Ok, family and friends who only read this blog for travel updates, please excuse me while I talk a little bit about my newest tech purchase, an XFX 8600GTS Graphics Card.
Update – 8th Nov – You may want to consider the 8800GT as an upgrade instead of the 8600GTS.Â I’m still happy with my choice, but you should at least consider the GT.
A while ago, when Nvidia was just about to release their midrange ‘8 series’ cards I did a very complicated analysis on whether to upgrade my current pc with a new video card in Q4 2007 and buy a new computer in Q4 2008 or wait and buy a new computer in Q2 2008.
I eventually decided that I would wait and buy a new computer. However as time went on I grew to dislike this decision. After overlocking the CPU (stock 2.0Ghz up to 2.4Ghz) it was running great, and I just didn’t think that I would be ready to reture it by May 2008. So I pretty much decided that I wouldn’t do either. That I would just live with what I had for as long as I could and probably not play the high end games coming out this holiday season (Orange Box, Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4 etc).
Then in the last three weeks of July I had to cover for one of my colleagues. It was a tough role and in addition to my own work I was working at about 170%. The great holiday we had in Germany was reward enough, but I got back to find I had been given a reward (a bit like a certificate when you were at school) for my good work during that time. The reward carried with it a payment of Â£150. At first I didn’t know what to do with it, but the idea soon came to me that I could spend it on a video card upgrade, and the investigation began.
There are a number of things to consider when upgrading a video card on an old computer, and if I’d won any of the first 20 ebay auctions I was bidding on, the cards wouldn’t have worked. That’s because I didn’t consider my PSU (Power Supply Unit).
Modern graphics cards are arguably the biggest power single consumers of power in your PC.
At first I was looking at the top end of the DirectX 9 cards such as the Ati X1900XT and Nvidia 7900GTX, however these require quite large PSU’s and my 350 Watt PSU wouldn’t have been able to handle them.
So my question ended up being, “what is the best card I can get for under Â£150 which will run on a 350 Watt PSU”. Yes, I know I could have upgraded my PSU quite cheaply, but I felt that upgrading my PSU was going a bit further down the upgrade path than I wanted to go.
Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot at the top end of the Nvidia 7 series that would run on 350W, probably down at the 7800GT level. So I ended up looking at the afore-mentioned midrange Nvidia 8 series cards (8600GT, 8600GTS and 8800 GTS 320MB). The 8800 GTS was out of my power and financial budget so that got the chop early (though it may have been the best choice if I had a little more power and a little more budget).
All the reviews I read on the web were saying that the 8600GTS was definitely a step up from the GT, but they still had their doubts. The GTS minimum PSU is generally said to be 350W, so it was obvious that this was the best card I was going to find. I ended up picking one up from shop.bt.com for Â£105.75 with free shipping which I was quite pleased with.
I was interested to see the results when I got the card on Friday. My main concern was that the two year old AMD 3200+ processor (overclocked to 2.4Ghz) would be a bottlekneck. It wasn’t.
I spent most of the weekend downloading demos and messing around with settings. Last night I got some good quality play time.
Unreal Tournament 3 demo ran with all features on and textures maxed out with resolution at 1280×1024 (my monitor’s max) between 60FPS (frames per second) and 30FPS (never dropping below). That’s the perfect performance. Ideally higher is better, but 30FPS at the low end is fine.
I then booted up Call of Duty 4 and ran it again with everything maxed out and it ran perfectly (fraps didn’t seem to be able to display the dynamic FPS count).
On Friday Orange Box comes out in the UK and I have it preordered. I’m pretty confident I’ll be able to run it at full performance and after this I’ll almost definitely pick up Crysis. I don’t have any misconceptions about being able to play this on full detail. I won’t be able to. But I’m pretty confident it will still look amazing.
Another caveat. As mentioned previously I’m running these games at 1280×1024. If you have a big LCD running at a higher resolution then you will probably want a more powerful card to get the same performance.
So what am I saying? If you have an oldish AMD CPU (let’s say from 3000+ up) and you’re considering upgrading your video card for the great PC games coming out, overclock it (there are heaps of great guides out there) and buy the 8600GTS. There will be new cards out soon (there always are) but at the end of the day if you want to play games, you’ve got to have the hardware in your PC and this is a great option right now.