General Question

osoraro's avatar

Can I have some help in a desktop computer upgrade with RAM and video card?

Asked by osoraro (2846points) August 3rd, 2014

I have a Dell that is about 4 years old, and I want to get a 27 inch monitor for it for high definition picture editing and video watching (Netflix, etc.) I have no interest in gaming. The problem is that the video capabilities do not support it. I’d like to avoid getting a new computer if possible.

64 bit Windows 7, i5–2500 CPU at 3.10 ghz with 8 gigs of RAM

It looks like the current monitor is plugged into the mother board. There appears to be a couple of open slots in the back, although I haven’t opened it up yet. Truth be told, I’m not sure where to look. I’m assuming there is a PCI slot, but I’m not sure what a PCI slot looks like.

So my questions:
1) Can I simply get a video card and plug it into the current machine? Or is it more complicated than that?

2) With an i5 processor, can I get 8 more gigs of RAM to make picture rendering faster?

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9 Answers

jerv's avatar

PCI-x slots are a standard slot, and entirely different from any other slot. It’s always the top-most slot when looking at the back of the computer, and they put it there for the best cooling. So long as you get a PCI-x video card instead of an older AGP card, you should be fine… and considering that >95% of the cards on teh market now are PCI-x, it won’t be that hard.

However, one thing to watch out for is finding a video card that is powerful enough to be an improvement while not being so powerful that it burns out your power supply. A high-end card can draw more watts than a stock power supply puts out, leaving nothing for the rest of the computer. If you get too high-end a card, you will need to replace the power supply! My Gateway got a 600W Cooler Master; twice as powerful as the stock unit, with plenty of headroom for safety.

A related secondary concern is getting a good value; there is a world of difference between an $80 card and a $100 card, but relatively little between a $150 card and a $300 card. At present, my personal favorite is the R7 260X. It’s a moderately powerful card for a moderate price, and should be just low enough to not require a power supply (though, if you want to game much, I’d recommend plopping another $80 or so on a good, name-brand 450–600W PSU.

Actually installing the card is simple. The difficult part is choosing the correct card.

* * *

8GB is plenty for gaming and watching videos. HD image editing would benefit from more RAM, but I do all that stuff just fine on 6GB. How many mega-pixels are your images?

* * *

Your CPU is twice as powerful as mine, yet I still manage good framerates at 1920×1080 simply because of my video card. I wouldn’t worry about your CPU or RAM, only the video card, the power supply, and cooling. Many people think they need a more powerful computer when, in fact, they often have a computer with more power than they need that is merely hobbled by a bad video card.

elbanditoroso's avatar

1) yes
2) depends on the machine – you will need to go to the Dell website or one of the memory sales web sites to see what the maximum capacity is for your card.

But you have a 4 year old machine. If you figure $75 for the card and $100 for the memory, you are up to half the cost of a newer machine with more memory from the start. (Woot regularly has 12-gb desktops with pretty good video for around $400–450.

I would consider a new machine rather than putting new lipstick on a pig.

jerv's avatar

@elbanditoroso I don’t know about that. As I said, my rig is a competent gaming and multimedia machine despite having ½ the CPU and ¾ the RAM, and you could get just a decent video card for $100–120; quite possibly one that will work with the stock power supply. Looking at just that end of it, I have yet to see an off-the-shelf system comparable to mine (graphics-wise) for under a grand.
I might be missing something, but most systems that I’ve seen in the under-$500 range have less than half the video capability of the $500 rig I bought 4 years ago and put a $100 video card into. Age matters less than specs, and an 8GB i5–2500 is still good.
Now, if it were a system that were actually weak, my opinion would be different, but what I see here is an otherwise good system hindered by integrated video; for $100-ish, it could compete with the current crop of $800 machines. Most of my cars have cost less than the price difference there.

osoraro's avatar

Thanks guys. The thing is that my pig works fine and for me to get a new computer it’s a hassle to rebuild all the software. Also, the the environmentalist in me balks at tossing a perfectly working computer. The only issue I have with it is screen resolution as I really want a 27 inch screen.

Jerv, the kind of processing I’m doing involves manipulating sometime up to a gigabyte of data. Each image is 15 megabytes and I have to stack and process multiple ones of these. Hence the increased RAM.

As I said I won’t be gaming, just image processing and the occasional movie streaming. But I do want the screen real estate.

What is the screen resolution I need for a 27 inch screen and is that video card you wrote about good enough (but not too good) for it? I don’t want another power supply or a second fan. Again, the hassle factor weighs in.

osoraro's avatar

@jerv Would this one work? Is it over/underkill?

jerv's avatar

Good card, decent price…. but you’d need to upgrade your power supply. Most computers come standard with a 300w unit, and you’d need at least 400w for that one.

On the plus side, a good PSU can be moved from box to box. This is the third PC my 600w Cooler Master PSU has been in.

osoraro's avatar

Thanks @jerv for the help.

osoraro's avatar

@jerv Okay, I opened it up. It has an open PCIE X-16 slot and a 300 W power supply. Plugging in the video card looks pretty trivial—just plug it in and screw it down. Is changing out the power supply pretty easy? It looks like I have to unscrew it, pull it out, unplug it from the various ports, and pull the whole thing out.

jerv's avatar

Power supplies are that easy. The important thing is to remember that if you have to use ,more force than it takes to open a can of soda, you probably have it backwards. Everything is keyed to go in only one way, and sized to go pretty easily.

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