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Hello, I am wanting to take advantage of the holiday season to upgrade to 4k gaming. However, as my own knowledge on hardware is limited, I have come here seeking assistance and answers. Currently I have an AMD 8350 processor, 8GB of ram and a Geforce GTX 960 video card with 4GB of memory. Is this enough to handle a 4K monitor on ultra settings without frame dips? And if not, what would need to be upgraded or changed out? Is there a website you could link where I would be able to gain deeper insight? Is there a website you could link that would suggest any specific hardware piece? Any specific 4K monitor? I should be able to purchase another 960 and couple the two using SLI; does SLI require both cards to be the same brand/model?

Answer
Before continuing into any technical discussion, it is relevant to consider specifically which games you're meaning to play. If your goal is truly "all games ever made, including upcoming titles like Fallout 4, at 4K, on full max ultra/highest settings with maximum IQ enhancements at a high frame rate" I will tell you right now that is impossible (no matter how much money you have to throw at things). If your goal, however, is to take a somewhat older or less demanding game like World of WarCraft, The Sims/SimCity, Skyrim, Mass Effect, etc and play it at 4K (and you're willing to accept somewhat lower IQ settings (e.g. turning things like AA down), that should be relatively attainable (and I would say try it with your single GTX 960 before upgrading anything).

Now, beyond that, I'll also add that "4K gaming" is a very advertised, very promoted thing that doesn't yield dramatic improvements in terms of "overall image quality." Specifically, if you're upgrading from a 1080p monitor at say, 24", to a 4K monitor, at the same (or even slightly larger) size, the subjective improvement in quality will be fairly small. Especially relative to everything you're likely to give up to achieve such a very high resolution - running with maximum AA/AF quality, maximum texture quality, maximum draw distance, and at a high frame-rate is generally impossible with newer or more demanding titles under 4K, even with an absurdly expensive machine. Generally I would advise that it's better to have all of those high quality features enabled than to sacrifice them for higher resolution, especially when you're dealing with the same (or similar) sized monitors.

Regarding your specific hardware, if your goal is truly to approach all games ever made, including unreleased titles, at 4K on highest settings with maximum IQ, your entire computer would need to be replaced as a starting point. The FX 8350 and its associated platform present a significant performance bottleneck to any top-tier graphics card (e.g. Radeon 290/390 series, GeForce 780/980 series), especially to an SLI or CrossFire configuration. However as I previously said, even with all top of the line hard-ware (e.g. X99 with Titan X 3-SLI or 295X2 QuadCF (this is a roughly $10,000+ computer system by the way)) you will experience slow-downs even with semi-recent, but demanding, games, and as more visually demanding next-gen cames come out through 2016, it will very quickly be "left behind" as far as performance goes. I'm not, however, advocating that you entirely replace your machine - instead, I would say if your current system satisfies your gaming needs, stick with it, and keep an eye on future developments and when it comes time to replace your current machine, re-evaluate the state of 4K performance. It is likely that in a year or two the situation will be much different, and the level of performance required for good gameplay experience at 4K will be both more affordable and more accessible.

Regarding your SLI question: SLI under modern nVidia drivers requires:
A) an SLI compatible motherboard
B) two graphics cards of the same GPU type, but they are not required to be from the same vendor or to have the same clockspeeds, so for example you could pair an EVGA and PNY GTX 960 together, but not a GTX 960 and a GTX 970 together.

You can read more about SLI here:
http://www.geforce.com/hardware/technology/sli/faq

There are more exotic configurations than the standard 2-card implementation, such as 3-SLI (which uses 3 GPUs together), or SLI+PhysX (which uses SLI plus an additional GPU dedicated to PhysX processing), but generally those configurations will require more complex hardware. At the minimum, your motherboard will need to support 3 x16 PCIe slots (if you have a 990FX along with that 8350, it is possible it does support this), and then you would need two more GeForce cards. The 960 does not support 3-SLI, but could be used in an SLI configuration with an additional GeForce (you could pick something less expensive here) for PhysX or additional monitor support.

As far as trying 4K on your existing hardware - your 960 supports DSR (http://www.geforce.com/hardware/technology/dsr/technology), and you can enable that and see what the performance is like within your existing games. The overall viewing experience won't be the exact same as playing on a 4K monitor, the key differences being:
- DSR functions as a form of brute-force anti-aliasing because it is dithering a higher resolution (4K) to a lower resolution (your monitor's native resolution, such as 1080p), while 4K on a 4K monitor (with no AA) does not have that feature.
- You are now changing the physical pixel pitch of your monitor (however, in practice, this is a relatively minor difference for video content - it is much more noticeable for text).

Again, if you're after playing less demanding titles at higher resolution, there's a decent chance your existing hardware is entirely suitable (or very near to it), however if you're after much more demanding, newer games, there are still significant performance limitations associated with 4K gaming even on top of the line hardware (and being entirely blunt, it isn't worth the price, currently).

If you have any further questions or need more information or clarification, please feel free to post a follow-up.

-bob

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Bobbert

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I have nearly two decades of experience in IT, computer repair, and related fields and will attempt to provide the most solid, brand-agnostic advice when it comes time to purchase a new computer, or upgrade an existing machine. I can answer anything from the seemingly basic to the downright complicated - and will do my best to provide this information in a clear and concise manner. I have a personal interest in PC gaming, and can apply my experience to such an end. Questions related to 3D games on OS X or other platforms are less likely to get answered.

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