Christmas shopping for a new video card.
December 23, 2003 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Computer hardware: As part of her Christmas present, I want to buy my wife a video card for her PC (she's a serious geek). What's a good one? [more]

Despite being a programmer (sometimes), I try not to think too hard about hardware (as long as it does what I need). I haven't a clue about video cards, having never much been into graphics-intensive games or video. My wife, however, is a gamer and has been making noises about needing a new video card for her PC. What's good? Reliable? Easy to install? Will perform well with all the latest games? Any major gotchas to watch out for? Money not (too much of) a worry.

The machine it's intended for has an Asus P4B motherboard with a 1.8GHz P4 processor and 512MB RAM, if that helps.
posted by normy to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
I like my ATI Radeon 9600 Pro, which I just hooked a second monitor (LCD flat panel) up to. The ATI Radeon 9800 is even nicer, at a heftier price.
posted by xyzzy at 4:06 PM on December 23, 2003

Shop around for anything that says nVidia on the box and costs over $250. It'll be good enough for games for the next few years. Likewise, and someone will surely come along and politely disagree with me in just a moment, if the box says "Radeon" or "ATI" on it, put it back on the shelf because it's going to give you nothing but reliability problems.
posted by majick at 4:07 PM on December 23, 2003

The ATI Radeon 9600 Pro is currently the best in price/performance for now. It is normally under $200, and I do not have any ATI reliability problems. Of course, as with any video card download the latest drivers from their website. Unless the problem is hardware related, new drivers almost always fixes issues on the software side.

At best buy, I saw an ATI 9600 XT (better than pro, by a margin) that has a ticket inside good for Half Life 2, when it comes out. If your wife is a gamer this is a big plus. ($199)

With your computer setup, a high middle class video card will last you for at least 1 1/2 years by then you will want to upgrade everything else, and the card will still be usable.
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:36 PM on December 23, 2003

Shopping at the last minute, aren't we?
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:37 PM on December 23, 2003

The ATI Radeon 9800 XT pretty much is "the win" in terms of gaming cards this point, but it's around 450 $. You can drop this price a bit by going to the 128 mb version at around 350 $.

Read the rest of this or skim. Follow the links below to reviews and click on benchmarks for games and you'll get some strong quantitative ideas about performance for cost.

On 128 vs 256 mb:
Currently, jack squat out there uses 256 of video ram. This may change in the future with DX9 and possible moves to larger textures, but atm 128 is plenty. Depending on cost 256 might be a worthwhile hedge move for you, but imo 128 is still very solid if you're looking at saving big $.

On ATI vs Nvidia:
I'd recommend ATI at this point over NVIDIA because ATI has been turning out the better product. If you'd like to look at some quantitative numbers has some good reviews:
-Nvidia new high end cards
-Similar around the ATI cards
These reviews will show you the type of performance your wife could expect.

On places to buy:
NewEgg and ZipZoomFly are pretty good internet retailers for price and service, though at this point you may be looking to buy locally. Local retailers will of course jack the cost up, but at this point you're looking at really high shipping costs so you'll almost come out better going local.
posted by rudyfink at 4:38 PM on December 23, 2003

Remember that the 9600XT's power is not much slower than the 9800XT. The price/performance ratio drops drastically if you buy just under top of the line.
posted by Keyser Soze at 4:46 PM on December 23, 2003

Yeah, true enough. The same thing for the XT versions of ATI's cards vs the normal model. Find your happy point on the cost/value spectrum.

I'd say that the jump between the 9600 and the 9800 is quite large though.
posted by rudyfink at 4:56 PM on December 23, 2003

Wow. Thanks very much, everyone. Another victory for AskMefi. This is just the kind of info I was hoping for, and fast, too! Yeah, I'm leaving it a bit late... oops. Looks like I'm off out to do a little late-night consuming...
posted by normy at 5:44 PM on December 23, 2003

Better late than not at all right?

The Ultimate video card purchasing thread..
posted by yangwar at 7:05 AM on December 24, 2003

Re: Reliability:

Historically (i.e. for the past 3-5 years) nVidia has had the best drivers (the "Detonator" series, if you're curious) , meaning fewer reliability problems. ATi was quite the opposite -- I remember taking several days to install new drivers on one of my old ATi cards. However, with the "Catalyst" drivers, ATi has finally managed to achieve driver parity, and recently nVidia has been having trouble with unstable or poor-performance drivers (the "ForceWare" series). But at this point, both companies are pretty good at releasing fast, stable drivers for new and old products every few months.

Some other notes:

The nVidia GeForce FX series uses very large fans. Some people find the noise level unbearable. If she complains when you hum along to the radio in the car, these cards probably aren't for her.

If either of you enjoy messing around with digital video, I would strongly recommend one of the ATi All-In-Wonder cards. They have the same 3D graphics capabliities as other Radeon cards, but add in a TV Tuner, special digital video and audio chips, and lots of A/V inputs. These cards have almost TiVo-like capabilites, as well as letting you do neat things like watching TV as your desktop background (or as a semi-transparent overlay on top of whatever applications you're using). They are decidedly more expensive than other cards, but buckets of of fun. I own two.
posted by Ptrin at 8:58 AM on December 24, 2003

Thanks, AskMefi!

The spoiled wife, now with ATI 9600 XT graphical goodness.
posted by NsJen at 10:35 AM on December 24, 2003

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