Ever since I could remember, I was into electronics. Anything with an on/off switch was fair game. I remember “unboxing” stuff that my mom bought before “unboxings” were a thing. I built my first computer at the age of 13, and although it was nothing special, it was my computer. I played SimCity and Rollercoaster Tycoon on it, among other games and ever since then I was a PC gamer, so I thought.  Once the Dreamcast came out, most of my friends transitioned to the more affordable consoles, and I ended up being a console-head ever since. I bought all the major consoles during launch, and I genuinely still enjoy playing my PS4 with friends.

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Recently I was at a friends house, who just built a computer. Seeing games that I played on my PS4 on the PC was just night and day. And then I got the itch again.

I ran home and dusted off my computer that I built 7 years ago; I wanted to see what I could get out of it without pouring a bunch of money into it. Originally when I built the computer I spent around $1,200 on it — which was and is a ton of money. I do want to see if I can toss in a few hundred dollars and get something out of it though. Time to upgrade…

The case I have is an Antec mid tower, paired with a standard gigabyte motherboard and an Intel i7 920 1st gen. I had 4gb of ram and a 500gb 7200 Western Digital Hard drive. The power supply was a Corsair CX600 — at the time that was way over kill, but should be good enough for now. The video card was upgraded a few times, currently using a Radeon 2gb graphics card, which was top of the line when I ordered it, but it’s chopped liver right now.

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The first objective was to boot up the computer, and it actually came up into Windows Vista. “At least the hardware still worked,” is what I though. But it’s time to upgrade it and see what I can do with it.

First line of business is to get a solid state drive. I found the Samsung 840 Pro SSD 256GB for $60 new in box on eBay. I also, picked up 12GB of Corsair Vengeance ram for $67. I picked up the EVGA GeForce GTX 960 Superclocked Gaming video card for $150 new.  That’s all I really needed. In total I spent $277, which isn’t bad at all for upgrading a machine. I installed windows 10, and then logged into my buddy’s steam account to download some games. I played a few games, but the one game I truly benched marked was Grand Theft Auto 5.

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First, the load times were really quick. Well, quick for GTA 5. I was up and running pretty fast. I initially just played the game without going into settings or anything, and it ran great. It felt better than the console. The game was running at a higher FPS I could tell, but I’m not sure if I was running 60 or not.

After playing for around 30 mins I decided to head into settings to see what I had GTA set to. The game had pretty much all the settings on ‘High’, at 1080P. Which is solid for me. Also, Vsync was on, which meaning I was capped at 60fps. I turned on fraps just to be 100% sure. Which, low and behold, I was locked at 59FPS.

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I noticed with GTA and some other games there is a graphics bar in settings. I had a bit of wiggle room as far as tweaking a few things to see if I could get even better graphics out of the game without degrading performance.

After trial and error, I ended up with most settings on ‘High’ still, textures on ‘Very High’, and MSAA was set to 4x. The difference between 8x and 4x as far as memory was 200mb, but visually you could not tell when the game was moving.

I have a back up plan as well, just in case I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I ordered a GTX 970 FTW-edition graphics card. I know it’s more money, it’s actually over $300, but I wanted to see how much better it was, and if it was worth the upgrade. Oh boy it was.

I was able to play on ‘High’, with the MSAA on 4x without an issue. My FPS was in the mid 70’s on the high end, and on the low end I was still in the mid 60’s. This gave me amazing gameplay no matter what was going on my screen. I know it’s double the price, but it does allow for some major future proofing. Is it wroth the extra boost in price though? I can’t say that it’s “worth it”, but it sure is fun!

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So what did I learn? If you spend the money upfront when building a computer, you’ll be able to upgrade it little-by-little and still have a great gaming machine. I’m not going to say that this computer is better than a $500 build today, but at the same time, I spent less than $300 7 years later, and I’m playing a pretty intensive game at pretty high settings.

Are you looking to upgrade or build? Let me know down below! Also, Be sure to watch my video and let me know what you think about this ol’ rig!

Kevin Nether
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  • I’m looking to build a computer able to run at least 30-50 apps at once and have at least 80-100 Google Chrome tabs open but with a Budget of USD$500. At least i5, 8-16GB RAM and a microITX shell. I got a 256GB SSD already with my dad when we got our MacBook Pro and we wanted to change it so we bought two at a discount and I’m also getting a HDD from my dad. Any advice? I’m gonna link a PCPartPicker list too 🙂

  • Gio Ariz

    Hope i can do something with my rig um which is way older than yours…a core2quad q9300 4gb ddr2 machine running a gtx 560 and windows 10.im not quite sure where to head to next cause i recently had acl surgery and an upgrade is out of the question..should i oc my cpu or just get a better gpu.i tried to oc my cpu but i have no idea how