Components for Building Computers From Scratch/Upgrade advice
I'm looking to upgrade the core elements of my current PC. Specifically the CPU, motherboard and RAM. Here are the current specs:
CPU: Q6600 @3.0 ghz (overclocked)
CPU Cooler: Aftermarket cooler
RAM: 4gb (2x2) DDR2
Motherboard: Asrock P45 Neo 2
GPU: HD7850 (newly installed)
Power Supply: XFX 550w, 80 plus bronze certified (newly installed to accommodate the graphics card upgrade)
Storage: 64gb C300 SSD + 500gb HDD
Now i'm finding that my fps still struggles in games like GTA IV. This game is notoriously CPU limited so that's why i'm looking to upgrade my CPU. The goal of the upgrade is to be able to comfortably play open-world type games for the next 3-4 years. Comfortably means +/- 60 fps with all details maxed or very close to maxed out. In these 3-4 years i'm willing to upgrade the graphics card, if needed, but NOT the CPU/mobo. I don't mind overclocking as i have already done so with my Q6600.
At the moment im torn between these options:
1) Budget H77 board + i5 3330 or 3470
2) Budget H77 board + i5 3550
3) Budget Z77 board which would lack decent crossfire capability + i5 3570k
4) Z77 board with crossfire capability (2 x16 slots) + i5 3570k
The price difference between option 1 and 4 is about 100-150 euros with the other options somewhere in between.
I don't mind spending the money but don't want to pay for overkill type performance either. In your opinion, what would be the most sensible upgrade path?
Thoughts on the need to overclock in say 2-3 years from now to still get the type of performance i'm looking for at that point in time?
Thoughts on crossfire capability? Worth the extra money?
Quite simply your goal is unrealistic with the constraints you are applying, specifically with GTA 4 (which is a poor performer more or less across the board). Your system is entirely competent for other modern games, and the majority of tech rags that talk about "CPU bottlenecks" are trying to sell you something more than providing good advice. The goal to run "full max at 60 FPS for 4 years" is unattainable based on historical precedent of videogame development. Especially with new console and 3D API technology preparing to roll out in the next 18 months (the last few years have been characterized by "console stagnation" due to the limitations of the graphics hardware available on current-gen consoles, which limits developers (cross-platform development being the norm for popular titles); however that is likely to shift within a year or so).
CrossFire itself is not worth the money in general - if a single chip can't run it, multiple chips will not improve that situation, and you will never realize anything approaching linear returns. It's a nice trick for trade shows and if you need to support complex AA or multi-monitor arrangements for 3D, but for sheer performance, it simply isn't worth the extra investment (you'd need yet another new power supply, new motherboard, etc).
Personally I would say "hold" with your system as-is (you might add another 4GB of RAM), and wait for the next-gen technology to release. Today (winter 2012) is a very bad time to be upgrading. I suspect that by next summer (2013) that situation will look VERY different and you should be able to more effectively spend your money. Also do remember that a motherboard switch constitutes a new machine from the perspective of Windows licencing, and you will be required to re-install Windows (just for stability/functionality to be assured) and potentially re-purchase (if you're on an OEM licence).
Finally, regarding overclocking - the returns are fairly minimal relative to the increased costs. I would not consider this a viable "upgrade" path long-term.
Again, my advice would be to wait, and re-assess the situation following the roll-out of next generation consoles (and graphics hardware), and the APIs that will come with them. I would finally not expect GTA 4 to ever run "very well" on the PC platform with full maximum settings. It is simply a known resource hog and very poorly optimized when it comes to performance. I would expect basically any contemporary game to GTA4 to run at or near full maximum on your current hardware, as well as newer titles until you get into the modern DX11 games (which should still run with good performance).