Video Card suggestions?

Hi folks,

I’m looking for a new video card for my system, and I’m behind on the current tech. Let me give you an outline of my setup:

Gigabyte EP45-UD3R mobo
E6400 Conroe processor OC’d to 3.44GHz
2 gig of PC2-6400 RAM (soon adding another 4 gig, I think)
500W Earthwatts power supply
GeForce 7900 GT/GTO
Win7 64-bit
I currently have two monitors hooked up (a 19 in and a 26 in) and it’s taxing my little old video card. I do most of my work on this computer and I play mainly WoW and Torchlight on it right now. I’d like to try out Dragon Age and such as well.

I don’t want to spend more than $100-200 on a video card if I don’t have to (and I kinda doubt that I do). What should I get?

Talking about RAM, should I add a couple of sticks of 6400 to bring my total up to 6gig or should I get faster ram at the cost of fewer gigs? My impression has always been that the speed differences between RAMs aren’t really noticeable. Is that true?

It’s hard to say…at first glance, the 5770 (about $170) seems like a good choice for you with the Eyefinity multi-display technology. But your actual performance would be a little better with something like a GTX 275, which I’ve seen in the past for around $200, or maybe even a GTX 260 216SP if you can’t find a 275 low enough. I don’t know what you plan to play in the future, but the games you mention are fairly lightweight, so for anything in that tier, they would both be fine.

As far as the RAM, there’s no use at all in buying faster RAM in your case. Your chip has an overclocked FSB of 430MHz, so as long as you overclock your 6400 RAM to 860MHz (easily attainable, in fact, if you selected a 1:1 divider in your bios, your mobo probably already did it for you), you’ve hit the limit of your FSB and there’s no utility in having RAM that exceeds that speed because the memory will be bottlenecked anyway.

I just recommended a Radeon 5750 to a friend. It has almost as much raw horsepower as the 4850, which was one of the top cards about a year ago, but it also has directx11 support and consumes less power, which may be a concern because the earthwatt series aren’t the highest end of PSUs although you probably have more than enough headroom for a more power hungry GPU.

What configuration is your ram now? 2 sticks of 1gb each?

Just sticking a faster rated stick of ram (ie pc8500 vs pc6400) won’t help if you’re just going to be running at pc6400 speeds anyway. The better ram can run at faster clock speeds, but you can’t adjust that independently - you will be limited by the slowest ram you have, so you may as well get more of the same. Running ram at a faster clock rate does increase performance, but less so when it’s run asynchronously with the bus speed. It’s actually sort of a tricky question that you probably shouldn’t worry about. In any case, when I looked a few weeks ago, I saw no significant differences in the pricing of pc8500 vs lower rated speeds of ram - it seemed to be about $20/gig across the board. If the price is similar, it won’t hurt to get the better stuff, but you’d be fine getting more of the same. Unless you’re already overclocking your current ram and a similar chip didn’t have the same overclock abilities - I’d need to know your FSB/multipliers to know if that was the case. Edit: looks like the post above me did the math on that last point, so you’d be fine with more of the same, but again, except for high end stuff it seems like everything is $20/gb now.

You’ll get more performance out of a 1GB 4870 + 2 GB of RAM. You can get that for $200. Maybe even 4 GB instead of 2 GB if something is on sale.

Thanks for the suggestions, folks. I don’t think I’ve had an ATI in, well, ever. Are they just better than Nvidia now? If so, how?

Another question: what sort of a difference am I going to see between the 4870 and the 5750?

I feel like it’s a kind of crappy time in the video card cycle to be upgrading, unfortunately. For your price range I’d definitely look at ATI 5700 series… but those came out about three months ago now and they haven’t really started to drop in price. If anything they’ve gone up a few bucks. RAM is also unfortunately expensive right now. You definitely want to get up to a minimum of 4 gigs total there, though; I wouldn’t dream of running with anything less these days.

WoW and Torchlight, as I’m sure you’re aware, will run (and look fairly pretty) on just about anything north of a netbook, so I wouldn’t worry about those at all. I played Dragon Age at max settings at 1680 x 1050 on a 5770 with no problems. One thing that you might unfortunately need to keep in mind is that one of the main reasons to step up from a 5770 (~$160) to a 5850 (~$300) is the performance levels at higher resolutions. The 26 incher (presumably at either 1920 x 1200 or 1920 x 1080?) and the second monitor really makes me keep fluctuating back and forth between the two. I dunno, really. If you’re disciplined enough to actually stay within your budget I think the 5770 would be fine, but that’s always a hard time for me on this sort of thing…

On preview: ATI vs. nVidia, ATI is just ahead right now. Their 5000 series is the new DX11 generation and has been out for several months; nVidia is supposed to drop their new series early this year, I think, and most of the rumors I’ve heard haven’t been terribly promising at the various ‘value’ price points.

The 4870 was the best value card of last generation and maybe ever. It’s still slightly more powerful than the two cards in the 5700 series, but not significantly so. The newer cards also have advantages in power consumption, DX11, Eyefinity (ATI’s new multi monitor solution, up to three per card iirc), and HDMI sound output. At this point I’d be hard pressed to go with anything from the 4000 series, if for no other reason than they’re hitting the point of scarcity and the prices are creeping up since ATI stopped making them the middle of last year or so.

You’re totally right about the RAM prices. I think I saw them at about half their current price a few months back. I actually do pretty well with just 2 gig, but another 4 would be pretty swell.

I may just hold off on the upgrade until something new comes along. Maybe the best thing to do is just go down to one monitor for right now. The pair is really crowding the desk anyway. The higher res monitor (1920x1200) is really pretty, but it’s certainly impacted my performance. I do love having two monitors, but I need more power to really do it well.

I’m not sure I understand the issue with dual monitors. Surely you aren’t trying to run games across both monitors in a span view with different monitor sizes, right? They wouldn’t line up right and it wouldn’t work well at all. Your graphical power needs only apply to whatever monitor you run games on… the computational cost of keeping another desktop window open is trivial. In this case, your 26" monitor at full res requires a lot of pixel pushing, and that’s what’s slowing you down - the additional load of the 19" in the background displaying some windows is barely measurable.

I don’t think you need to hold off on buying anything - buying a 5770 or 5750 card right now would be a gigantic leap for you over your 7900. They’re a fine value (especially the 5750) - but if you aren’t so worried about the future proofing and dx11 features of that card, a GTS240/250/9800GT nvidia card for $100-130 or a GTS 260 for $180 or a Radeon 4870 in the $150 range would be a huge upgrade and a good value. I’d still get a 5750 myself if I was looking to spend $150.

Nvidia’s new offerings may end up dominating the high end, but they aren’t likely to be cheap anytime soon and won’t push the prices on sub-$200 cards too hard. Now is a fine time to buy.

I assume you mean Nvidia’s Fermi? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there’s no way you’ll be able to touch it at $100-$200. Nvidia’s philosophy of scalability is tweaking and rebranding older technology to serve as budget cards, like the neverending G92 chain of 8800GT -> 8800GTS -> 9800GT -> 9800GTX -> 250 GTS. So whatever will inhabit the $100-$200 price point won’t be new architecture, I can pretty much guarantee that, at least based on their history.

Ah, so the real problem is my 26" monitor, and not the combination of thetwo? Interesting. I rather thought that it wasn’t struggling too hard, and that the additional load was bringing it down.

No, I know I’m not going to get *new *hardware, but I thought that probably the prices on the last generation of “old” hardware would probably drop when the new tech is released. Is that a bad assumption?

Well, there are ways to span games across multiple monitors to give you a huge amount of screen space, which is effectively like running it on a much bigger screen in terms of the number of pixels being pushed, but that’s not the case here. When you’re running a game on the big monitor I assume the little one is just displaying whatever browser window or desktop or what have you that happened to be on it - that takes no real resources.

Your graphics card is fairly outdated - it’s not much better than what they put in the PS3. Although in the PS3’s case, it’s rendering games for about 600k pixels - at your resolution you’re rendering 2.3 million. If you happen to have the 256mb version of your video card, that would really be hurting you at those resolutions - but most of those cards came in a 512mb package.

It’s possible that your ram would be slowing everything down if you have a lot of stuff running in the background and you’re exceeding your physical memory limits - in that case you’d see a lot of hard drive activity when the slowdowns occur.

Dragon Age is quite a bit beefier graphically than either of those games, and I would definitely suggest grabbing another 2gb of ram (4 should be adequate, that’s what I use) along with any of the graphics cards I recommended.

We’re actually in a pretty unusual video card market right now. One side totally dominates - and that has happened previously, but it has always been Nvidia. ATI has been relatively less punishing - even though they own the market at pretty much every segment now, they have kept their prices low compared to what Nvidia does when they’re clearly on top. To compete, Nvidia optimized some of their older established hardware and dropped the price on it. I suspect there’s not much room to cut prices further. When Nvidia releases their new line, it will most likely affect the high end video card market, stuff in the $300+ range, at least for a few months.

You can get a ton for $150 right now, it’s a fine time to buy.

Well, that’s not a bad assumption, I’m sure it happens, but it seems like recently, when new cards have come out or are impending, older hardware tends to just disappear and the prices get a small bump. I searched for GTX 275 this morning on account of this thread, and you can barely find that thing anywhere under $250. I remember almost buying it for $190-some before a $20 or so rebate about five months ago.

I will second the comment that it is a strange time in video cards. Usually, the person who buys the card right when it comes out is the sucker, but with the 5850 the early adopters were the winners. ATi RAISED the MSRP from $259 to $299 shortly after it was released, and that’s even before retailer markup.

Anyway, long story short, if your performance is bothering you today, then I don’t think it’s a bad idea to get a card today. If it’s not and you’re just thinking about futureproofing, then there’s certainly no harm in waiting.

I think that most of my problems come from my pushing my little RAMs too hard. I teach online courses, so I’ve always got lots of things running at the same time. (Several FireFox tabs, Word, Outlook, iTunes, etc.) I built the box when I was running XP and not teaching online, so it certainly needs some upgrades.

It doesn’t look like there’s going to be a huge difference for me between the 5750 and 5770. Are there brands that I should look out for? I’ve always had good luck with Gigabyte products, but I’ve never had one of their video cards before. I hear good things about BFG and XFX, but I’ve never bought them either. I don’t mind paying for quality as long as that quality is real and not just an expensive brand name.

The difference in the 5750 and 5770 is that the 5770 has 800 shaders and the 5750 has 720. Cards like this are designed in such a way that if there’s a fault in the manufacturing process and one group of shaders is rendered faulty, they can just deactive it and then sell it as a lower grade model that’s otherwise the same. The 5770 also has higher clocks at stock - 850 mhz core vs 700, and 1200mhz memory vs 1150. It’s a similar situation for all ATI xx70 vs xx50 cards IIRC.

The cards are regarded as good overclockers, so you could probably easily get the 5750 running at 5770 speeds (although by the same token you can get the 5770 running at faster speeds too). It’s not complicated to overclock a video card - much simpler than a CPU.

The performance difference at stock would be quantifiable but perhaps not noticible most of the time, although we’re only talking about a $20-30 price difference so you may want to go ahead and get a 5770 if the cost isn’t a big deal. I would probably give getting up to 4gb ram a higher priority, because it will help with all general computing tasks, games won’t slow down due to page file swapping (well - it can still happen at 4gb, but you have to have a lot of stuff open) and you can always reduce the resolution if the games aren’t getting the performance you want. But if you’ve got some money, getting a 5750 or 70 + 2gb of ram would make things go very smoothly - the rest of your system is fine.

I also recommend a dual-slot cooler type card, where the airflow from the card is ducted and blow out the back of the case, although the 57xx series are low heat cards and it isn’t a big deal. I’ve had good experiences with XFX - I had to get a card replaced under warranty once and they received it, sent me an e-mail that same day that they agreed it was faulty and would replace it, and then the very next day shipped me out a new card that was even a (modest) upgrade over the old one. EVGA is highly regarded too.

Any card with the reference design is exactly the same, they are designed/produced by Nvidia or ATi and the AIB partner pretty much just slaps their sticker on it. But even with non-reference boards, the initial quality is pretty much the same. The most substantial differences will be the warranties and the ease of RMA, also BFG and EVGA have “step-up” programs which let you put an old card’s purchase price towards a new one within 90 days.

Personally, I’ve never let a reputation for bad support hold me back, but FWIW, MSI/Asus/Visiontek/HIS are rumored to be the worst. Sapphire holds a special place in my heart as the maker of my favorite non-reference cards combined with easily the WORST RMA service ever conceived.

I think ATI’s release of the R300 GPU (Radeon 9700pro/9500pro) says otherwise.