Being a PC enthusiast is by no means a cheap hobby. Forgetting all the games that you’ve got to buy to justify having a top of the range PC, you’ve got to buy so many other components - monitors, drives, motherboards, CPUs, keyboards, mice, joypads, steering wheels, speakers, headphones... The list could go on and on.
Most PC enthusiasts don’t have the money to buy the absolute best product for every part of their PC. In fact, most of us get by on the reduced prices of the mid-range equipment, priced lower because the latest generation has replaced it. Both RAM and graphics cards are a favourite of those enthusiasts looking for Christmas presents as they can significantly improve their gaming experience without investing a huge amount of money – you don’t necessarily have to upgrade your motherboard and these components require minimum fuss when installing.
So lets first take a look at what £125 will do for you in the memory department. When buying memory you’re limited by what your motherboard can support. Before making the purchase you need to check what the uppermost limit is, this will be different for most of you so I won’t spend time debating the issue.
So what do you need? For an in-depth explanation of memory check out Tim's article here
. For those who want the basics: Vista is just round the corner so most memory buyers will be looking to get to the 2GB mark. Not only will upcoming games become more and more memory dependent, but running Windows Vista on 1GB of RAM will be a bit like running Windows XP on 512MB – do-able but uncomfortable.
The next question is - do you discard the RAM you already have? After some bickering in the office, the consensus was that it generally
made sense to stick with RAM that has been bought together so that there would be minimal compatibility issues. Mixing RAM up doesn’t have to necessarily mean problems but if a solution can be found sub-£125, it would be preferable. The hunt begins…
The first target my browser settled on was Ebuyer’s
2048MB of PC-3200 DDR memory coming in at £118.99. Now, this memory is by no means high quality stuff, in fact it’s bottom drawer: but
you will have that 2GB to play with. If you're currently running a mid-range system but are worried about the lack of RAM then this wouldn't be a bad purchase, but don't expect it to set the world apart and warranty is likely to be next to non-existent.
Coupled with a graphics card below you’d have a fairly decent system that could run most of the games out there at the moment. A few extra quid will get you similar equipment but with a brand name (and thus a respectable warranty), Crucial also offers 2GB of RAM for £129.98
- we'd recommend going that little bit further and getting a brand name, even if it is a value-orientated product.
Obviously DDR1 isn't going to be much use if your motherboard supports DDR2. You can pick up 2GB of DDR2 5400 Ebuyer RAM for £126.99
. Again this isn’t the highest quality RAM but is suitable for somebody on a budget looking to join the 2GB club. You’ll end up paying something in the region of £135 if you want branded RAM, like OCZ's Gold PC2-5400 2GB
So what’s your best bet if you’re looking to upgrade your graphics card? Once again there are two paths that you will need to choose from: either your motherboard will support AGP or PCI-Express (a few motherboards actually support both). If you're using a fairly old motherboard and don’t want to upgrade most of your system then chances are you’ll be looking for an AGP card. If you’ve joined the 21st Century you’ll be looking for a PCI-Express card. Here are our thoughts on both:
If you’re looking for a PCI-Express card we’ve got two recommendations for you. First up the ATI Radeon X1900GT
at £114 represents really good value for money. It’s a strong card and will certainly handle the games that are currently out. It is also a lot cheaper than NVIDIA’s equivalent at this level.
If you don’t want to spend all your budget on a graphics card though, you’ll maybe want to have a look at a GeForce 7600 GT. At only £89.82
it’s a relative steal and will leave you with some money to spend on a game or two. My advice would be to steer clear of the 7600 GS though. Take a look at this card
for example, is nearly £10 more expensive than the 7600 GT and boasts that it has 512MB of on-board memory. In reality, though, the card is too slow to really make use of that extra capacity and is actually slower than the GT.
If you are still clinging on to your old setup then Christmas is a great time to consider a mass upgrade. If, however, that is too painful on your wallet then perhaps an AGP graphics card might help keep you gaming. A great place to start is this brilliant AGP group test
on TrustedReviews. My advice is to take a look at the AGP version of the 7600 GT which is retailing at £105.69 on Tekheads
. It’s annoying that despite being a little slower, it is actually more expensive than its PCI-Express sibling. Unfortunately, that is the price of hanging on to ageing hardware.