Scott Hanselman

Good mid-level 3D cards

January 20, '06 Comments [22] Posted in Z | Gaming
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Display Properties1Considering that an Xbox 360 is about $300-400 and works great, I'm not really interested (nor would my wife let me) in a $300-400 Video Card, as nice as they might be. That said, I just run the new 3DMark06 DirectX 9 Benchmark on my main system, and could barely eek out 5 frames per second (fps).

The system is a P4 Socket 478 3.00Ghz with 2 gigs of RAM. However, I have a Radeon 9800 Pro with 256 megs. This was a great card two years ago, and still runs Doom, Guild Wars, etc, with around 15-20 fps. However, I can barely find my way around in Age of Empires it's so slow.

Here's my absolute requirements:

  • I need a video that's dual head (that means 1 DVI and 1 VGA) and can run a 16:10 ratio LCD off the DVI at 1680x1050 and a 4:3 ratio LCD off the VGA at 1600x1200.
  • It should have all the latest DirectX 9.0c shininess in the hardware.
  • It should work with (or replace) my Hauppauge PCI Tuner and Beyond TV.

Here's my "kinda" requirements:

  • It'd probably be an ATI, just because I suddenly (not sure why) trust their drivers more, but as long as it has a unified driver model, it's all good.
  • It should be "Vista-ready" in that I can't be buying another card just to get cool Alt-Tab effects.
  • It shouldn't take up two slots because it's a fat-ass or cause my already-hot-computer-that-runs-with-the-cover-off-and-two-fans to burst into flames.

Dear reader, what's a good card for my little AGP motherboard? Is it possible for sub-$200? Or should I just "swap the brains" and go all out with a new Mobo, CPU, RAM and PCIx Video Card?

P.S. Man, back in the day, before Anandtech, I used to know all this stuff. You needed an RLL hard drive put in, I was the guy. Had Norton Disk Doctor in my back pocket. You needed some DIPPs put in to take your system to a meg, call Hanselman. I was even good up until the P4. Now, I don't know my North Bridge from my Piggly Wiggly.

P.P.S. Z is now 7 weeks and 10 pounds, 8 oz., gaining 1.5 oz a day. At this rate he'll be 175 lbs (as big as me) in 5 years. Madness. ;)

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Friday, 20 January 2006 07:15:56 UTC
Scott,
Take a look at ATI All in wonder X800GT

Dror.
Friday, 20 January 2006 08:38:30 UTC
Lots of cards available at NewEgg.com. I did a quick search for AGP video cards in the 100 to 200 dollar price range, and turned up a bunch of good cards. The GeForce 6x00 series is good, I have a 6800 that I'm quite happy with (Quake 4 on decent settings running well). The ATi cards at this level are decent enough, I suppose. One thing I noticed is that most cards in that price range have only 128 mb of VRAM, which is an issue, but I don't think its a big one.
Matt
Friday, 20 January 2006 09:40:39 UTC
My current card has 256M, why wouldn't I want another 256M or even a 512M card? Also, how do I tell this year from last year's technology? :) What's the freaking Honda Accord in this class?
Scott Hanselman
Friday, 20 January 2006 10:52:27 UTC
X800 PRO 256Mb, try chiefvalue.com
Max S
Friday, 20 January 2006 14:11:24 UTC
Not to beg the question, but have you looked at (http://www.tomshardware.com/) Tom's Hardware? That's where I usually go for this kind of stuff.

('course, when you've got hundreds of thousands of readers, you've got your *own* recommendation system.)
Dave Purrington
Friday, 20 January 2006 16:02:39 UTC
No sense replacing your Hauppage card as long as it is working for you. That way all of your money can go toward increasing those framerates. I'd recommend an X800GTO like this one:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16814102608

Should be a hefty improvement on your 9800 Pro.
Friday, 20 January 2006 16:42:26 UTC
I have the same card as you, and it's just about the best you can get before you go PCIx...

(which is a shame because today's games don't even come close to pushing the agp 8x envelope, but that's another topic)

I'd go with the X800 if you MUST stick with ATI, but I like nVidia's 6800 more.

If you look at Tom's Hardware, they usually have a nice video card comparison article that will show you how your card stacks up against these others..

And by the way, the usual difference in gfx card generations is minimal, but the jump from 9800 pro to, say, a X800 or 6800 Ultra will be a HUGE jump.

But to use either of those you need to buy a new motherboard that supports PCIx.

If you don't want to do it in 1 step, there ARE boards out there that will support both AGP and PCIx, but 'pickins are slim' and you'd be limiting your choices.
Friday, 20 January 2006 16:48:26 UTC
I, too had a 9800 (128MB version) and thought Age of Empires (I assume you mean 3) played just fine.

Until I saw it on my friends GeForce 7800. Wow - HUGE difference.

I went looking for the reason it looked so much better and it turns out that the game disables options it doesn't think your card can handle (specifically the shader options of "High" and "Highest"). It turns out that the manual says that "this game was developed on NVidia GeForce cards" and you need to have a GeForce 6800 or higher to turn on the "advanced options".

I hate it when game makers do that.

So, I purchased a GeForce 6800 (128MB DDR) from someone on Ebay for about $150 and it looks great! I don't know if you can do this on any of the later Radeon cards, so I went with the GeForce.

Now - the problem I ran into (which is why I went to Ebay) was that I was constrained to an AGP slot and not many high-end last-generation cards are AGP and almost NONE of the current-gen cards are AGP (which doesn't really matter, since you don't want to spend 500 for a video card).

I would suggest the 6800 - if you can spring for the 256MB version, get that (they were going for about $250 on Ebay). Of course - all my other games got a big performance improvement as well.
Chad Geidel
Friday, 20 January 2006 16:52:50 UTC
Umm, forgot to mention that I have a Shuttle Small Form Factor PC and it actually runs cooler and quieter with the 6800 (single-slot) than with my old 9800 pro.
Chad Geidel
Friday, 20 January 2006 17:02:27 UTC
Here's what I get for ignoring the hardware seen for a few weeks. Apparently the 6800GS will give you significantly more BANG over the X800GTO for only $10 or $15 more.

http://anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2593&p=4

Friday, 20 January 2006 17:23:41 UTC
I like my NVidia 6600 GT. Works well (and I play AoEIII a lot). Of course, my LCD only will go up to 1280x1024, but it has the dual DVI.

There is a 6600GS edition too... but I am not sure what they offer for AGP stuff.

Otherwise, the 6800 recomendations (the higher end models of those) are really nice. Better performance than ATI (generally).
Friday, 20 January 2006 18:29:57 UTC
Sounds like the NVidia GeForce 6800 is the one to get.
Scott Hanselman
Friday, 20 January 2006 18:36:11 UTC
DaveP - Sure, I know about Tom's Hardware and such, but I just appreciate "real world" feedback from folks who are like me. :)
Scott Hanselman
Friday, 20 January 2006 19:01:46 UTC
You should get better cooling if you put the case cover back on. My desktop machine has 9 fans (including chipset fans) and it doesn't even have a graphics card.....
... but then it does have 45,000 rpm in total of hard disks...
RichB
Saturday, 21 January 2006 01:19:12 UTC
Don't waste time thinking about grafic cards, spend your time with P.P.S. Z!
Chris
Saturday, 21 January 2006 02:29:02 UTC
Hi Scott,

I wanted to respond to your PPS since he is your firstborn :). Expect him to double his birth weight in the first 6 months. Expect him to triple it at one year. The growth rate will slow to a steady rate after age 2 until puberty. He probably won't reach 175 pounds before he's 16. As Chris says, spend your time with Z; for your journey is just beginning.

Saturday, 21 January 2006 07:01:45 UTC
Check out the new NVidia 7300's coming out.. supposed to be priced around $99 and has all the Geforce 7 series bells and whistles.
Sunday, 22 January 2006 17:42:32 UTC
RichB has a good point - put the case back together and it will cool better, as long as you don't have fans pushing air in opposite directions.
Monday, 23 January 2006 10:08:01 UTC
For AGP, definitely the X800GTO. I just got one of these for Vertikart.

http://blogs.vertigosoftware.com/jatwood/archive/2006/01/17/Vertikart_action_shots.aspx

No question, best bang for the buck in an AGP slot. And it'll probably stay that way forever, since no new AGP cards are being released :)
Monday, 23 January 2006 10:13:03 UTC
> Apparently the 6800GS will give you significantly more BANG over the X800GTO for only $10 or $15 more.

These aren't really available in AGP format.

I bought the 12-pipe AGP X800GTO for $175 refurb. The 16-pipe AGP 6800GT might do a little better, but not significantly-- and it's a lot more cash moneys.

ATI's X series is actually *faster* than the GeForce 6 series in quite a few games. The total crushing didn't start until the GeForce 7 series (7800gtx) was released..
Monday, 23 January 2006 16:22:31 UTC
ATI got smashed in the drivers field for awhile. Unstable and pretty poor quality.

They have since started pulling them out of the tarpit, and are starting to compete with NVidia again.
Tuesday, 24 January 2006 15:38:23 UTC
I had exactly that choice recently, and went with an nVidia 6600GT rather than 6800 series because of a better implementation of PureVideo. But I use mine for home theater more than gaming.
scott
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.