I have a Dell Dimension E510. Its most important gaming specs are:

  • Intel Pentium 4 3.0GHz CPU
  • 1 GB of RAM (with a max of 4 GB)
  • ATI Radeon X300 with 128 MB

Typically I enjoy playing Counter Strike Source online, but find that it is often difficult to play due to delays. Other games I like to play are Guild Wars, and find that it is ok for the most part. I have the greatest difficult with Battlefield 2.

I have looked on amazon and have found that for about $60 I can upgrade to a 1GB video card, and for another $60 I can max out my RAM to 4 GB. However, I do not want to upgrade without first understand where my slow down is.

How can I determine where the resources are needed? I typically attempt to open up the Windows Task Manager to view the CPU and Memory utilization. I have not found a way to monitor video card metrics. The CPU hovers around 60% and the memory can get under 50 MB under certain circumstances.

Additionally, I have further concerns that my wireless connection to the desktop is less than optimal. How could I understand if: (1) a sub-optimal internet connection makes the game slow, or (2) a sluggish system is due to something other than network resources?

While upgrading both the video card and memory is not a tremendous amount of memory ($120), I would hate to upgrade and not see a difference in game play.

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    I'm almost wondering if this is a (bad?) SuperUser question. – Matthew Read Apr 13 '11 at 3:59
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    Long version: You have a PC 3-4 generations back. Upgrading won't help. Short version: wrong site. As Matthew suggested, superuser.com is the more suitable site to place this question. – DrFish Apr 13 '11 at 5:28
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    But the faq says that their site is not for video game related questions? See superuser.com/faq. I will give it a shot, and see how it goes. – sosc Apr 13 '11 at 6:10
  • i agree, several legitimate questions get closed because 'gaming' is mentioned – Rohan Monga Apr 13 '11 at 6:24
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    @sosc, qbronzebeard: I agree this is a gaming related question. Therefore the suggestion and not the site police shouting "pull over!". You are mostly welcome to "give it a go". But if you want to maximize your chances to receive effective answers, you should post this in SU. Regards. – DrFish Apr 13 '11 at 7:26

It might be difficult to completely answer your question, but I can provide some considerations.

  1. Which games do you want to play? If they are fairly old ( 3-4 years ) and your graphics card is new, then usually investing in more RAM helps.
  2. Are you ok with poor graphics? Dialing down the graphics settings, anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, far distance, greatly improves fps.
  3. Does your motherboard support the upgrades that you want? Usually old motherboards will not be fully compatible with newer gpus etc. They could have an older bus which could lead to reduced performance. They could have memory expansion limitations, even if they have extra slots.

Have a look at this question to determine point 1.

  • Thanks for the pointer it mentions and interesting tip regarding fps and resolution. The system does indeed support the upgrades I'm interested in performing. At this point, I have already reduced the graphics settings and even play at a small resolution (800x600). – sosc Apr 13 '11 at 5:19
  • if you like put a 'upvote' on it :D – Rohan Monga Apr 13 '11 at 5:28
  • I can't I only have a 1 reputation... – sosc Apr 13 '11 at 6:08
  • general advise, not looking to farm rep :) – Rohan Monga Apr 13 '11 at 6:24

Ways to roughly gauge bottlenecks:

Set the games you want to play on ultra low quality, do they run smooth? If not, its probably the CPU.

Turn the graphics up to the level you can tolerate playing at, is it smooth? If not, its your graphics card.

Does your game stutter or have long load times? If so, its probably your memory.

Your entire computer is several generations out of date, depending on how good your PSU and computer case is, putting in a little more money (~350) to get a complete low budget combo cpu/mobo/vidcard/memory that'll last another 2-3 years may be better than putting $120 into outdated hardware that may extend your cpu's life by only 1 more year.


I ended up buying a 1GB EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GT 430 video card. It was on sale directly from EVGA for $49 after a mail in rebate. This was one of the few cards that fit my system without requiring an updated power supply.

I also got 2GB of Crucial RAM from Amazon, which raised my memory from 1GB to 2.5GB by purchasing 2x1GB sticks. The motherboard had a total of four slots with each slot supporting a maximum of 1GB.

I first put the video card into the system without the RAM. When I did this I went from about 15 fps to 50 fps which is about an improvement of 3x. The average ping also decreased by about 30 ms. This was the case across all of the three games mentioned that I play.

Next I plopped in the RAM and saw another dramatic jump from 50fps to 150fps, which is another increase by 3x. I was very happy to see that both upgrades made a measurable increase in performance.

While the gameplay was much better, I still experienced delays which where very bothersome. In the end I plugged into the wired network and saw ping times drop from 150 ms to numbers around 75 ms after switching off the wireless connection. This allowed the games to play as they where intended.

As suggested, I probably should have plugged into the wired network first as mentioned by Brandon Bertelsen. However, I was able to see that the video card and memory where without a doubt impacting network performance. There where noticeable changes when the video card was put in, and then additional improvements with the RAM. They included better resolution, and graphics quality/details.


Dude. There's no point in upgrading that computer. To get even a semi-decent performance, you'd need to get a new motherboard and CPU which, coupled with a new GPU and RAM, means almost an entirely new computer. If you want to get a new GPU, you'll also need to get a new power source, as I can imagine that the one you have is equally old. You're looking at around a 300$ config, which is semi-decent, something like this.

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    Remember, the question is not what he personally should buy (which would get closed as a shopping recommendation), but how to determine what is the bottleneck. – bwarner Apr 13 '11 at 13:16
  • You're right, it's my mistake, I read the original title (which was something along the lines of "How do I upgrade my computer, if at all?") and didn't pay enough attention to the question text. – Ragnar Apr 13 '11 at 13:19
  • I know it's cheaper, but if you're gaming and not on a laptop, as far as I know a celeron processor isn't what you want to be looking at. – Rohjay Apr 19 '11 at 8:39

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