Best price/performance modern video card?
August 22, 2007 8:40 PM   Subscribe

Neeerrrrrrrrdfilter: I want to play Bioshock. Help me find the most economical way to upgrade my video hardware so that it will run the game satisfactorily.

My desktop machine is a not-over-the-hill-but-not-brand-new Pentium D (last gasp of the Pentium IV architecture if I recall correctly) running at 3.2GHz. It came with an nVidia GeForce 6800 (AGP), which I use to play Source-engine games at 1920x1200 and about 30fps with HDR disabled.

My understanding is that Bioshock -- and other new games, for that matter -- will probably not run especially well on a GeForce 6800. What is the best modern ATI or nVidia card I can buy from a price / performance standpoint? I don't want to drop $500 on a bleeding-edge video card, but I do want to play Bioshock at or near full settings, and also be able to play Day of Defeat: Source at much better framerates WITH HDR enabled.

posted by killdevil to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This link is a good place to get started in terms of upgrading video cards for cheap, though you'll need to provide more info about what resolution you want to play these new games at before we can reasonably suggest video cards.
posted by Phire at 8:44 PM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: I want to play new games at 1920x1200 resolution, decent-to-good FPS, and at or near full detail settings (antialiasing, HDR, etc). In essence, I want play quality that comes pretty close to what I could get using top-of-the-line video hardware, without paying the premium associated with the top-of-the-line stuff.
posted by killdevil at 8:59 PM on August 22, 2007

It's not happening. Double-not happening with a VGA board.
posted by tumult at 9:12 PM on August 22, 2007

You're looking at at least $300 for a 320 MB 8800 GTS, which should give you about 40-50 FPS with DX10 effects turned off (or if you're running it on Windows XP).

Basically, you're trying to run at top-of-the-line level, without paying too much. Which is pretty hard to do. To say the least.

If you're looking more to save money (say, no more than 300$), you could consider running it at 1689 x 1050 or a lower res; it'll give you a smoother framerate, too.

Answered via computer savvy s.o.
posted by Phire at 9:12 PM on August 22, 2007

(you will have to lower the texture quality quite a bit with a 320mb card)
posted by tumult at 9:13 PM on August 22, 2007

Agreed, tumult, but at the specified price range the OP gave, there aren't exactly a lot of other options open.
posted by Phire at 9:19 PM on August 22, 2007

Since your motherboard has an AGP connector (and not PCI-e) you are rather limited in your options. You could go for a 7900GS or a 7950GT. Even if you do upgrade to one of these newer graphics cards, your RAM and CPU will bottleneck you a lot.
posted by mand0 at 9:19 PM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: Whoops, sorry -- actually this machine DOES have a PCI-e bus. Serves me right for never having broken the damn thing open to look...
posted by killdevil at 9:23 PM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, to clarify -- I have a Pentium D 3.2 GHz running Windows XP, 2 gigs of RAM, and a PCI-e GeForce 6800 (OEM from Dell). Not AGP.

So I can run newer cards... hopefully that expands my options somewhat.
posted by killdevil at 9:26 PM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: Also, I could pay up to around $300 if I had to, though I'd hope to need to shell out less, FWIW.
posted by killdevil at 9:26 PM on August 22, 2007

You could just buy an XBox 360.
posted by smackfu at 9:28 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you really want the latest DX10 graphics, you'll need a 8000 series NVidia board. The 8800 is the top end.

The optimal value is the 7950GT board, which is very powerful, but not a DX10 card. You can probably get a good 750GT for under $250, but a 8800 will cost over $300.

Some of the 8000 series are less powerful than the high end 700 series, but do have DX10 capability. So make sure you compare the performance. Take a look at the Tom's hardware 2007 video card page to see real comparisons.

You have plenty of RAM, but the CPU is not great. Most gamers are going Core 2 Duo. But for you that would require a new mother board.

I don't know ATI well, so my suggestions are based on my NVidia experience.

For prices, this is the latest Sharky's guide to cards for your review.

My suggestion: Chose an amount of $ you want to spend, then buy as much video card as you can up that number.
posted by Argyle at 10:25 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Absolutely do not buy anything less than 320MB 8800 GTS (as Phire suggests), unless it's the full 640MB model.

One 8800 (as I posted in the Bioshock thread) outperforms two 7x00 series in SLI!

Do not go for the 8600 (hinted at by Argyle) -- they are underpowered and poor value for money.

Do not go ATI would be my recommendation -- there are known issues with Bioshock and ATI, apparently (which means known issues with the Unreal 3 engine, which means more headaches as games start coming out using that engine).

That said, my 6600 GTS runs Bioshock pretty well with everything but AA cranked, at 1024x768 with a slower CPU, so you might just be OK with your 6800 (depending on the level of performance you're willing to accept) if your machine is well put-together.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:20 PM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

(Link to an example benchmark as backup on the single 8800 > SLI 7x00's claim -- check out some of the other reviews at Anandtech if you like -- I think it's one of the best hardware sites out there, and I always use it for primary research when I buy parts.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:24 PM on August 22, 2007

When you do get this up and running, be aware that the PC version of Bioshock limits you to two installation activations. See here.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:18 AM on August 23, 2007

I'm giving up and buying an Xbox 360. Sitting next to my PC and plugged into my monitor, it's like an upgrade in a box! Only cheaper...
posted by Orange Goblin at 1:10 AM on August 23, 2007

PercussivePaul, it limits you to two active installations, so it only factors in if you have more than two PCs running it concurrently. You can re-install as many times as you like.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:47 AM on August 23, 2007

Check out the Systems Requirement Lab and it'll check your computer's specs through your browser. I checked BioShock and it gave me some pretty specific reasons why I can't run it (though I might try it anyway.) My video card is pretty old--5 plus years--though I'm planning on a MacBook Pro which should run BioShock okay.
posted by zardoz at 3:27 AM on August 23, 2007

That was my solution after my disappointment with performance even after upgrading for Battlefield 2. I'm a much more satisfied gamer now.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 6:23 AM on August 23, 2007

will probably not run especially well on a GeForce 6800

Sure it will. Granted, it can get choppy at "high" but its doable. Worked fine for me last night with the demo.

Still, its a weak card considering the prices of stuff today. The current bang for the buck card is the 7900GS which you should be able to get for 150 or so. The ATI equivalant (and has better benchmarks) is the x1950pro.

It doesnt do DX10 but that wont make a difference for a couple of years.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:40 AM on August 23, 2007

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