A new video card

I want to play Fallout 3. I’ve already purchased it and played it for a few hours. It looks horrible on my computer. Not even having the minimum system requirements (the box and all components are >3.5 yr/old) is probably a contributing factor. I’m assuming I can see an increase in quality by adding some RAM (I need some anyway for other reasons) and by putting in a new video card.

The problem is that I have no clue what I’m doing.
My computer is somewhat customized, but I didn’t build it.

Some of the specs:
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 socket 939 Audio/GB-LAN/USB/IEEE/
Processor: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ 512K 90nm (939)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce 6600 GT 128MB DDR3/PCI-E/TV- 128p2n368tx
RAM: CORSAIR TWINX1024-3200C2PT DDR 400 1GB (2 pcs 512)
In case this is relevant:
Case: PS 380W - Antec Sonata Piano Black Quiet
Case Fan: 120mm - Antec 120mm SmartCool Case Fan

I already have another gig (2x 512) of RAM on the way, and holy crap is it cheap now.

I don’t even know of my processor is good enough. The recommended one is “2.4 Ghz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent processor” (or better), but I couldn’t figure out how my Athlon 64 3000+ compares to that. I’m not going to try to get a new processor though, as I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

I’m just not sure what to do about the video card. There are lots of reviews out there, talking about all sorts of numbers and benchmarks that I know nothing about. Is there a certain point with my processor, power supply, and cooling, that I’ll just be throwing money away? Recommended is NVIDIA 6800 and better (I have 6600 GT). I’m not sure how the numbering works, since in looking around online it seems like a 6200 is better than a 6600. I see a 9800 GT advertised for $100, and an 8800 GT for $150. Oh the confusion.

Also, I thought my motherboard had space so I could put two graphics cards in (SLI?), but I don’t remember if I ended up buying that one and I’m not sure how to tell.

I’ll report back with the resolution of my monitor when I go home tonight. I’m not planning on buying a new screen any times soon, so I won’t need higher resolution than that.

Anyone have some suggestions to keep my head from exploding?

Your processor is fine.
2GB of memory should do you right.
Upgrade that video card to something with at LEAST 256MB of DDR3 (or DDR4 if it’s possible).

Other than that, it’s a matter of changing RAM to go even higher.

Your graphics card is 4 generations behind the curve. Correcting that will go a long way to making the game more playable. The best bang for the buck are the ATI Radeon graphics cards. Given that you’re not looking at the high end, I’d suggest the Radeon 4850 cards.

BTW your motherboard will take 4 GB, so if you can, I’d suggest you cancel your order for memory and order 4x 1 GB DIMMs instead. Corsair (pdf) have written a report which shows that 4 GB has significant advantages over 2 GB.

I think Corsair is overstating things a bit. All real life performance benchmarks I’ve seen show little to no improvement in games going from 2 to 4 gigs of RAM. I would instead recommend you cancel your order and switch it to two 1Gb modules. Save some cash for what you really need a processor and a GPU.

Your processors is an under performer, and it will have trouble keeping up with modern GPU’s. Unfortunately you don’t have much options in this case since the 939 socket type is outdated.

Still, you will get the best performance for your buck out of a GPU. Lucky for you Tom’s Hardware just release their current “best video card for the buck” article. It’s on their main page. And although your mobo doesn’t support SLI (which would be wasted anyway with that CPU), it does support PCIex, so you’re set.

Check your local Best Buy. Mine’s been having a clearance on GeForce 8800 GTs ($103, marked down from $257).

Normally I’d say stay the hell away from Best Buy when it comes to PC purchases (unless you are buying a whole system… no actually even then), but that sounds like a really good deal!

Get yourself one of these. http://www.engadget.com/2008/11/10/nvidias-quadro-fx-5800-with-4gb-graphics-memory-is-the-most-po/ You won’t need to upgrade for at least 6 months.

I’m guessing that suggestion was tongue in cheek, but just to be sure, the Quadros are NOT for gaming. They are specialized cards for 3D rendering and 3d line development (CAD for example). And their driver releases are geared towards that goal. You’re not going to get a new driver release when the next game comes out and needs some bug/optimization fixing.

And of course, there’s the astronomical price :slight_smile:

Thanks everyone!

First, my monitor is only 1280x1024. I don’t have immediate plans for a new one.

Where were you able to see that my motherboard can take 4GB? I was under the impression that it could only take 512 in each slot, but I’m probably wrong. I think I’m going to keep the order for the two 512s; the next time I’m upgrading after this I’ll be making more money and will probably just build (or have built since I don’t know what I’m doing) a new system.

I’m eyeing the 8800 GT. It looks like lots of different companies make these? Looking on tigerdirect.com, I see two different 8800 GT cards, one from XFX (that’s “recertified”, I’m assuming that’s refurbished) for $100 and one from PNY that’s $125. Is manufacturer something to be careful of?

Also, it looks like my power supply might not be powerful enough. One card says I need a 450W and the other says 400W. My case came with a 380W. Damn, I was hoping I wouldn’t need to spend money on anything else. It looks like I can pick up one of those for ~$25, assuming the cheaper ones aren’t dangerous.

Thanks again.

Video card manufacturers: For the most part you can ignore this. Some offer better bundles, other a better price, Others sometimes tweak the hardware specs as well. But as long as the card has the same (or better) specs from the chip maker you’re fine (and this should always be true).

As for the PSU, unfortunately you really shouldn’t skimp on this. Most PC problems can be traced back to this component. Find something that’s efficient, at least 450 watts and has good reviews on newegg (you can also google the model number with the word “review” and you should be able to find some tech site’s review which might help you decide). Also make sure it has a PCIEx power connector (4 pin for the 88000 GT).

Unless he is using a 64bit OS he cannot even use 4GB, it will stop at 3.3.

True, but 3.3 GB is better than 2 GB

I went to the manufacturer’s website.

Sorry to hijack the original post, but Ruken states he/ she has no idea what they are doing- which is fair enough I’d be in the same boat. Great to get all the components but are they easily fitted?

And at what time with an aging system do you call it quits and upgrade the whole lot (as in buy a new computer). Again assuming that you can afford it- at some stage it should become cost effective.

You should upgrade when your PC starts to hinder your everyday uses. A PC bought 3 years ago might have problems today with web 2.0. Lots of media, lots of interaction. It might also not take full advantage of newer, multi-threaded apps, and might not cope with your modern requirements when it comes to multi-tasking.

When that happens it’s time to upgrade. Then it becomes a question of whether an upgrade to individual components make more sense, or buying a whole new PC is best. That’s going to depend on the details.

Thanks. I upgrade when said computer dies- normally amidst a sulphuric cloud of abuse and language.

I can swap cards, and hook power cables to them, and play with drivers. I think I’ll be ok with performing the actual replacement. If not, you all might be hearing from me. Luckily, this is an entertainment-only computer, so it won’t hinder my work (which is just fine on my crappy laptop, since the only strain is pdfs, powerpoint, chemdraw, and MestReNova…and the SDMB:))

I think at this point we’re looking at a <$200 upgrade that will keep me going for a couple more years. I don’t play games a whole lot (woohoo grad school!), and I don’t need them to be super 3D lightening-fast fragfests on a screen-as-big-as-my-house. I’d just like to be able to bump up the picture quality a little bit.

When it’s time for a completely new build, and that will be at LEAST after I start my postdoc, and probably 1.5-2 years from now, I’ll probably put in ~$1-1.2k, with a bit more focus on upgradability than I had with this one. I still know very little about computers, but I know a lot more than I did before, and I enjoy learning more.

Ah, clever. I’ll remember that.

I think the least you know about computers the better off you are. The same applies to women.

Indeed. I got the last one on the shelf at the one nearest me; had been eyeing it ever since I saw the price a couple months ago but was waiting for a check to come in.

Mine came with an adaptor.

Since I’m going to have to buy a new power supply to use whatever card I buy, I might as well try to buy one that I’ll be able to use in ~2 years when I build a new system. The 380W I purchased 3.5 years ago isn’t good enough to handle the upgrades that I want now. Is there any way to predict what I’ll be able to use down the road?

Newegg has lots of rebates on all sorts of PSUs. I’m willing to spend a bit more if it’s something I’m going to be able to use later. 500W? 750W? 1 kW? That’s a lot of power. Newer components can do a lot more than older ones, but I’m assuming they’re also more efficient. A 450W psu was overkill when I put this system together, and now it seems to be pretty standard.