I think my graphics card is dying/help me pick a new computer

First of all, to provide context, I have an iMac with a second partition that has Windows 7 installed. It's an iMac 11,1, with an Intel Core i5, 2.66GHz, 4 cores, and 4GB of RAM. The graphics card is an ATI Radeon HD 4850.

So today I launched The Walking Dead season two from Steam (on the Mac), and even though I had been running it just fine a couple of hours before, some seriously wonky flickering and artifacting started to happen. I couldn't force quit the program, so I was forced to hold down the power button and force a shutdown. I launched it again, and surely enough it did the same thing. But this time, it had trouble starting up. At the point in startup where it's supposed to be a plain gray screen with the Apple logo in the middle, the screen freaked out in the same manner as before. It eventually righted itself, but there were some faint pink lines in the background of the gray screen. When the startup completed everything seemed fine, but as soon as I launched TWD again the same thing happened.

I switched to my Windows partition to see if the same thing would happen, and it did. And it wasn't even a Steam game, it was a different game with a different launcher (Final Fantasy XIV). While I was forcing that application to close, some gray lines filled the background, but erased after the game closed. I'm a computer graphics artist, so I launched 3DS Max, but that seemed to run just fine, and so did After Effects. And I can run DVDs and web videos just fine. It only seems to freak out for video games.

I'm coming here to confirm these symptoms, and to ask some advice on the kind of computer to get in the future. I've already been thinking about getting a new computer for a while, this one is 4 years old and the things I'm doing with it creatively are starting to push it a bit farther than it wants to go. I'm having trouble deciding if I want to get another iMac, or if I want to try an Asus. I love the Mac OS, but I only have 3DS Max for Windows, and admittedly having to switch between partitions to play games and run programs that Mac doesn't like is frustrating. And I realize a new OS is coming out this fall, but given these symptoms I don't think I can wait that long.

But, I know that any new computer I get will most likely have Windows 8 (unless that's a better decision for my needs, which I feel like it isn't but I'm not an expert on this), and I really don't want to do that. What I do know is I need something that's high-performance that will last me another 4 years, preferably better. So what would all of you tech gurus recommend for a computer graphics artist, and where would you suggest I find one for preferably $1500 or less? I have no preference as far as desktop or laptop, as long as it works and doesn't break me.

Oh, and here's what I'm looking at from Asus:

M11BB: http://www.asus.com/us/Desktops/M11BB/
Essentio CM6830: http://www.asus.com/us/Desktops/Essentio_CM6830/
CM6870: http://www.asus.com/us/Desktops/CM6870/

I chose these three because I narrowed the search to multimedia computers, and then ones that have Windows 7. Though I don't know if their "multimedia" includes actually creating media. This is their gaming PC, though even I think that might be overkill. And I can't decide if any of them are out of my price range because apparently Asus doesn't want you looking at any of their damn prices. The CM6870 is going for $1200 new on Amazon, but I also know I'll have to buy a monitor if I get any of these, so that will add some more (monitor recommendations also welcome).

The current line of 27" iMacs start at $1799 which is a good $300 out of my comfort zone. I know my parents will help me out since I do kind of need this, and I do have a small business account so I can get some taxes back on it later. However, if I can get something with the same performance or more at a much lower price. As much as I love the Mac OS, I'm very aware they charge quite a bit for what is usually not as much performance.

So to summarize my questions in a nice neat package:

1. Is my graphics card dying?

2. What should I look for as far as (relatively) reasonably priced PCs that will serve me well as a computer graphics artist?

3. If building a PC is the best option, where should a mostly hardware illiterate person like myself begin to look into that?

1. Yeah, that pretty much seems to be the case, and because you've got got an iMac pulling it apart and replacing it would be a pain and given what I've seen from a quick search on eBay the cost to buy a the same GPU as a replacement is 6-10 times what it would cost for a standard (non-iMac) version of the same card, so over $300 for a card worth less than $50.

2. As a general rule, the more you pay for a computer or it's components the more performance you'll get. Of course there are exceptions to that rule - you've got one on your desk. The cheapest route is usually to search around and find the components you want for as cheap as possible and build it yourself. The second cheapest option may be to use an online service that does that for you. Prebuilts are usually the most expensive (particularly branded ones) but they also take the least effort. If you're buying/building something for games then that's the requirement you should focus on since a gaming PC will do pretty much anything you throw at it.

3. www.logicalincrements.com. That site has a list of some fairly ideal self-builds you could go for at various price points. Compare the specs and prices to the ones you've listed...you get a lot more bang for your buck this way. If your budget is $1500 you're going to get a pretty beast computer if you go this way...better than mine even.

If you don't already have one you'll still also need a monitor which, if you do a lot of design, is an area I can't really help you with, since you'll probably be after a fancy schmancy one with good colour reproduction and such, and I don't do a lot of that so my choice of monitor was more for performance...that and I'm a bit colourblind so can't really speak from experience.

xXSnowyXx:
2. As a general rule, the more you pay for a computer or it's components the more performance you'll get. Of course there are exceptions to that rule - you've got one on your desk. The cheapest route is usually to search around and find the components you want for as cheap as possible and build it yourself. The second cheapest option may be to use an online service that does that for you. Prebuilts are usually the most expensive (particularly branded ones) but they also take the least effort. If you're buying/building something for games then that's the requirement you should focus on since a gaming PC will do pretty much anything you throw at it.

Thanks for the response! Things have gone from bad to worse: now I can't even get it to start up normally. I had to call an Apple hotline and they had me start it up in safe mode. That at least got me into my Mac partition, so now I can move everything over to my external hard drive so I don't lose anything (everything on my windows partition has already been backed up). My boyfriend and his roommate have some more experience building PCs than me, so I'll ask them if they feel up to the task, or they might know somebody who can.

3. www.logicalincrements.com. That site has a list of some fairly ideal self-builds you could go for at various price points. Compare the specs and prices to the ones you've listed...you get a lot more bang for your buck this way. If your budget is $1500 you're going to get a pretty beast computer if you go this way...better than mine even.

Perfect! Just what I need. I might even be able to lower my budget, looking at this. $1500 was my absolute limit, and as you said I also need a monitor. I may look into a fancy one in the future, but I think for now I'll just settle for one that works. Or another that works rather, I already have a second monitor that can be a primary for a new PC. But I've gotten used to using two monitors, so another will have to come soon lol. Thanks :3

Don't if this is helpful or not, but if you can't get anyone you know to put one together, I'd recommend ecollegepc for a high quality build. It's where I got my first gaming PC before I was confident enough to tinker on my own. You get decent bang for your buck, and they are very helpful.

http://www.ecollegepc.com/

I feel like it would be remiss of me to not bring up where I got my most recent gaming beast. This link is to the base model's but they offer a lot of inexpensive upgrades and I have seen no one come close to beating his prices. I bought the N2 model with an upgraded 650 watt Psu for $500 and then threw in a radeon R9 280X card. In total it ran me $750. https://www.facebook.com/nugencomputers/app_251458316228

Aramis Night:
I feel like it would be remiss of me to not bring up where I got my most recent gaming beast. This link is to the base model's but they offer a lot of inexpensive upgrades and I have seen no one come close to beating his prices. I bought the N2 model with an upgraded 650 watt Psu for $500 and then threw in a radeon R9 280X card. In total it ran me $750. https://www.facebook.com/nugencomputers/app_251458316228

I'm not a hardware guy, but that seems like a pretty good deal for someone who doesn't want to build. Care to share any specifics about games you're running and at what level of detail? Also, when you say you 'threw in' an R9 280X card, do you mean you bought one separately or did you buy it through them?

Frezzato:

Aramis Night:
I feel like it would be remiss of me to not bring up where I got my most recent gaming beast. This link is to the base model's but they offer a lot of inexpensive upgrades and I have seen no one come close to beating his prices. I bought the N2 model with an upgraded 650 watt Psu for $500 and then threw in a radeon R9 280X card. In total it ran me $750. https://www.facebook.com/nugencomputers/app_251458316228

I'm not a hardware guy, but that seems like a pretty good deal for someone who doesn't want to build. Care to share any specifics about games you're running and at what level of detail? Also, when you say you 'threw in' an R9 280X card, do you mean you bought one separately or did you buy it through them?

I play MMO's mostly. I can run GW2 and Aion maxed out. I think at one point my FPS dropped down to 30 when I was in a town surrounded by dozens of other players. Otherwise I tend to hold a pretty solid 60fps.

Funny thing about the R9 280X card. I actually purchased an open box one from new egg specifically for this new computer. I had already ordered it when I went down to pick up the computer(I'm local to the seller). When I went down there I told the guy there that I had ordered that GPU and he pulled one out in brand new packaging and told me he would have sold it for me and installed it for the same $250 which was what the card from new egg cost me after shipping.

Argh, previous post met with the great 404 in the sky. Anyway, in this thread, Eamar mentioned buying a somewhat user-friendly liquid CPU cooling system, the Cooler Master Seidon 120M. The reviews on Newegg are for the most part positive, and most negative comments have been addressed by the manufacturer.

I know that you're under a time crunch to get a new machine, but I really think this cooling system bears further looking into. In all honesty, I've never built my own machine, let alone installed a liquid cooling system, but I'm seriously considering the Seidon 120M simply because the liquid systems I've seen were all expensive. Also, every time I run Blender, Audacity, or AVIDemux I can hear a fan kicking in on my PC. As soon as I have some cash to spare, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is.

 

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