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An Upgrade Story: Can the GTX 750 Ti Convert OEMs PCs to Gaming PCs?

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An Upgrade Project

When NVIDIA started talking to us about the new GeForce GTX 750 Ti graphics card, one of the key points they emphasized was the potential use for this first-generation Maxwell GPU to be used in the upgrade process of smaller form factor or OEM PCs. Without the need for an external power connector, the GTX 750 Ti provided a clear performance delta from integrated graphics with minimal cost and minimal power consumption, so the story went.

Eager to put this theory to the test, we decided to put together a project looking at the upgrade potential of off the shelf OEM computers purchased locally.  A quick trip down the road to Best Buy revealed a PC sales section that was dominated by laptops and all-in-ones, but with quite a few "tower" style desktop computers available as well.  We purchased three different machines, each at a different price point, and with different primary processor configurations.

The lucky winners included a Gateway DX4885, an ASUS M11BB, and a Lenovo H520.

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Continue reading An Upgrade Story: Can the GTX 750 Ti Convert OEMs PCs to Gaming PCs?

  Gateway DX4885 ASUS M11BB Lenovo H520
Processor Core i5-4440 A10-6700 Pentium G2030
Cores / Threads 4 / 4 4 / 4 2 / 2
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4600 AMD Radeon HD 8670D Intel HD Graphics
System Memory 8GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3-1600 4GB DDR3-1333
Hard Drive 1TB 1TB 1TB
Power Supply  300 watt 350 watt 250 watt
Operating System Windows 8 Windows 8 Windows 8
Price $570 $440 $340

With prices ranging from $570 down to $340, our desktop selections cover a wide range of available user options.  The Gateway system has the fastest primary processor with the Haswell-based Core i5-4440 (HD 4600 graphics) at its core.  However, the ASUS PC has the best out-of-the-box gaming performance with the inclusion of an A10-6700 APU (though not by as large a performance margin as one might expect).  The low man on the totem pole is definitely the Pentium G2030 based machine with a dual-core (no HyperThreading) processor and unlabeled integrated HD graphics.  A 12 FPS average frame rate on Bioshock Infinite at the "Very Low" preset is clearly nothing to get excited about.

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CPU-Z Data on the Core i5-4440, A10-6700, and Pentium G2030

Another aspect worth noting on these systems is the power supply provided in each chassis.  The ASUS system included a 350 watt power supply that left only one unused 4-pin Molex power connector.  Both the Lenovo (250 watt) and the Gateway (300 watt) systems had power supplies without any additional power connectors at all.  That makes upgrading the graphics on such a system nearly impossible as cards like the Radeon R7 260X and the GeForce GTX 650 Ti require a 6-pin PCIE power connection to run.

As it just so happens though, the new GeForce GTX 750 Ti does not.  

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Based on the new Maxwell architecture from NVIDIA, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti is easily the most power efficient GPU was have tested to date and the performance at resolutions like 1920x1080 is nothing short of impressive as well.  You can see in our initial review of the reference card that it was able to demonstrate a clear performance advantage over the Radeon R7 260X while using 35 watts less power and eschewing the need for an external power.

Rather that get into a complicated debate about different graphics card comparisons for this purpose, like including cards like the Radeon R7 250 or the GeForce GTX 650, we decided to solely demonstrate to our readers what kind of performance gains you can get by upgrading from integrated graphics to the latest in mainstream discrete graphics solutions.  

For each of the three test systems mentioned above we installed and ran five different popular PC games at 1920x1080 and rather low image quality settings.  I wanted to get a feel for what kind of experience the end user would get by just downloading Steam and installing Skyrim, for example.  The truth is the actually quite disheartening and it's easy to see why some people would quickly become disenchanted with the PC as a gaming platform.  Games were running in the single digit frame rates. For example, the 6 FPS average for Metro: Last Light and 10 FPS average for Skyrim are experiences that would drive people away from our hobby, not bring them into it.

Each of the five games (Bioshock Infinite, Crysis 3, GRID 2, Metro: Last Light, and Skyrim) were tested at unique image quality settings on each individual system, but all were run at 1920x1080 resolution.  Integrated game presets were used and are mentioned on each graph on the following page.

The upgrade process could not have been much easier for all three of the OEM systems we picked up.  Side doors were quickly removed, spare full-length PCI Express slots were located, and cards were easily locked into place.  Without the need to locate an external power connection, that is really all there was to it.  All three PCs booted into Windows 8 without complaint when the display connection was moved from the integrated graphics output to the discrete card's output and installing the NVIDIA 334.69 drivers went off without a hiccup.  

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Even if you have no experience building a computer, anyone that is capable of using a screw driver should be able to add a graphics card upgrade to their PC.

With the test process determined, we ran 5 different games on each of the 3 systems; once with integrated graphics only and once more with the GeForce GTX 750 Ti installed.  The differences, as you will see, are stunning.

February 19, 2014 | 04:44 PM - Posted by snook

these are results to crow about!
at ~$150 dollars people who want to play, but were limited
in budget/pc available can do so now. that is very good, add a steam library filled with sales and game on.

February 19, 2014 | 05:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Agreed 110%. I'm not too impressed with the card or Maxwell in the performance increase side of things, but this is a low-end card so judging it that way is completely wrong to begin with.

What this card does do is breath new life into the low-end gaming sector giving people with limited budgets HUGE breathing room. In the future it'll help pave the way for raising the minimum specs for PC's even higher than we thought and much faster if this continues. I long for the day we can go with high-end cards only requiring one 6-pin or one 8-pin adapter again. Low energy, low heat, high performance. Then again, I want it all as we all do.

For a Steam Machine or hell, just about anything down to a HTPC this will be tremendous! Really dig the low power consumption and if this is signs of things to come we are in for a treat in both the 800 and 900 Series cards. Hopefully both teams start to focus more on a connector-less high powered option in the future. This is exactly what the PC sector needs to affordably raise the bar.

February 19, 2014 | 05:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

[EDIT] Should clarify that first line in reference to the desktop/650/650Ti replacement side of things. The power consumption is still a huge deal even though it doesn't stack up well against those previous cards as well as expected.

February 19, 2014 | 05:53 PM - Posted by BattMarn (not verified)

I noticed a similar increase a year or so ago when I upgraded an old Compaq XP machine from being incapable of running any games to being able to run most at playable frame rates with an HD 7750. And that was with a single core CPU!

February 19, 2014 | 09:00 PM - Posted by Ben (not verified)

There's no way in hell id trust a crappy 250W PSU in summer gaming for extended periods. This to me is a recipe for disaster. Even nvidia recommend a 300W PSU at minimum, so the 250 - 280W PSU is poor advice.

The 250 - 280 W PSU has a 18A 12V rail, derate that by 1 - 4oC per degree above 25oC and you are going to be left with a PSU that is likely to be able to provide something between 10A - 16A (derated). Given that the GTX750 will probably be consuming its max 55W (4.6A) regularly (its a low end card), you looking at a PSU that only has between 6A and 12A (up to 144W) available for the rest of the system.

My view is that although possible, this is poor advice.

February 20, 2014 | 05:02 AM - Posted by dragosmp (not verified)

These PSUs are rarely crappy from my experience. It has low peak power, but it can probably work just fine. Maybe you haven't looked, but the total system power was a bit over 100W. Not even 40% load! How is that bad advice?

February 20, 2014 | 03:32 PM - Posted by SiliconDoc (not verified)

Ben is an inexperienced doofball playing a bigshot moneybag bling boy.

I've run HUNDREDS of low watt PSU's in scenarios far more taxing than presented with added 6pin pci-e power adapters.

Ben is a fool, a crybaby, and has no clue.

March 5, 2014 | 08:17 PM - Posted by Ben (not verified)

And SiliconDoc clearly has no idea as instead of showing in any way shape or form where i'm wrong, he's decided to play the man rather than the ball. You sir are a douche.

March 14, 2014 | 01:32 PM - Posted by Zkecher (not verified)

Just to let you know, the actual TDP limit set in the video bios for the GTX750Ti is 38.5W so the card wont be drawing more than that without a bios tweak. not 55W.
If anyone's confused to why these systems draw more than 38.5W with the card added, it's because the iGPU was bottlenecking the CPU.

February 19, 2014 | 09:25 PM - Posted by praack

in reality a kumquat would do better than integrated graphics

the real issue limiting the machines above is the power supply- so you really need a better power supply in all three , then you can jam any card in it.

but if you truly limited on price then you have to make the call- change the power supply, change the video card -change both?

you can find a servicable power supply for 40 bucks, add that to the 150 price. or drop the video card one level down to the 750 superclocked at 119 and then add the 40 for the power supply.

February 19, 2014 | 10:15 PM - Posted by Jim cherry (not verified)

power supplies are a lot harder to install than the 750ti.

February 19, 2014 | 11:45 PM - Posted by Eli (not verified)

Pretty sure that a power supply is pretty easy to install. If you can play "match the plug" and can remove and reinstall 4 screws you're just about set. The real problem is that the case size may be limited to how large of a PSU you can actually slap in it.

And let's not forget that a lot of the bottom of the barrel machines use components with wider tolerance. And that's just going to give you all kinds of problems with anything that's demanding of it.

February 20, 2014 | 06:03 PM - Posted by Sonic4Spuds

The problem is that most of these systems are so small that they require removing the whole mother board to replace the power supply.

February 20, 2014 | 05:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

But then, with the beefier PSU, the AMD option (R7 265) would be better at the same price point.

I'll have to agree that someone buying one of these systems would be less inclined to change both parts, and would balk at the idea.

February 20, 2014 | 05:42 AM - Posted by 64bit (not verified)

How much Nvidia payed you ? It sounds like propaganda...

February 20, 2014 | 06:45 AM - Posted by folksy (not verified)

PCPER.com didn't get a dime.

On the other hand, your mother offered. But PCPER.com respectfully declined.

February 20, 2014 | 08:33 AM - Posted by Folk (not verified)

How about your faggot father?

February 20, 2014 | 07:37 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Now try something more CPU intensive at it like Kerbal Space Program, Dwarf Fortress or i dunno any realistic flight simulator... FAIL!!!

February 20, 2014 | 02:23 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Nice article but I would suggest to recheck with 720p output. I think that a game with high settings in 720p will look better than a game with medium settings in 1080p.

Actual consoles can't even handle real 1080p so it would make sense. But that was just my 50 bucks!

February 22, 2014 | 02:53 AM - Posted by arbiter

PS4 can, xb1 is middle ground with some games yes others no.

February 20, 2014 | 03:44 PM - Posted by Tallmike (not verified)

To all of you who are suggesting the better route is to upgrade the power supply then I respectfully suggest that you don't have a lot of experience with these OEM machines. Gone are the days when Dell, HP or Gateway use off the shelf standard components. They build their products with custom engineered motherboards and power supplies with non-standard connectors.

My company uses Dell and HP computers and you can't upgrade the power supplies in theses computers. Believe me, we have tried.

Being able to install a moderate performing gaming video card into my existing computer is almost revolutionary. I can now play Skyrim at work!

February 20, 2014 | 05:41 PM - Posted by Ben (not verified)

I don't see any of the motherboards or PSUs with non standard ATX connectors?

February 22, 2014 | 02:46 AM - Posted by arbiter

Years ago that was the case but now days they don't do that anymore. Much cheaper just to stick with standards then pay for custom made boards with diff pin outs.

February 20, 2014 | 04:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

IDK... $150 seem a little too pricey to come away with just "low settings" (and ultra-low), that have these titles in most all cases looking pretty dismal. While working with less arduous titles might have better served what you hoped to put across.

I mean you can buy a R7 250 for $90 and still maintain "low setting"; though while not offering the higher average FSP the GTX750Ti provides, the novice would scarcely notice their "graphic experience" coming through the screen as any much dissimilar. I don't think the minimum would falter any from what we see.

If the GTX750Ti could achieve "medium" settings, while still provide FPS that don’t drop into noticeable dips in "graphic experience" then that could be worth the 70% cost increase. However just saying that that... such an "investment can make a huge different in how you experience PC gaming" doesn't provide any dividends in "graphic immersion" is pretty sad. What you give only offers a what really has a "2008 level of immersion"; for $150 the industry needs to be able to offer the contemporary 1080p standard, while providing at least visuals of say 2011 level "experience". I'm not saying it's a bad card, but that you waffled on taxing it with what at least should be present day expectations.

Like to see BF4 on this, and could the ASUS M11BB A10-6700 system been ran with Hybrid Cross-Fire from a 7750 that not got a 6-pin, and are like $75-80

February 20, 2014 | 05:55 PM - Posted by Bobby Woodacre (not verified)

Excellent and creative to do this article! I'm not even a gamer but follow hardware developments and do video capture/edit/ convert/ master on a modest APU equipped Lenovo desktop. I'm a real VALUE guy. As bang for the buck and relatively painless upgrade this is spectacular. I recently purchased for under $300 an HP refurb (p7-1414)equipped with A8-5500- seems like I should sell the HD6670 I haven't installed yet (idea being to try dual graphics feature as value play)and go for GTX 750ti. Comments (be gentle)?

February 20, 2014 | 08:31 PM - Posted by Veer (not verified)

From what I remember is the heavier the PSU typically the better the hardware.

Your average 500watt xtech psu, not worth a fart, but a 300 watt dell psu, well that may have more oomph than you might think.

In my experience you can strain an oem psu and it will actually give u 25 to 50 watts extra despite being spec'd for less.

That said, most modern videogames are not as cpu intensive as they use to be. Its more gpu reliant these days. Battlefield is proof of that.

So for those of you buying PC's for your kids, neices and nephews, you can get a budget 400 dolla pc with i3-i5, a decent discrete gpu and a steam account and make them very happy... Just saying :D

February 23, 2014 | 08:05 AM - Posted by Milli (not verified)

I think the Asus' IGP results are wrong. It's slower than the Gateway. Can't be right.

March 7, 2014 | 05:05 AM - Posted by pac (not verified)

I agree, the results shown here do seem unusual... And it isn't just Intel's integrated graphics beating the APU but that its performance seems somehow gimped. As a reference the 6700 is well documented as getting playable frame rates in a couple of these titles through slighly faster RAM/ overclocking. Granted, the OEM hardware might be holding the A10 back but I'd be surprised if Asus really did produce such a hideously optimized platform. This interests me personally as I do own a similar M11BB although I won't have access to it for a few weeks... Don't get me wrong, I certainly think this is a great experiment and I'm considering upgrading with the gtx 750 ti myself but its hard to trust the numbers, especially in the pressence of a few other details that make the review look sloppy. Like the power consumption charts, are these measured in frames per second? Also the description of the PSUs is a bit confusing, on the first page the Asus is described as the only one with a 4 pin molex connector, but the Gateway is singled out as the only one without a connection on page 3. Does this mean the lennovo's PSU is equipped with something like a modular connection but no cable?

I'm not trying to nitpick here, but some of us may be chosing what gpu to upgrade to based on this article.

February 23, 2014 | 11:51 AM - Posted by Stefenheif (not verified)

^^
I was wondering the same. They are using higher presets on the Asus Box instead of "low" of the Gateway.

The last box (Lenovo) was tested on ultra low. It may be representative or not (less elements to draw, draw distance ...) of the CPU's strength to support the load, I could not say.

But the point stands that with a low-grade prebuilt, add a 750Ti and you can play games. I think it would be still a higher cost than a console, but try to install Office on a console or load Steam games.

February 23, 2014 | 03:10 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I need help. I tried to upgrade from 750ti and now pc wont boot. I tried uninstalling the old gpu driver but it is still stuck on the acer logo on start up.

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