I need a new video card but the ones they sell nowadays are all too expensive.
March 15, 2010 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I don't need 3D, vertex shaders, or built-in OpenGL. I won't be "gaming". I don't need a graphics card that needs its own special fan. My computer is based on the IBM x86 PC; it has white PCI slots and possibly a yellowish AGP slot.

I went into a Micro Center today and felt a little bad for not even knowing what a "PCI-Express" is. I remember when a video card cost about $20 and even let you use a 1024x768 monitor. Now all the monitors are 16x9 widescreens and I need a new video card. I see at least ten different kinds of "ATI Radeon" all made by different manufacturers I've never heard of (?!) and twelve different "nVidia" cards, and I am scared and confused and don't know who to trust.

If my screen resolution is now 1920x1080, do I really have to spend ~$80 on a video card? Do they even make video cards that go up to 1920x1080x16-bit that plug into my PCI slots? Why did they stop using the AGP slot? Can someone point me to a good video-card primer for someone who's been using 800x600 for the past eight years?
posted by shipbreaker to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can narrow results on newegg by interface and then look at prices. For example, here's a $35 card which is AGP and will get the resolution you're after.
posted by sanko at 7:22 PM on March 15, 2010

Do you want a reference for learning about PCI express technology and high end graphics card differences or do you want a recommendation for a AGP video card? If you just want to replace an old video card to make your computer go, buy something cheap with AGP off newegg. This will probably work fine. XFX, PNY and BFG have been around for a while, along with Asus and EVGA.
posted by demiurge at 7:30 PM on March 15, 2010

If you're a bit savvy (as it sounds like you are with tech), you can reference this hierarchy chart of video cards and draw the appropriate card for your needs. If all you want is a graphics card capable of HD video at 1080p (your screen resolution) and some light gaming, the tiers around the integrated GeForce 9400 series (which, incidentally, is the base of the Ion platform for netbooks/nettops) should be okay. I defer to other MeFis' opinion, though (demiurge sounds right), but Ion and above is the lower standard for me.

They do still make PCI slot cards, I believe. AGP cards were also made recently but in extremely small quantities, if at all these days (this year). PCI-E became favored over AGP for many reasons that are far out of my depth, but the main one I remember was that the PCI-E bus could pump out more power and bandwidth (I just called it "juice") versus the dated AGP and PCI standards. See this short blurb from a six-year-old issue of Maximum PC for a bit more.

Truthfully speaking, the AGP equivalent of any PCI-Express card you'll get will likely be considerably more expensive. Systems are considerably more powerful these days. If you ran 800x600 for the past eight years, perhaps it's time for a new box! Or even a nettop, complete or barebones, if you're going to do more of the same.

(I know how you feel. I remember when I thought my GeForce 2-equipped computer was the coolest thing on the block. Nota bene: ATI was acquired by AMD a few years ago. Crazy, I know.)
posted by zer0render at 8:05 PM on March 15, 2010

Just about any card with an ATI or nVidia chipset will run a 1920x1080 screen, regardless of what kind of slot it plugs into. You should be good to go with the cheapest used AGP 8x card you can find on eBay.
posted by flabdablet at 8:14 PM on March 15, 2010

Why did they stop using the AGP slot?

Because it was too slow. The PCI bus has a bandwidth of 133 MB/s. AGP has a bandwidth of 2133 MB/s at its fastest 8x speed. PCI Express (v2) has a bandwidth of 8 GB/s in the 16x form which is what video cards use. Computer interfaces have to evolve to support the newer technologies. Just in case it's not clear, PCI and PCI Express are completely different things and are in no way compatible. If your motherboard has an AGP slot you should get an AGP video card not a PCI video card (which would be absolutely stone aged at this point), or get a new motherboard with an integrated video chipset.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:31 PM on March 15, 2010

You do need some of that stuff if you want Vista and Windows 7 (and possibly some Linux variants) to be fast 'n pretty.

Check online sellers for a better selection of compatible cards.
posted by gjc at 8:41 PM on March 15, 2010

You can still get PCI and AGP video cards on newegg, that should work with your old motherboard.

For example, here are all of newegg's PCI video cards. This one costs $34.99 and has a DVI port for flat screen monitors, and has lots of good reviews. There's also a 128mb version for another $5.

Here are their AGP cards, This one is $32.99.

I would go with regular PCI over AGP, since if you ever get a new motherboard, you're much, much more likely to get one with a legacy PCI slot along side PCI-e slots then you are to find an AGP slot. In fact it looks like most of the motherboards on newegg today still have PCI slots.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 AM on March 16, 2010

Newegg has some PC-e cards as low as $18, btw. So the "$20 video card still exists"

The thing is Pretty much everyone who "knows about" computers buys online. And keeping stuff in a store like Best Buy is expensive, so the stuff in those stores is all high-end and usually way over priced.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 AM on March 16, 2010

I would go with regular PCI over AGP, since if you ever get a new motherboard, you're much, much more likely to get one with a legacy PCI slot

This makes no sense. Even the crappiest integrated video on a new motherboard is going to absolutely trounce anything you'd find in PCI flavor, so there would be no reason at all to want to hold on to a $35 PCI clunker if you got a new motherboard. The card you linked to is a DirectX 7 level card with a 143MHz core clock. Intel's GMA X3500 (found on G35 chipsets) is a DirectX 10 level card at 667 MHz with hardware h264 decode support and it's not even the top end of Intel integrated chipsets. Even the old decrepit Intel GMA 950 (fresh from 2005!) is still at least capable of DirectX 9 level features at 400 MHz.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:49 AM on March 16, 2010

Response by poster: OK, thanks...

but seriously, folks : BFG Technologies? eVGA? Sparkle? ZOTAC? Jaton? PNY? HIS? Biostar? XFX? "ASUS" is a brand that I have heard of, but that's just me getting lucky. Have I really been asleep for that long?

I guess I went in looking for an "ATI Radeon" or an "nVidia GeForce" card, and was alarmed to find a dozen manufacturers that I've never even heard of.
posted by shipbreaker at 5:05 PM on March 16, 2010

If your present (integrated, I suspect) video hardware won't drive 1920x1080, you can be pretty sure that any ATI or nVidia-based AGP card will work better than what you have, whether you've heard of the card assembler or not. For this application, buying strictly on price is the right thing to do. Second-hand AGP will get you more video grunt for your $20 than new PCI.
posted by flabdablet at 5:22 PM on March 16, 2010

All of those video card manufacturers do is just buy chips from ATI and Nvidia. Most of the time, they just use the reference card design from the chip manufacturers and stick it in a shiny box. They're pretty much interchangeable. Just don't pay any attention to board manufacturer and you'll be fine.
posted by zsazsa at 10:12 AM on March 26, 2010

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