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Well, crap. The fan on my GPU is going through its death throes, spinning too slow and leaving the temp range in the 50's (Celsius). Perhaps upgrading to a GT220 on a six-year-old Dell 531s was a bad idea; but I needed me some Oblivion! Anyway, I only mention this to convey my sense of urgency in making a decision.

I've been drooling over The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the past 6 months, and I know what I've got right now isn't going to cut it. I had considered upgrading to an actual gaming PC once the game was released and some benchmarks were established, but now it looks like I have two choices:

1. Replace the GPU in my current computer and hold out until November. Continue drooling while playing Oblivion instead.
2. Pick a tier that will hopefully run Skyrim, build it, and split my drooling time between Skyrim and other newer stuff I could now run.

The second option is a gamble, I know, but it's really tempting to do the upgrade now; not to mention it's really annoying to replace a GPU in a computer I'll only be using for another few months. Is it worth it?

This would be my first build. I've gleaned tons of info from this site, but one thing I can't seem to find is a more specific comparison of what each build can run. If I want to do this upgrade legitimately, can I do it in the "budget" range and still expect to run anything like Crysis or Just Cause 2 at medium or higher settings? I'm hoping to determine what's a good fit for me based on graphically demanding, currently released games that I'd like to play, and comparing that to what we can expect to require for Skyrim. These are estimates for Skyrim from a related wiki:

"Minimum System Requirements

* OS: Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7
* CPU: Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz or Althon X2 2.0 GHz
* RAM: 3 GB
* HDD: 15 GB
* Graphics: 512 MB card
* Sound Card: DirectX 9 Compatible
* DirectX: Version 9.0c

Recommended System Requirements

* OS: Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7
* CPU: Core 2 Quad 3 GHz
* RAM: 3 GB
* HDD: 15 GB free disk space
* Graphics: 512 MB Graphics Memory
* Sound Card: DirectX 9 Compatible
* DirectX: Version 9.0c

Supported Graphics Cards:

Minimum – 8800 GT
Recommanded – Geforce GTX 460/Radeon 5850

Note: These are the predicted system requirements. Official will be updated soon."

Personally, I think these estimates are woefully short of what the game will really need, but that's me erring on the side of caution. I'd hate to upgrade, then immediately discover that what I have still isn't good enough. Maybe there's some "future-proofing" that could be done to minimize this risk?

To summarize:
1. Should I eat the cost of a cheap GPU for now and play it safe?
2. Is it feasible to build a sufficient rig for Skyrim based on my info and this site's?
3. Whether or not the rig is feasible now, which tier would it need to be to run the likes of Just Cause 2, GTAIV, Crysis, Fallout: New Vegas, Portal 2, or other demanding titles of the past year or so?
4. It seems like tier 4 or so will do the trick; if not, would it wind up costing me more than $1,000?

Thanks for reading my giant block of text! I look forward to hearing your feedback.
What is your current CPU in the Dell? If you get a more powerful GPU chances are you're going to have to upgrade the PSU anyways.

1. Will hold off on answering this until I know your Dell's specs.
2. Yes.
3. Completely depends on the resolution of your monitor(s).
4. See answer to #3
Oops! Sorry for not posting the original specs; I was distracted in my frustration. Here it is:

Mobo: Intel RY206 AM2 for Dell 531s
CPU: 2.3 Ghz AMD Athlon X2 4400+
GPU: nVidia GeForce GT220, was GeForce 6150 onboard from mobo
PSU: stock ACBel, looks to be 120W Max
HDD: Samsung HD321KJ 320 GB

I upgraded the GPU about 2 years ago, and according to the research I did at the time, it was within the limits of the PSU. Being dedicated instead of on board, I'm guessing it runs pretty close to the limit, but my computer hasn't exploded yet. If I were to replace it, I'd probably get either the same thing, or something using fewer watts.

As far as I know, there's maybe one PSU on all of Newegg that will drop into a 531s case, and I'd rather not keep upgrading my severely outdated slim case and just get a dedicated gaming rig. If I can help it.

Side question: if I deleted the old on board GPU when I installed the new one, is it possible to just reinstall that in lieu of getting another GT 220 or similar?

I'm running on an old CRT monitor at 1280 x 1024, and I really don't feel like I'll ever want more than that. Does the performance/quality of the monitor affect overall performance? Or is it just the resolution chosen?

Thanks for the speedy reply, Andrew! I'm excited to hear it's possible to build my computer right the hell now instead of waiting. Screw waiting.
Only the resolution of the monitor and refresh rate effect performance. I think at this point you should just build a new PC. 120W PSU isn't going to let you run any even slightly powerful graphics cards, and your CPU is aging.

>Side question: if I deleted the old on board GPU when I installed the new one, is it possible to just reinstall that in lieu of getting another GT 220 or similar?

Great! So, now that you know what resolution I want to play these games in, which tier would you recommend I start my build from?

...And in the mean time, would I just need to remove the faulty GPU for my computer to detect the on board one?
What is your budget?
I was hoping to keep it under $1,000 total.

Update: removed the failing GPU and reverted to on board.
I'd recommend Tier 4:

It will definitely be very future proof and give you tons of performance with the fast CPU/GPU and SSD.
I will look into it, thanks! I'll probably post the spec list once I've decided on parts, just to be sure.

Thanks again for being so quick to respond! I really needed that.

I've got all my parts picked out; it's pretty much a dead-on build from Tier 4, with a few changes:

CPU: Intel Core i5-2500 (because I plan little or no OC for now)
Mobo: BIOSTAR TZ68A+ LGA 1155 Intel Z68
GPU: SAPPHIRE 100314-3L Radeon HD 6870 1GB
HDD: SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM (instead of SSD)
PSU: Antec High Current Gamer Series HCG-520 520W
RAM: G.SKILL NS 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit - OEM

TOTAL COST: $823.92!
I'm doing the free 30-day trial for ShopRunner and ordering everything from Newegg so I can get free 2-day shipping on the whole package.

I went with OEM Windows, since I won't be needing to install this on another computer...and to save some money!

The only deviation is the SATA drive instead of the SSD. Is it really worth the $120 just to use it as a boot drive, or will the gaming performance difference be significant enough to justify buying both drives? Keep in mind I could always pick up the SSD later on.

I did not include a CD drive because I'm hoping to use the one from my old Dell. It's apparently directly from Dell, so I'm wondering if it would work with the new rig? I'd really like to avoid buying a new one if possible.

And finally, a friend recommended I look into Mac Minis, as well. Here's what I found that's close to this rig:

Better or worse? The main draw is that it's slightly cheaper, and pre-built; also, I could probably pick one up at the local store instead of waiting for it to ship. The drawback is that I hear Macs are hard to game on, and that they require an emulator to run PC games. Thoughts?
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