Needing a Gaming PC

My children do a lot of gaming on the Xbox One S and Switch. They also use laptops with fairly modest specifications for games such as Roblox and Minecraft.

One of my sons has been wanting to play Car Mechanic Simulator for quite some time, which is a Steam game. Unfortunately, when we tried it on his laptop, a Samsung R780 with an SSD, it just wasn’t up to the job — the frame rate was incredibly slow.

Trying a Ten Year Old i7

I assembled my current PC in late 2009, and chose a low-end passively cooled graphics card (Radeon HD3450 256MB) — being interested in music and audio, I wanted something quiet, and had no need for high-performance 3D graphics.

In other respects, my PC had a fairly good specification in 2009, with an i7 860 CPU running at 2.8 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, 1920 x 1080 display and Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. In recent years, I replaced the RAID array of six hard drives with two SSDs, but other than that, it’s not really changed much over the years.

We tried Car Mechanic Simulator on my PC. As expected with such an old low-end graphics card, it was even slower than the laptop, only managing about one frame per second. It was truly unusable.

Graphics Card Upgrade

Today’s graphics cards are tremendously powerful compared to those available ten years ago, whereas CPU performance hasn’t increased anything like as much.

So I wondered: could changing the graphics card alone be enough to make my old PC into a half-decent gaming rig? (Luckily, my power supply is rated at 550 W, which is enough for a more power-hungry graphics card.)

My son told me that the recommended card for his game had a benchmark of about 8500, so we looked for a reasonably low-cost card with a rating slightly above that.

I purchased an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 card, and it made a massive difference.


Item purchased:
Palit GeForce GTX 1660 6GB StormX Boost

Available from: Amazon.co.uk

Suggested alternative:
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G
Available from Amazon.com

(Using these links won’t affect the purchase price, but helps support this site. More details.)


Palit GeForce GTX 1660 6GB StormX Boost Graphics Card
Palit GeForce GTX 1660 6GB StormX Boost Graphics Card

Performance Improvement

I asked my son to rate his experiences with the old and new cards when playing a number of games, and these are shown below. This information is quite subjective of course, and may not be accurate, but it still gives a feel for the improvements we observed.

Car Mechanic Simulator (Steam)

Card Score Comments
Old 0/10 Unplayable. 1 FPS approx.
New 10/10 60 FPS est.
Car Mechanic Simulator ran smoothly at last
Car Mechanic Simulator ran smoothly at last

G Mod (Steam)

Card Score Comments
Old 7/10
New 10/10 Better quality rendering

Minecraft

Card Score Comments
Old 6/10 20 FPS
New 9.25/10 60 FPS mostly (47 FPS occasionally)
Maximum view distance

Full Throttle (Roblox)

Card Score Comments
Old 7/10 Auto-selected medium quality 2
New 10/10 Auto-selected full quality

Power Consumption

I measured the power consumption of my PC whilst running the above games, using each of the graphics cards in turn.

For most of the games, the power consumption was similar. However, the most demanding game tested (Car Mechanic Simulator) required 125 W typically, peaking at 180 W, compared to 90 W with the old card.

Final Thoughts

Spending just under £200 on a new graphics card has made all the games we tried perform well. The old CPU may now be the main bottleneck, but it still seems more than enough for our current needs, and this upgrade is much cheaper than a completely new machine.

If you’re considering assembling a new PC for gaming, and you already have an old PC, it may be worth upgrading its graphics card first, to see if that’s all you need. If things don’t work out, at least you can revert back to the idea of building a new machine, using the new graphics card.

As a rough guide, I suggest that it might not be viable unless you already have at least a quad-core i5 or i7 CPU, an SSD, an adequately rated power supply, at least 8 GB of RAM and a 64-bit version of Windows.


Item purchased:
Palit GeForce GTX 1660 6GB StormX Boost

Available from: Amazon.co.uk

Suggested alternative:
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 OC 6G
Available from Amazon.com

(Using these links won’t affect the purchase price, but helps support this site. More details.)


 

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