threads, work harder and the heat has nowhere to go.

So, is the Xeon a failure?

Failure? Absolutely not. The small form factor has reached a point of dimishing returns, and although the Xeon didn’t improve things, it’s not a loss. The i5 4670 works great in the system, and I’ve ordered a different motherboard for the better processor. I can pair it with a much better GPU in a case with more airflow and give it a chance to “let it’s hair down”. If there is no improvement at that point, maybe we can call it a learned experience, but most cetainly not a failure.

The replacement motherboard is on it’s way. I already have a case, (which was also a bit of a challenge), and memory, etc., so it won’t be hard to set up, Then, we’ll just see how it the CPU does in a better situation. It will be interesting to see the improvement, assuming there is one. Obviously, there will be a video, and a blog, so stay tuned. It promises to be interesting.

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