Graphics Cards for Dummies.

Okay, here’s the deal:

I’d like to get a new graphics card, but I’m a total idiot at the inner workings of the box. What are my options?

[li]I have an HP Pavilion, 1.8Ghz, 512MB RAM.[/li][li]My current graphics card is an NVIDIA GeForce2 MX 100/200.[/li][li]My ultimate use is in gaming. I’d like something that can handle Half Life 2, and Doom 3, when they are both released.[/li][li]I’d like to spend somewhere around $150 - $200.[/li][li]I’m an idiot at installation. I’ll need assistance, unless it’s a simple plug-and-play type deal, which I understand isn’t usually the case.[/li][/ul]

Thoughts from the technophiles in the room?

I upgraded from a GeForce2 MX to a GeForce FX 5200 Ultra. I bought it for about $150 at Best Buy, and as you’d expect, it works just like the GF2. You might want to get a higher end card (5600?) if it’s within your price range.

It’s a simple plug and play deal: Open your computer, remove the old card, and insert the new card. Even the drivers are the same - Detonator works with all NVIDIA cards - though the new card probably comes with a newer Detonator version than the one you have now.

Hmmm, First thing you need to find out is your type of port. Do you have an AGP port? It looks like a smaller PCI port.

If so, good! :wink:

Now, you’re looking to spend $150 and $200. More over you want to be able to play Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 in all they’re glory so you’re looking for a DirectX 9 Card.

You options are (listed with current average price):

ATI Radeon 9500 PRO ~ $120
ATI Radeon 9600 PRO ~ $140
ATI Radeon 9700 PRO ~ $250

Nvidia GeForce 4 Ti 4400/4600/4800 ~ $98 to $140
Nvidia GeForce FX 5600 ULTRA ~ $120
Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 ULTRA ~ $250

These fall withint your price range and come with the specs you’re looking for.

Happy gaming!

It normally is a plug n play type. I’m not familiar with your machine and I’m too lazy to look up the specs for it but you should be able to unplug your current video card and plop in your new one. I would double check to see if your machine has a AGP or if your current card is plugged into a PCI slot.

If your machine has an AGP, the steps that would normally follow are:

  1. uninstall the current video drivers (if necessary, sometimes they are included into the OS) for the NVIDIA card
  2. unplug current video card
  3. plop in new card
  4. install video drivers for new video card

Now, this is the best case scenario and should be the case for most people. I would try this and if problems arise, I would reinstall the OS (not usually necessary, but I’m anal about it).

Other problems could arise like an inadequate power to drive a more power hungry card. I don’t think you will run into this. I would buy from a chain that has a liberal return policy, though, and if things don’t work out, return it.

I can only assume that the requirments for those games will be rather steep. I would wait until they release them and see which cards work out the best with those two games. Good luck.

I should also point out that the FX line of cards aren’t doing too good compared to the Radeon 9600 + range of cards, save for FX 5900 ULTRA.

Another difference between the two types of cards is their drivers. ATI is notorious for it’s bad drivers. While nvidia’s drivers tend to tbe rock solid.

ATI is aleviating this, and the latets catalyst drivers seem much more stable and provide better openGl support.

Finally, do not use the drivers that come with your card (unless it’s an old card, but you’e not looking to get that), instead always go to the appropriate site ( or and download the latestd rivers for your OS.

I would like to point out, that at least for Half-Life2, the ATI Radeon cards are vastly better in overall performance.

The Radeon 9600 Pro at ~$150 seems to hold its own against a $400 GeforceFX 5900 Ultra. :eek: :confused:

So right now I would have to reccomend a Radeon 9600 Pro. And thats from a Geforce4 Ti4600 owner.

To install a card, first you have to remove the current video drivers. In WindowXP, you do this by

  1. Right Click on MY COMPUTER, click on properties
  2. Click on the Hardware Tab
  3. Hi Opal!
  4. Click on the Device Manager Button
  5. Click on the Display Adapter, and double click on your video card
  6. A properties box should pop-up, click on the drivers tab.
  7. Click on the Uninstall drivers button.

After this , you turn the computer off, pop the old card out, put the new one in, and then install the new drivers.

Nvidia’s commented on this. They say Valve didn’t give them enough time (only two weeks) to develop drivers for the Source engine, whereas ATI did.


Ignore what Kinthalis said about prices. All wrong. A GeForce FX 5600 Ultra will go for closer to $200, not $120. Furthermore, avoid the GeForce FX 5800 like the plague. Its performance isn’t great, and its fan is noisy. If anyone is going to go that high-end (madness, I says), get the GFX 5900, which is faster and far quieter.

As for what I’d recommend… wait a few weeks for Nvidia’s new drivers. In all benchmark tests, there’s pretty close parity 'twixt the Nvidia and ATI cards, which makes me think the HL2 thing is just a fluke. And to pick out a card, check out this huge freakin’ review of a crapload of 'em, courtesy of Tom’s Hardware. They recommend the MSI VTDR128, a GeForce FX 5600 card that goes for around $160-$170.

In all tests, including those with nVidia’s new Detonator 50 drivers, nVidia’s shader performance is a fraction of ATI’s. This is simply due to the poor design of the Geforce FX, which can’t handle full-accuracy shader operations at a decent clip. The Detonator 50s increased shader performance by about 25% (still not enough to equal ATI), but did so by dramatically reducing image quality, down below acceptable levels in many cases.

Good choices are:

Radeon 9600 Pro for $130-150. You’ll want a 128MB card, make sure its a Pro, and avoid “Powercolor EZ PRO” cards, these are actually non-Pros, thus slow.

Radeon 9800SEs can be a good deal. There are, however, two versions available: One with a 128bit memory bus, one with a 256bit memory bus. It’s hard to tell the difference, even for an expert, but the 256bit one is a GREAT value. The 128bit one is dog slow. You can find 9800SEs around $200, but knowing whether they’re 128bit or 256bit is the rub.

Radeon 9800 non-Pro, non-SEs can be had for around $235. These replaced Radeon 9700 Pros, and offer slightly better performance than a 9700 Pro. In short, they’re VERY fast.

Never pay retail!

Kinthalis: Unfortunately, he’s right. You fell prey to deceptive marketing practices. For example:

This is a Geforce FX 5600 NON-Ultra. The lowest price for an Ultra is:

Ahhh, I see. I just browsed the prices superficially. Seems I was mistaken.

Sucks because I really like this website. It seems these companies add the world ‘ultra’ to the description just so the product appears in the wrong category.

I’m gonna see if I can get in touch with the webmaster, perhaps somehting can be done.

I’d suggest Ebay…
For $150 you’re not going to get a card that will run either of those games at a high frame rate with the best details. For $200 you’re not going to either.
Also, you need to make sure you get a directx9 card, so the Geforce TiXXXX cards are out, and so are the lower end radeon.

The Geforce 5200 Ultra won’t be fast enough, the 5600 ultra might be.

It was said that Half Life 2 runs faster on ATI cards because ATI paid about $8 million to get the developers to cater to their cards. Doom 3 might be just the opposite, so keep that in mind. You might be best of getting a Geforce Ti 4200 or 4600 now, with the goal of selling it on Ebay in about 8 months and upgrading then.

Currently, there aren’t many games that use the DX9 specs, and the TI series of cards are pretty solid.

Also, check out they’ve got some good forums there.

mrbuddylee: That’s misleading. HL2 runs better on ATI cards because ATI cards are BETTER. It’s not a matter of optimization, it’s the fact that the pixel shaders on nVidia cards are just plain slow as hell. In low-accuracy (DirectX8) mode, this doesn’t matter too much. In full-accuracy DirectX9 mode, the Geforce FX just gets killed. John Carmack of Id software has already said that Doom3 shows the exact same results, as have all other Pixel Shader tests.

Here is the dope on the Nvidia problem.

I was talking to the graphics programmer for the game im currently working on. I asked him about the Nvidia problem. He specifically said that it was a DX9 Pixal Shader 2.0 problem.

I don’t want to quote false numbers, as I can’t quite exactly remember specific numbers he mentioned, so I will leave the technicals out of this.

Basically Microsoft had to make a desicion when developing DX9. Screw Nvidia over or screw ATI over. Which ever direction they took Pixal Shader 2.0 they would have had to screw one or the other over doing so.

Nvidia got screwed over.

ATI still gets beat in any benchamrks that do not involve Pixal Shader 2.0.

So “HL2 runs better on ATI cards because ATI cards are BETTER.” is 100% false.

Kewk: The Geforce FX simply has pixel shaders that aren’t fast enough to do full-accuracy Pixel Shader operations in realtime. nVidia gambled that such a feature wouldn’t be needed until the NV40 chipset was ready, and they lost. Even in DX8.0/8.1 mode, nVidia’s pixel shaders are STILL slower than ATI’s, just not by such a large margin.

A .plan file from Id Software’s John Carmack explaining the issue. As he mentions, the full-accuracy ARB2 path on the Geforce FX runs half as fast as ARB2 on the Radeon 9700 Pro, which is about the results we’ve been seeing on HL2 and other applications making use of advanced pixel shaders.

A tech-report article summarizing Valve’s presentation at Shader Day. The only way to squeeze adequate performance out of the pixel shaders on a Geforce FX is to run in low-accuracy mode, with expected loss of quality.

Benchmarks using the new nVidia Detonator 50 drivers, which nVidia promised would significantly increase pixel shader performance. 25% gains at PS2.0, but you lose fog, proper lighting, and significant image quality.

Even in non-pixel shader performance, nVidia doesn’t hold a commanding lead. The only nVidia card that offers competitive performance is the FX 5900 Ultra, and it costs just under $400. The R9800 Pro 128MB is almost as fast for $100 less, and the R9800 Pro 256MB is roughly equal. All Radeon cards also offer noticeably better image quality.