Advice on purchasing a new video card

Recently I spent five bucks in a raffle and won, among other things, a copy of the spiffy new game Prince of Persia. Woohoo! I thought – until I saw in very small print that the game requires a Geforce 3 or better video card (Geforce 4 MX not supported).

I already knew the GeForce 4 MX is a crappy scam of a card, just a retooled GeForce 2, but it had never been an issue before. Now I’m in the market for a new video card, and I’m looking for advice.

Here are my parameters:

  • I’d like not to be buying a new one again any time soon.
  • I’m not a huge gamer, but play sometimes, and so my main need is a card that will just play the game; I don’t need to have that 60 FPS on the highest resolution nonsense.
  • I’m a cheapskate, and won’t spend more than a hundred bucks on a card.
  • I’m willing to go secondhand if that’s advisable.

So far I’m looking at the GeForce 5600XT GPU offered on this site. It’s $89.00, the cheapest I’m seeing anywhere (Pricewatch linked to the site), and the 5600s are getting decent reviews – the main problem I saw in reviews was that when the card came out, there weren’t games using its features. However, the review that had the most information referred not only to two different 5600 chips, they also were reviewing the 5600 Ultra, which is not what this is, I think. I have no idea what XT or GPU means.

Finally, I’m using an HP Pavilion 725n with a built-in GeForce 4 MX card (I know, I know); although there’s an AGP slot, I’m a little skeevy about installing another video card, given problems I had in the past under similar circumstances. Is this something I actually need to worry about, or were my problems with an e-machine due to e-machine’s unbelievable suckiness?

Thanks for any advice!
Daniel

Personally I would go for an ATI Radeon 9600 Pro I believe it’s in the ~$100 prcie range.

As for Geforce 5600, it’s a decent card, specially for the price you have listed.

BTW: How could you not care about resolution and FPS??!?!?!

::Hugs his comp:: Don’t you listen to him my pretious.

Here’s a great price guide from Anandtech. Scroll the the bottom for the videocard pricing…

…and note that an extra $50 can add a whole lot of performance above what the $100 range is offering…

See, that’s good, because that means nasty man won’t takeses your precious.

Why would you go for the ATI Radeon Pro? Part of what I’m thinking is that this game mentioned a “GeForce 3 or better,” and it required me to upgrade to DirectX 9.1b or something; the reviews I looked at seemed to suggest that the 5600 card was designed to take advantage of new features in DX9. Is the GeForce the industry standard?

I can find a basic Radeon 9600 Pro for $85, which is a trivial difference; I just am not sure which card is the best in terms of dependability and universal utility. If GeForce is the industry standard, in other words, I’m guessing a GeForce card won’t be outdated as quickly.

But I really don’t know what I’m talking about here :). Why do you like the Radeon more?

Daniel

The Radeon 9600 Pro will vary in price with the quality of components and performance values, but a decent 9600 pro will outperform a Geforce 5600 any day.

Hence, why I would prefer it. The only good thing the 5600 has going for it is the incredible Nvidia drivers.

As for Direct X 9, Geforce FX and Radeon 9400 (IIRC) or higher will support it.

Thanks, Kinthalis! I’m leaning toward the 9600 Pro based on your feedback. Skybum, that pricing page is interesting, but my main question is about quality of various cards in my price range; I’m not really able to figure out the quality of different cards from that page.

Daniel

Actually, a follow-up question occurs to me: how on earth do I tell whether a specific 9600 has good components? Can you tell if the one I linked to is decent? What should I be looking for?

Daniel

From what I read people who have used these video cards it seems that ATI based cards perform better than the FX series from NVidia. The ATI Pro version cards have a higher clock speed and memory timing. That is a Pro SE version that you linked which is a bit less performance than the Pro.

Tom’s Hardware Guide has an in-depth video card review covering a wide range of both ATI and Nvidia cards. At the end they even have a cost to performance ratio chart of the cards. http://www6.tomshardware.com/graphic/20031229/index.html

As for telling which ATI cards are decent, in my experience, the cards made directly by ATI or Sapphire are generally pretty good. I don’t have any experience with other brands, but the reviews I’ve seen aren’t as positive. Of course, YMMV.

I have used both ATI and Nvidia cards at home and at work. I think the drivers for the Nvidias are more stable and less prone to odd behavior. But overall I perfer the performance of the ATI cards. If you’re not a hard core gamer, stay with the Nvidia. I think they will give you fewer problems in the long run.

Thanks for all the advice, folks! Bishamon, that card comparison site was exactly what I needed. Turns out that the 9600 SE is quite a bit worse than the 9600 Pro, and ranks near the bottom of the cards they tested for most of the games – occasionally even below my current GeForce 4 MX. Apparently Pricewatch doesn’t enforce a rule about only including card listings in the appropriate category; several vendors list their 9600 SE cards under the category of 9600 Pro cards, hoping to sucker in ignoramuses like myself with the cheap prices for the category.

At any rate, after looking at the ratings and considering Bishamon’s advice that GeForce cards have more stable drivers, I went ahead and got this card, a Ge Force 5600 Ultra, a card at the middle of the pack performancewise in several tests. Now to hope the installation is easy on my computer…

Daniel

I think you’ll be plenty happy with that card, and while a little out of your original price range, the extra will be worth it in the long run.

The installation shouldn’t be too bad. I’ve had good luck upgrading from an on-board video to an AGP before. You might want to check in the BIOS to see if there is an option to set which is your preferred card. I believe for the Pavilions you hit F1 during the POST. If in doubt, hit ESC when the blue HP screen is on when you power up. It should say at the bottom. I can’t promise the option is there, but you might want to look in case things don’t work for you.

Give a holler if you need anything else.

Keep your money and leave the game on your shelf for now.

The only real problem with the Geforce FX series of cards is their poor support for DirectX9. This makes them okay for most older titles, but handicaps them in more modern games. This is why ATI cards are recommended by game manufactuers over nVidia, and why they’ve recently surpassed nVidia as the leading supplier of video chipsets for videocards. This Anandtech Round-up shows the kind of performance you can expect in new and upcoming DirectX9 titles.

When the new card arrives - save yourself more than a little grief by going to Add/Remove Software in Control Panel and removing all drivers and software for the old card. If you’re then prompted on how to handle video, select “Microsoft SVGA”

Reboot and behold the craptacular generic SVGA settings of 640x480 at 256 colors. Now you’re up and running with no special video drivers. More importantly, your Registry will be updated with generic video settings instead of things specific to the old card. Nasty, ain’t it? Shut down and read the instructions on how to install the video card. Most likely, it’ll be to swap cards, boot up and let Windows sniff out the new card. Once it’s done, you should be able to install the new drivers.

Thanks! The card is waiting for me at FedEx right now, and I’ll go pick it up in a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, my old card is on-board, so I’m not going to be able to swap it out; I know this was a bad decision on my part, but I can’t change it now. I’m hoping either that the motherboard will automatically disable it, or else that I’ll be able to disable it from the BIOS.

Actually, I got this computer after returning the e-machine that I’d even more foolishly purchased, after the e-machine absolutely refused to accept a new video card and tech support proved themselves to be a bunch of drunken monkeys. Long story short, I’m not buying another prefab computer :).

Daniel

I got the card installed last night, and it was far easier than I expected: disable onboard video via BIOS, install new card, and bingo, I’m playing Prince of Persia! Yay! Very pretty game.

This morning I come in to find what looks like a screensaver saying “Nvidia/Windows XP” and am annoyed that this was installed w/o my permission. Oh well. I move the mouse to bring up the desktop.

No such luck. Eventually, after trying various tricks, the screen goes blank, the keyboard ceases to function (the caplock and numlock lights no longer work). I restart the computer; as soon as Windows would normally come up, the screen again goes blank.

Right now, my computer at home is working on last good configuration – in other words, I’m working with the Windows native SVGA (?) drivers. I tried reinstalling Nvidia’s drivers, but just got the blank screen/nonfunctional keyboard again as soon as I retarted Windows.

Stupid freakin not-working drivers! :frowning:

Daniel

That sucks. Please let us know how it turns out.

Are you using whatever drivers were in the box, or did you go to nvidia.com and get the most-current drivers? While you’re there, poke around the support area to see if there are known issues with eMachines.

D’oh! Forgot to post a followup.

On Saturday, I spent 50 minutes on hold with BFG (the card’s manufacturer) and 5 minutes talking to a tech-support guy. Fortunately, that was a productive 5 minutes.

It turns out that uninstalling a GeForce card doesn’t just entail going to the device manager and choosing “uninstall”: you actually have to go to add/remove programs and uninstall it from there. Whodathunkit? The drivers from my old GeForce card were still hanging around screwing up the new GeForce card.

There’s a program called nasty file removal, however, that deletes all files associated with nVidia; tech support told me to download it and run it and then reinstall the new card. It worked beautifully at that point.

For awhile. Then it crashed again.

This time when I reinstalled it, it gave me a warning that the card wasn’t getting enough power. I decided, brilliant guy that I am, that maybe I should check out the installation manual; turns out the card has a supplemental power slot that ought to get power right from the power source. Only I didn’t have a free power cable, and the repackaged card they sent me didn’t come with the y-adapter the manual said it came with.

Fortunately, my brother the computer guru had an extra y-adapter and was coming over to my house anyway; within five minutes I’d gotten power to the card, and suddenly it was running even better than it had been originally.

It’s been running clean for two days now, and I’m very happy with it at last. I’m running Prince of Persia at the highest resolution with all the graphics cranked up; it’s a thing of beauty, with nary a stutter.

Thanks again for all the advice!
Daniel

PS I did check the drivers even before the card screwed up the first time: it came packaged with the same version number as the latest ones available online.