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Ask the Doctor

The doctor tackles Discrete vs. Haswell IG, PhysX Cards, Upgrading Laptop Screens, and more

New Integrated vs. Old Discrete

I’m an AMD guy who opened his wallet to purchase a Haswell Core i7-4770K to run on an Asus Z87 Deluxe mother-board. I’m not a big gamer and can’t justify yet more money for the latest graphics. Just how fast is the Haswell integrated GPU and how does it rank relative to my current Sapphire 5850 1GB? I also have a second Sapphire 5850 in another system that I could rob for CrossFire. Would that be the best interim course, or should I use the Haswell graphics?

- Tim Averett

The Doctor Responds:  

Tim, the Intel HD 4600 graphics in that 4770K are pretty nice for integrated—see our review in the August 2013 issue—but the Radeon HD 5850 is still a much faster GPU, despite being nearly four years old. It's hard to get exact numbers because our benchmarks have changed so much between the time we tested the HD 5850 and the Intel HD 4600, but we gave it a shot anyway. Over on 3DMark.com, you can filter benchmark results by CPU and GPU. We found one result for an i7-4770K with a Radeon HD 5850, with a score of 2,893 3DMarks. A 4770K with its integrated graphics scored a mere 1,154 despite having access to twice as much system RAM. You should see at least double the performance, in most games, from that 5850 than you would from integrated. And, of course, if you added the second card, you'd roughly double performance again.

VRAM: What's It Matter?

I'm planning on upgrading my current rig, which has an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550, 4GB RAM, 500GB SATA III HDD, and an MSI N8600GTS with 512MB of VRAM. I know it's old, but at the moment I don't have the budget for a whole new rig. I was looking at the MSI R7870. Is this an OK option, given that I have PCIe 2.0? Also, I've noticed that some low-end cards such as the MSI N630GT come in variations of 2GB and 4GB VRAM. What role does the VRAM play in GPU performance? When I upgrade my rig I would like to keep the HD 7870 and just pop another in CrossFire. Is it worth it?

- Christiaan Karsten

The Doctor Responds:

The 7870 would be a great upgrade for your machine, and you will see a huge performance improvement in all the games you play. Regarding video memory, more memory mostly helps you run at higher resolutions, but with that card you will be running 1080p and the 7870 will be totally adequate for cranking all settings to max in most games. You would only need 4GB if you were running super-high resolutions or multiple panels. PCIe 2.0 is fine for even the burliest GPUs, and we generally don’t recommend upgrading just for PCIe 3.0. Your 2.83GHz “Yorkfield” CPU is a tad dated but probably fine since your budget is limited.

We Think He Meant Linux

Can you recommend a good linus [sic] software or did Microsoft buy you?

- Johannes Vikerns

The Doctor Responds:

If Microsoft bought us we'd have more editors and more access. Try Ubuntu or Linux Mint.

Let's Get PhysXal

I recently got an Asus computer that came with a GeForce GTX 650 GPU. Knowing it’s a lower-end GPU, I started looking into a second or replacement GPU. I was hoping to be able to use the 650 as well as a better card, but found an interesting fact, and an issue. The 650 is actually a decent card, and can handle most things I do better than my friends' "better" systems, which are a bit older. My second x16 slot is right at the bottom of my case, so a second card can only be single-slot, and the 600/700 series GPUs are all two-slot cards.

Can I use a card like the GTX 640 for PhysX in my system? I need a better PSU in any case, and am planning ahead a bit. I also do Folding@Home, so I’m looking at being able to use a bit more horsepower for that.

- Kevin Berger

The Doctor Responds:

You're right that the 650 is still a pretty decent card for gaming. If all you need is a PhysX card, you don't need a GT 640 in that second slot—a single-slot GT 520 or 620 is under $50 and will be more than enough. According to Nvidia, you can use any "GeForce 8-series or later GPU with a minimum of 32 cores and a minimum of 256MB dedicated graphics memory," though they recommend 512MB if you can get it. So, you might be able to find an older card for free (or close to it) and use that for PhysX. Keep in mind, adding a second card for PhysX won’t help you at all in games that don’t support PhysX.

Asset Offline

Whenever I log in to Steam my friends always see me as Offline. How can I fix this?

- Matthew Toro

The Doctor Responds:

Fortunately, this should be a simple fix. Go to your Friends menu. There's a drop-down arrow to the right of your avatar and display name that lets you set your state. You're probably set to appear as Offline. Change it to Online and you should be ready for jolly cooperation.

Drive Not Recognized

I'm having trouble installing Windows XP Professional via USB on a netbook I'm trying to fix up. I've tried multiple Windows USB Setup programs (WinSetupFromUSB, WinSetupFromUSB beta, Win2Flash, and others I can't remember), but all have ended the same way: None can detect the internal SATA drive.

I set the hard drive to AHCI mode, downloaded the correct F6 drivers, and put the files on a USB drive that I formatted as a super floppy, but it still doesn't find the hard drive. I have also read online that switching from AHCI to IDE mode helped some people, but no luck with that either.

- Blake C.

The Doctor Responds:

Try using a different bootable USB, like a Knoppix or Ubuntu Live disc, to see if the problem is Windows-specific. If the drive still isn't recognized, try taking it out of the netbook and connecting it to a different computer. If it doesn't work there either, your drive is bad. If it works there, there's something wrong with your netbook—probably the SATA connection. In that case, it might be time to throw in the towel—even if you get the netbook working, it'll still be a netbook.

Upgrading a Laptop Screen

I have an HP Pavilion dv6-6117dx laptop, with a 15.6-inch LCD (1366x768). The viewing angles and colors are terrible. Can you please tell me where or how I can purchase a new/used screen that will fit my laptop? I don't want the same HP replacement, but a new or used screen that has great resolution and viewing angles. I just need to know what to order, so I don't get the same bad screen, thanks.

- Brian

If Microsoft bought us we'd have more editors and more access. Try Ubuntu or Linux Mint.

If your friends can't see you on Steam, make sure you're not set to appear offline.

The Doctor Responds:

Usually you'd be out of luck, but The Doc has actually come across a forum thread that's right up your alley. Jackharvest at Notebook-review.com found a way to mod an aftermarket 1080p screen into his dv6 and helpfully provides part numbers and detailed instructions at http://bit.ly/13SHBWj. As always, don't come running to us (or Jackharvest) if you break something.

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