New Desktop for gaming etc. - Do I go for ATI or wait for Nvidia?
February 27, 2010 3:49 AM   Subscribe

My new computer comes with a pretty weak videocard for gaming. It also has a limited 475 watt power supply. I've not owned a desktop in 7 years but have noticed the nvidia/ati rivalry is stronger than ever. Which card should i choose for under $300?

My new computer, a Dell Studio XPS 9000 is about to arrive on March 12th. It will be mostly for design work, but i've had my pc gaming whistle re-whetted by some games (mostly Diablo 2 and it's secret child - Torchlight).

This system comes with an ATI Radeon 5450. I'm pretty sure that although this will be fine for Torchlight and some of the lighter games i'm going to enjoy, it won't be substantial enough for other games (Starcraft 2, Diablo 3, Dawn of War 2).

Like mentioned, the system only has 475 watts to deal with, i would prefer not to have to upgrade the PSU already. I've heard that some nvidia cards require 500 watts or more due to the 448-bit bandwidth some of them have.

How can i maximize my video performance for at least the next 6 months while i save up for a new PSU, and whats all this i hear about the GF100 anyhow? Is it true that no Nvidia cards are dx11 compliant?
posted by phylum sinter to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: If you want to buy a card now - get an ATI Radeon 5850, pretty much best price/performance value at the moment. I switched my old GeForce 8800GT for the 5850 in November, performance is great, it's quiet, cool and runs fine with my 500W Seasonic PSU together with a Q6600, 2 HDDs, a 2nd lower-end gfx card and wireless lan card, so your PSU will handle it without issues as well.

nVidias current lineup is sad and dated and the new generation of chips won't even be announced until March 26th. Due to all the delays with that chip it is more than doubtful that actual cards will be available at high volume for reasonable prices and the performance is expected to be mediocre at best.

If you get your machine mid March you can wait for 2 weeks for the announcement and decide after more reliable information is available, I highly doubt nVidia will release something worth buying anytime soon though.
posted by starzero at 5:51 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

These days AMD/ATI has the budget market cornered.
posted by tybeet at 7:03 AM on February 27, 2010

Best answer: It is true there are no DX11 Nvidia cards, but that's not so huge a deal as few games are using DX11 yet.

Best video card for ~$290: ATI Radeon HD 5850 - Tom's Hardware, Feb 2010

Best video card for $300: ATI Radeon HD 5850 -, Jan 2010

Anand's review.

Regarding the PSU, I think you may be able to get by on the 475W. Anand's testing showed the 5850 drew 315W under load. With only 1 hard drive and not much else besides the system I think you'd squeak by. You might want to plug some components from your system into this power supply calculator but keep in mind that's only a rough guideline.

And finally, here's a thread on Tom's Hardware forums about whether the 5850 will fit in a Dell Studio desktop. It will but you may have to temporarily remove a hard disk or something to get it in there.
posted by BeerFilter at 8:00 AM on February 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Right now, it is hard to reccomend anything but a 5850. You will be fine running that card on your current power suppy, buy you will be nearing the maximum amperage the 12V rails will produce. If you waited for a Nvidia card, you would likely also have buy a new PSU, which will sink the performace per dollar even more.
posted by Ctrl_Alt_ep at 10:16 AM on February 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the quick replies and good links everybody!

Beerfilter - That link you posted at Tom's hardware has me thinking that i might need a new PSU for the 5850... the guy in question was warned that the stock might not be enough and went on to order a new one 750w beast, but i'm only reading 421w from the power supply calculator you linked to under 100% processor loads, so i'm hoping it'll be fine. Going Crossfire bumps that up to 511 though.

starzero - the only thing that makes me wonder if i should wait and see what Nvidia is offering is the whole CUDA/Physx thing they incorporate into every card now (and are fighting so hard to keep ATI from having any part of). Well, that and i'm half expecting the whole 5000 line to drop in price once the GF100 cards are finally on the shelves.

The next question for someone that has never owned an ATI card, nor any graphics card since 2004 - what are the best brands for the 5850? Which should i avoid at all cost?
posted by phylum sinter at 12:42 PM on February 27, 2010

As long as you buy a card based on the ATI reference design it doesn't make a big difference what brand you pick, you can pretty much look for the offer with the best software addons (most come with a Steam coupon for Dirt 2). I've always been a fan of Sapphire and MSI (for no other reason than "worked as intended") and I avoid Asus nowadays (as I had the fans break on 2 different Asus cards in the past, but that might just have happened with any other brand, too).

When looking at non-reference design cards (usually different cooling system, slightly higher clocked GPU and VRam) it doesn't hurt to check out some tests on the particular models. I've read the Sapphire 5850 Toxic and Powercolor 5850 PCS+ are pretty decent, but in my opinion the 3-5% performance increase is not worth the higher price.

Regarding CUDA/PhysX: yeah, these are nice addons, but there's only a few games that really benefit from it, so it's somewhat neglectable. A nice goody with ATI is EyeFinity for multi-monitor support (though you need display port screens).

A word on the drivers - ATI's drivers are a bit more fiddly than nVidias, but stabilty is ok. Downside: ATI's linux drivers still suck epically.
posted by starzero at 1:20 PM on February 27, 2010 is a reliable place to buy computer parts.
posted by sninctown at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2010

I tend to look at the ratings on NewEgg to help steer my direction on which cards to avoid and which to gravitate towards even if I end up finding the card cheaper somewhere else. Here's a listing of all the 5850s they have in stock sorted by rating. I note the price has been creeping upwards due to demand and lowish yields.

I also look at the overall review summary curve for each individual product. It's that chart on the right when you go to an individual product page. A good product will usually have a "five egg" rating percentage of ~75% or higher with the rest of the egg ratings decreasing in a standard bell-curvish manner. I avoid products that deviate from this like that GIGABYTE GV-R585D5-1GD-B. It may be a fine product, but with only 11 ratings so far and the breakdown being 6 excellent, 3 good, and 2 poor, that's a card I'd avoid for the time being. Maybe over time it will even out and be a fine card. There's always a chance of getting a DoA device from any manufacturer, too. I just look out for what seems to be excessive reports of problems.

Personally I have a HIS 4850 that has had zero problems. Sapphire is good. XFX offers a double lifetime manufacture warranty. I haven't really hard many horror stories related to any one brand lately.
posted by BeerFilter at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2010

Some news on nVidia's GF100: The GeForce GTX 470's performance is somewhere between ATI's Radeon HD 5850 and HD 5870 according to benchmarks from German computer magazine Heise from CeBit. It's slightly faster in DirectX 11 benchmarks with 4x AA but loses performance dramatically on higher AA settings. The GTX 480 is supposed to be somewhere between the HD 5870 and the 5970, just as expected.

Of course these are synthetic benchmarks run on preliminary version, but there won't be a magic 20-30% performance jump with higher Vram clock, a new revision and driver tweaks.

The news article from heise online can be found here, unfortunately it's in German and Google Translator doesn't make a lot of sense of it, but the information will surely pop up on other sites anytime soon.
posted by starzero at 1:40 PM on March 4, 2010

Response by poster: OK so i got the Desktop yesterday, and i'm kind of impressed with the ATI 5450 it comes with - it runs everything i've thrown at it well at medium or high settings and decent resolutions. No driver issues to speak of so far updating to the 10.2 catalyst.

Some games, like Dawn of War 2 and Crisis get pretty choppy (10-25fps) in spots at 1920x1080, so i end up running them at 1024x768 usually.

I think for the time being i'm going to hold out and see if the 5850 drops in price when the GTX 470 is released.
posted by phylum sinter at 9:39 PM on March 10, 2010

Response by poster: I got an inside tip last week about 5850's going up in price yet again... so i caved and have had it in the system for the past 8 hours or so.

Installation was absolutely painless when following the instructions, with the only minor snag coming in the form of looking for the connector from the power supply to the card using the included cords on the card... This was eventually solved by removing them the cords from the card and realizing that the power supply had two plugs bundled in the case that just happened to be the same size as the sockets on the card (noob).

The jump in performance in my games of choice (Dawn of War 2, Metro 2033, Napoleon: Total War, Crysis) is incredible. Everything maxxed out and never dropping below 40 fps at 1920x1080.

The Unigine Heaven Benchmark has been equally improved, from 15fps dips at 1024x768 to 50+ fps at 1920x1080.

3DMark Vantage was a little less astounding - from 9600 to 12698 [see result here].

I'm curious as to how things will perform when connecting this card to two monitors. Logic tells me that my numbers should cut in half, but i'm guessing it won't be as drastic.

Thanks for the great recommendation again everyone - Very satisfied with the card!
posted by phylum sinter at 8:04 PM on March 22, 2010

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