View Full Version : New PC acquired, upgrade advice?

02-03-2012, 10:15 PM
Ok, some context.

This evening at work, I was asked to chuck some knackered hardware in the skip, one item of which was a small-form PC that looked like it was in pristine condition. I asked what was wrong with it, and was told that a customer had returned it due to some sort of software error that was causing some kind of endless startup-repair loop, and that after two of our ridiculously untrained personnel had looked it over and attempted repairs, the sales manager decided it was a write off and gave the customer a replacement.

Rather than throw perfectly good hardware away into a watery skip, I decided I'd disassemble it and flog the individual parts. But before I did, I decided to boot the thing up out of curiosity more than anything else, and it did seem to be stuck in sort of endless loop that hadn't gone anywhere after an hour. So I decided to try and force a factory restore with keyboard shortcuts during bootup, and lo and behold, after a fifteen minute restore process, I was into Windows proper. Shut down and restarted a couple of times, no issues encountered each time, so it looks like the software issue is completely fixed. So I've now got a fully working new PC. For free. I consider myself one lucky bastard.

It's by no stretch of the imagination a gaming PC though, but I'm wondering whether it could be used as the basis for a decent gaming machine with a couple of upgrades.

Specs as listed on the Acer website, http://us.acer.com/ac/en/US/content/model/PT.SFF02.027

ACER AX3960-U4102

- Windows® 7 Home Premium - 64-bit version
- 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ i3-2100 Processor (3.1GHz, 3MB total cache)
- 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (can support up to 16GB maximum memory)
- 1TB hard drive
- Intel® HD Graphics 2000
- Intel® H67 Express chipset
- 16X DVD±R/RW
- 220 watt LiteOn PSU

Case dimensions:
Height 10.6"
Width 3.9"
Depth 14.5"

So it's a pretty small case (the exact height of a Pringles can), but I'm not opposed to changing the case if necessary. There's a Maplin next door to my workplace that has some pretty reasonable midi cases. But as I'm pretty inexperienced when it comes to hardware (the most of ever attempted is installing extra RAM, and not cocking that up was something of a surprise to me given my general cack-handedness), I'm not sure what I'm doing when it comes to GPU and PSU upgrades and I thought I'd ask you gents of RPS for some advice. Can this machine in this case be used as the starting point for a mid-level gaming machine? Or if not, would I be better off just keeping it under my TV as a media player? I've got an OK budget considering that I've started out with this not having spent a single penny on it.

Here she is partially undressed:

900 901

02-03-2012, 10:40 PM
Not sure what kind of motherboard that is - it looks a bit like a mini-itx, but it seems to be much wider. A brief google didn't bring-up any useful info either unfortunately. There is the possibility that it's a custom form factor, which would mean you'd have no chance of putting it in a new case (without fabricating something yourself at least). It also doesn't have a standard IO shield at the back, so any new case you put it in is going to have a big gap at the back where the connections are, not a massive problem just something to bear in mind. Also those OEM boards will generally be rather limited in terms of what BIOS options they offer and what CPUs they are compatible with. You could of corse buy a new ATX motherboard and just use the RAM, CPU and Hard drive, although that would probably invalidate the Windows license installed on the drive since they are essentially tied to the motherboard.

At worst you could install a low-profile GPU in it and use it as a 'media' PC. Is there any chance you can remove the drive cage and take some pictures showing the whole motherboard?

02-03-2012, 11:00 PM
It should actually play games, with a very modern Intel processor and the functional (although not good) HD2000 graphics. To make it really gaming capable though, you'd want to be looking at finding a graphics card that will fit in the space offered to that PCI-E 16x slot. One could stick a i5-2500k to crank up the processor performance too, although you'll see much more improvement with a graphics card.

There might be issues with power for a discreet graphics card with only a 220W CPU.

02-03-2012, 11:14 PM
I had to leave the machine at work this evening due to not knowing I was going to be acquiring it, but when I go in on Sunday I'll install CPU-Z on it and get a full hardware analysis.

I've only just become aware of the existence of some new small form PSU, looks like it might help me out here a little? http://www.bit-tech.net/modding/2012/02/24/small-form-factor-flawed-by-design/1

02-03-2012, 11:51 PM
I had to leave the machine at work this evening due to not knowing I was going to be acquiring it, but when I go in on Sunday I'll install CPU-Z on it and get a full hardware analysis.

I've only just become aware of the existence of some new small form PSU, looks like it might help me out here a little? http://www.bit-tech.net/modding/2012/02/24/small-form-factor-flawed-by-design/1

It's not an SFX power supply (which is basically a smaller version of ATX), it's some other form factor. It's possible that both motherboard and PSU are proprietary, which would mean either keeping the system as it is or replacing motherboard, case and PSU.

03-03-2012, 12:39 AM
Things I've managed to discern from the internet;

Motherboard Features:
One (1) PCI Express x16 slot
One (1) PCI Express x1 slot (occupied)
Four (4) 240-pin DIMM sockets

Case Features:
One (1) 5.25-inch external drive bay (occupied)
One (1) 3.5-inch internal drive bay (occupied)
220-watt power supply (100 - 240V, 6A/3A, 50/60Hz)

03-03-2012, 12:16 PM
One (1) PCI Express x1 slot (occupied)

Well that bit isn't entirely accurate. We can see pretty clearly in the photos you sent that there isn't anything occupying this slot.

05-03-2012, 06:05 PM
My impression is that this thing is best used as a TV media device. It should have no problems playing any of the browser-based games and such and probably a lot of older games, so there's plenty of opportunity for gaming fun, but I don't think it's up to snuff for much beyond that. You could slap a cheap, low-range, video card in it to allow for some new-ish games, but anything beyond that would probably be overkill and wouldn't run properly anyway with the 220W PSU. That's definitely a custom-designed PSU so there's almost no chance of replacing it with a high-rated one, which makes the possibility for the motherboard being custom-designed even higher.

In the end, you could end up spinning your wheels and wasting hours and hours of time and lots of money trying to make the parts work in other situations when it would be a lot quicker, easier, cheaper, and faster to just use it as a media device. If you decide to look for a graphics upgrade, be very careful of the PSU. It's +12V rating is probably quite low, which severely limits what it can support.

05-03-2012, 06:57 PM
I think you're being rather unfair on this machine, Odeon.
It's got a highly thought of CPU (http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-cpu-review-overclock,3106-5.html), plenty of memory, the same motherboard people are using for their expensive gaming PCs and space for a graphics card. Yes, the power supply issue is there and real, but I don't think there's much space really for wasted money here.

07-03-2012, 05:23 AM
Wow, I had no idea that any of the i3s were so highly rated! That's definitely good to know and it does make a significant difference, but I still think that the limited capabilities of the power supply are a huge factor in using the existing setup.

Now, if the motherboard can be moved to a larger case and has the necessary power connections for a standard ATX PSU, I'd say use the parts as a rather nice bare bones configuration and build a gaming rig around it. But if the motherboard is stuck in the existing form factor, the CPU and RAM can be installed in a new build based around those parts to make a nice setup. Pick up a good motherboard and case, at least a 500W PSU (preferably with a single rail), and buy whatever you can afford for a video card to get a good system to build on. Save up some money for a mid- to high-end video card down the road and you'll have a system that will run nearly anything you throw at it for a number of years.

12-05-2013, 08:46 PM
I would like to point out that more than a year later, this machine is still performing without issue, and she's whisper quiet. I never bothered to upgrade it at all, as I've been using it mostly for media playback and casual games like Audiosurf. However she can run Sins Of A Solar Empire - Rebellion at very high settings at 1920x1080. No anti-aliasing to speak of, but it still looks damn good.

13-05-2013, 09:46 AM
Ah I was reading this and didn't look at the date. Anyway, you could probably stick in some budget videocard if you want a bit more gaming performance. The models that are cooled by just a wimpy fan (not leafblower style) are generally not using a lot of power. Perhaps something like a 7750, which are available with passive cooling (meaning low power use) and cost something like 75 euro.

That is, if you're interested in upgrading. If it was me, I wouldn't bother.

14-05-2013, 03:31 PM
I turned some old parts into a HTPC. E8500 Wolfdale (high end last gen Core 2 Duo), 4 GB Ram, and put in a $100-$150 video (68xx from last year) card into it. Works well enough and plays games fine (Space Marine and X-Com run fine, probably the highest graphical games I have tried on it). I use Steam Big Picture mode and Xbox 360 controller.

As said a cheaper video card and a new PSU will make it a decent little box.