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My Frugal PC Upgrade Technique

Thanks to the generosity of my mother and brother, my hardware crisis of the past few days has been averted, and I was able to successfully install a AMD FX-8120 on a Asus Sabertooth FX990 motherboard to replace my faulty parts.

If you're a PC hardware aficionado, the CPU choice probably causes you to blanch: as the latest benchmarks from the best in the business support, Intel is where the greatest power can be found on the CPU market.  However, AMD has responded intelligently to this, by slashing their prices, to the point where the AMD FX-8120 was simply the best bang for the buck among reasonably-priced CPUs.  This marketing strategy certainly worked on me: seeing how similar-performing Intel chips were significantly more expensive, I opted for the AMD chip.
The above being a screenshot from Passmark that supports the FX-8120 is the best bang for the buck.
(I'm sure their fiercely protective of their content, but a screenshot is necessary as these values
will likely have changed by the time someone gets around to reading this.)

This is an example of the core of my frugal PC upgrade process:
  1. Find a good table of benchmarks for comparative products.  Like most consumer products, do not assume price always reflects the quality of the good delivered.  You're going to need a point of reference, and benchmark tables are the key.  Two good sources for such tables are Tom's Hardware (in terms of the quality of the tests) and Passmark (in terms of the ease of the result access).
  2. Find a "sweet spot" of maximum processing power per dollar.  You don't want to buy the bargain chips, because they're probably already obsolete.  You don't want to buy the bleeding-edge chips, either, because that out-of-this-world performance comes at an astronomical price.  You want to go for a medium: the most power at the price you're willing to pay.
  3. Go for the best, but reasonably priced.  Don't start from the bottom of the benchmarks, start from the top, with the highest performing equipment.  This is because if you start at the bottom of the list, you'll find a cheap power:dollar ratio, but the part will perform poorly and there will be very little satisfaction to be found in owning it, to the point where you will soon be replacing it.  Of course, you don't want to buy the stuff at the very top, because it will be ridiculously overpriced but, as you work your way down this list, you'll eventually hit something with a very competitive price:power ratio.   It's then that you'll have found your part.
While I emphasize using benchmarks to find the best processing power to dollar ratio, you should not be fooled by bargain chips with very competitive ratios on the bottom: you need a reasonable amount of power or else what you're buying is probably already obsolete.  Using this method, you'll eventually find a part that will last you for quite some time without costing an arm and a leg, and that's ultimately what the process is about.

Not all parts are about performance.

Sometimes, there are no benchmarks to help you decide, because the piece of hardware does not affect raw performance so much as it offers unique features.  In that case, a good source to check is comparison reviews.  These are reviews in which hardware experts have chosen a number of competing products of similar purpose and price tier, compared their features, and ultimately decided which one is the best buy.

For example, in choosing a motherboard for my new Socket AMD3+ chip, I chose the Sabertooth 990FX after consulting a review from one of the best in the business, Tom's Hardware.  I have yet to regret buying a motherboard on their recommendation, and found their criteria of long-term durability and overclocking potential to be ideal for my future considerations in upgrades.

For future exploration, the motherboard is key.

The motherboard in particular is an interesting part to consider because it is where all your future upgrades will go.  Replacing the motherboard is usually the most expensive thing to do because you're probably going to encounter that some of your hardware that was compatible with your previous motherboard is not compatible with your new motherboard.

This time, my upgrade only cost me $350, across motherboard, CPU, and a DVD-ROM.  There are a lot cheaper motherboards, but I bought a high quality one so that I would have plenty of room for future upgrades.  My old CPU may have been broken for all I know, but it had been long enough since my last upgrade that I required a new CPU to run a new motherboard anyway.   My DVD-ROM was an IDE model, the motherboard only accepted SATA, so it needed to be replaced, but that only cost about $20.  All my old DDR3 RAM, hard drives, and GPU was still compatible, so I was set.

It could have cost a lot more, but I had the foresight five years ago to chose a motherboard that would scale up well into the future: it had both IDE and SATA plugs and supported both DDR2 and DDR3 RAM.  Thus equipped, I was able to incrementally upgrade from older hardware styles to newer hardware styles that, as it turns out, are compatible with my new motherboard.  My new board does not have such scalability, but it does have quite a bit room to grow, from SLI compatibility to plenty of room for more RAM, and it's possible a far better AMD3+ chip will be out before they move on to a new socket.
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