Is a New Graphics Card a Worthwhile Upgrade for an Older Computer?

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Card comparison test – Kyle Lunau

I had been in the market for a new graphics card for several months when the PNY Nvidia Geforce 6800 GS AGP popped up for about $200 (CAD) on Tigerdirect, so I threw caution to the wind and grabbed it while it was cheap.

I first had concerns about the PNY brand, but considering they have a 3-year warranty, I figured it couldn’t be too bad. But I started to wonder would my Athlon XP 2500+ and 512 MB of RAM hinder my new graphics card? Would it give me the huge performance gains I was looking for? Or would it just show that my system was in need of other new hardware?

With all these questions in my head, I figured I would do everyone a favour and find out if a new graphics card is worthwhile if you have an older machine as I do.

So the day the card arrived, I had to hold back my urge to put it in the computer and first benchmarked my old card (an Asus V9570 TD a.k.a. Geforce FX 5700 256 MB). Then the new card was inserted and benched. And finally, the max playable settings on several good and/or graphically demanding games and demos before and after the new card was installed. So on to the interesting part!

The system used for this test was as follows:

  • Asus A7N8X motherboard
  • AMD Athlon XP 2500+ at stock clocks and voltages
  • 512 MB of Kingston Value RAM, DDR 400 3-3-3-8 operating @ DDR 333
  • Maxtor 40GB 7200 rpm drive
  • Western Digital 160GB 7200 rpm drive
  • Video Cards: Asus Nvidia FX 5700 256 MB vs PNY Nvidia 6800 GS AGP

Test Settings:

  • 3Dmark 2001 SE was run on highest settings and 1280 x 1024 resolution
  • 3Dmark 2003 was run with 1024 x 768 x 32 resolution and optimal settings (the non pro versions settings are not changeable)
  • 3Dmark 2005 was run with the same settings as 3Dmark 2003 for the same reason
  • Aquamark 3 was run with 1024 x 768 x 32 on very high detail with no AA and 4x Aniso
  • Pcmark was run with the system tests only

Test Results

Benchmark

Asus Nvidia FX 5700 256 MB

PNY Nvidia 6800 GS AGP

3Dmark 2001 SE

4,819

12,619

3Dmark 2003

2,760

9,256

3Dmark 2005

614

4,250

Aquamark 3

23,440

45,713

PCMark 04

2,927

3,060

Battlefield 2 Max Playable Settings

Resolution: 1280×960
Terrain: Medium
Effects: Medium
Geometry: Low
Texture: Medium
Lighting: Low
Dynamic Shadows: Low
Dynamic Light: Low
AA: Off
Texture Filtering: Low
View Distance: 100%

Resolution: 1280×960
Terrain: High
Effects: High
Geometry: Medium
Texture: High
Lighting: Medium
Dynamic Shadows: High
Dynamic Light: High
AA: Off
Texture Filtering: High
View Distance: 100%

GTA: San Andreas Max Playable Settings

Resolution: 1280x1024x32
Quality: Low
Anti aliasing: off
Draw Distance: Maximum

Resolution: 1280x1024x32
Quality: Very High
Anti aliasing: Level 3
Draw Distance: Maximum

Star Wars Empire at War Demo Max Playable Settings

Resolution: 1280×1024
All Details: Medium/low
AA: Off
Soft Shadows: Off
Bloom: Off
Heat Distortion: Off

Resolution: 1280×1024
All Details: Max
AA: Max
Soft Shadows: On
Bloom: On
Heat Distortion: On

Tribes: Vengeance Max Playable Settings

Resolution: 1280×1024
Detail Level: Medium
Bump Map Detail: Low/off
Texture detail: Medium
Terrain Macro Texture: On
Fluid surface detail: Med.
Fogging Distance: Ultra-Hi
Dynamic Shadows: Med.
Glow Detail: Medium
Terrain Deco Layers: Off
World Detail: Medium
V 2.0 pixel shaders: Off

Resolution: 1280×1024
Detail Level: Ultra-High
Bump Map Detail: Ultra-hi
Texture detail: Ultra-high
Terrain Marco Texture: On
Fluid Surface detail: Ultra-h
Fogging Distance: Ultra-Hi
Dynamic Shadows: Ultra-hi
Glow Detail: Ultra-High
Terrain Deco Layers: On
World Detail: Ultra-High
V 2.0 pixel shaders: On

Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth 2 Demo Max Playable Settings

Resolution: 1280×960
Model Detail: Low
Animation Detail: Very Low
VFX Detail: Very Low
Shadows: Off
Terrain Detail: Low
Water Detail: Low
Texture Quality: Low
Shader Detail: Low
Decal Detail: Off

Resolution: 1280×960
Model Detail: High
Animation Detail: High
VFX Detail: High
Shadows: High
Terrain Detail: High
Water Detail: High
Texture Quality: High
Shader Detail: High
Decal Detail: High

Empire Earth 2 Max Playable Settings

Resolution: 1280x1024x32
Model detail: Low
Animation detail: Low
Texture detail: Low
Effects detail: Low
Weather detail: Low
Water detail: Low
Terrain detail: Low
Shadow detail: Off
Enable PIP: On
Battlefield Ambients: On
Show Blood: On

Resolution: 1280x1024x32
Model detail: High
Animation detail: High
Texture detail: High
Effects detail: Extreme
Weather detail: Medium
Water detail: High
Terrain detail: High
Shadow Detail: High
Enable PIP: On
Battlefield Ambients: On
Show Blood: On

Half Life 2 Demo Max Playable Settings

Model Detail: Medium
Texture detail: Medium
Shader Detail: High
Water Detail: reflect world
Shadow Detail: High
Colour Correction: Disabled
AA: None
Filtering: Trilinear
HDR: Bloom

Model Detail: High
Texture detail: High
Shader Detail: High
Water Detail: reflect all
Shadow Detail: High
Colour Correction: enabled
AA: 2x
Filtering: Anisotropic 16x
HDR: Full

Need For Speed Underground 2

Resolution: 1280×960
Level of Detail: Med/Low
AA: Low
Filtering: Max

Resolution: 1280×960
Level of Detail: Max
AA: Max
Filtering: Max

WOW! Not only did the new card allow for maximum settings in all but the most graphically demanding games but it also had another strange but very welcome effect – a significant decrease in load times. When playing EE2 on my old card, I found it would take around 15-20 seconds to load up a map; with the new card installed, this has been decreased to about 3 seconds.

All I can say is that if you have an older system as I do, then a card like this is a VERY good way to improve your gaming and system life at a reasonable cost instead of spending a thousand bucks on a new system.

I give this PNY card a 10/10

It runs stable, isn’t too loud and is incredibly fast. Although a few games would have been appreciated, but for the price nothing compares. I would recommend this card to any gamer who doesn’t have the money to upgrade to PCI-E. This is one awesome video card!

Update: After downloading and running 3Dmark 06, my computer scored 1,943, only 46 marks behind someone with a 2.2 GHZ Athlon 64 and 1.5 GB of RAM, same story with a 2.8 GHZ Pentium 4 with 1 GB of RAM (same video card). Sweet! I also ran Pcmark 05 and got 2,927 marks NTB!

Kyle Lunau

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Discussion
  1. With console emulation, (Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn and newer) with some games, you will require a high processor core clock speed, thus the highest multiplier possible and even if your processor has an excellent OC, expect the FPS to still possibly drop to the 20s or lower!! It seems that CPU is more important than video card, as long as the video card at least has pixel shader 1x.
    I loved the article.

    I haven't found a game that gives my problems yet with a xp2500 barton and a 9800pro.

    Then again I never play at anything over 1024x768. I tinkered with higher res before but didn't like it any better.


    Wow! I play Oblivion at 1360 by 768 and I do not have any lag. I dont know exactly how many FPS im getting but the game still looks amazing. Im using an 1800tb oc'd @ 2.3 with 1.256 GB ram and a 9800 pro. Im happy with it, but I know my rig is old, trusty, true but old. Im going to get a new rig after Conroe comes out, and pass my trusty rig on to my daughters. The sad part is that they wont appreciate what this computer will do, as you need minimum processing power to DL Invader Zim and surf myscene.com or barbie.com.
    i honestly had a p4 northwood 2ghz oc'd to 2.4ghz, with a ATI9200 pro 128mb and it had no trouble playing HL2 what so ever...

    strangely enough my 7800GTX, AMD64 3200 and 2G of ram seems tomslightly struggle with BF2 ohh and HDs are all SATA on RAID0
    Well I'm glad you guys liked the article. I do think that max playable settings is the max settings you can actually play the game. I will say that in the HL2 demo

    the framerates would drop below 15, but went right back up again and in BF2 it is far more playable with textures on low (with no obvious decrease in visual quality). Its pretty amazing how much attention this article is getting, thanks guys!
    I define playable as above 20fps, at the lowest graphical settings (not 600x400, since that's emulated on XP).

    I can play HL2, granted not with all the pretty effects, on my rig at work: XP1900+, 1gig RAM, NVidia GeForce FX 5700LE. It loads faster and gives more eye candy at home on my normal rig, but it's hardly unplayable at work.
    Hmmm, that suprises me. The reason I upgraded to socket 939 from socket A in the first place was because of poor performance in HL2. I had a TBred B 2100+ running at 2.32 GHz (172x13.5), 768MB of PC2700, and a GeForce 6800. HL2 was hardly playable at 1280x960, even at medium quality settings. Going to large outdoor areas or when there was a scripted sequence with lots of enemies, framerates would drop into the 20s. Even using 1024x768 didn't seem to help much, indicating it was probably a memory bandwidth problem and not a graphics processing problem.

    I also remember struggling to get the performance I wanted in RTCW:ET. Even this DX8 game that was 3 years old was limited by my socket A system. I wanted a constant 76 FPS (a "magic" number for the Q3 engine), but couldn't get this in outdoor areas, regardless of what resolutions or quality settings I used. Again, this is indicative of a memory bandwidth problem.

    Once I upgraded to the socket 939 system, the performance increase was phenomenal even though I was using the same GeForce 6800 video card. My experiences lead me to firmly believe that Socket A systems (or any older architecture with limited memory bandwidth) are on the verge of inadequacy for today's most demanding 3D games. There are some exceptions though. Those using socket A systems with FSB at 200 MHz or above (only the last few CPUs ran this at stock, if I remember correctly) have a much better chance of getting adequate performance with newer games.
    On a side note I think it stinks to high heaven that TigerDirect is given a free plug on the front page. AnandTech even refused their money (!) on their forums, didn't let them advertise there because so many of their members got hosed by Tiger Direct.


    So it would of been fine if he had been like yeah, I saw it at ZZF and decided to pick it up. However since he ordered from TD you are going to have a problem with it?

    On a non side note its a nice article, it covers something very obvious but its still a nice article.
    On a side note I think it stinks to high heaven that TigerDirect is given a free plug on the front page. AnandTech even refused their money (!) on their forums, didn't let them advertise there because so many of their members got hosed by Tiger Direct.

    Every hot deals forum out there is inundated with warnings against TigerDirect deals, especially with rebates!

    Stay away from TigerDirect or you'll find out the hard way why you should have, like the folks who filed a large number of complaints with the Better Business Bureau did:

    http://www.bbbsoutheastflorida.org/nis/newsearch2.asp?ID=1&strBCode=06330000&ComID=0633000027000500

    (Their customer service is in Florida so BBB files on them are there.)

    "...Specifically our files show a pattern of complaints alleging dissatisfaction with product quality, failure to deliver promised goods, service issues, misrepresentation in advertising and marketing practices and the failure to address and overcome the basic cause of complaints brought to their attention by the Better Business Bureau.

    Complaints allege customers are led to believe they are buying new, Brand Name computer systems, parts and other products with either a 90-day, or 1 year warranty. Complainants allege they are receiving generic, defective and refurbished items and only a 30-day warranty with the option to purchase the 1-year warranty. Customers who purchase the warranty also experience difficulty in getting return phone calls to get the problems fixed or replaced. Customer are told they may return the items for replacement, but they will need to pay again for the replacement and will credited back when the item is returned and received by the company.

    Some of the complaints have issues with the advertised rebate, both the catalog and web site have numerous offers for items with a mail-in rebate. Upon receiving the products the rebate application is not included in the package. Customers are told the rebate application is on the website and customers are required to comply with the program and submit paperwork that they never received. Many are denied because the product they have purchased does not have the advertised rebate, the rebate has expired, and some rebates are only good if the item is purchased with a computer. Many customers feel they have been victims of bait and switch, and are unable to return the products because the package has been open..."


    I'm not suprised by his results at all.my two teenage sons get "stuck" with my hand me downs.my oldest sons rig which is a Barton@2.2GHz, 2*512 EB 3200,and a X800pro plays just about every game fine.I havn't heard him complain about needing more power anyway.My youngest sons rig is a newcastle@2.4GHz,2*256 BH-5,and a 9800pro plays most games OK but that rig could use some more RAM for sure.
    I loved the article.

    I haven't found a game that gives my problems yet with a xp2500 barton and a 9800pro.

    Then again I never play at anything over 1024x768. I tinkered with higher res before but didn't like it any better.
    I'm not surprised by these results at all, almost all games since DX8 and up are almost 100% GPU bound. My "new" rig, Athlon XP 2700+, 1 Gig ram and Geforce 6600gt runs Quake 4 on high and Oblivion on medium-ish settings and max view range and distant lands on with no problems. Playable to me means 30+ FPS constant.

    BUT, what I wanted to add to this is:

    Calling an Athlon 2500+ with 512 MB ram an old outdated system or such statements is pretty blind. The average PC on the market right now sits around a Celeron 2.2 with 256 MB ram. Just because we are enthusiasts and some of you lucky ******** can afford to upgrade your PC for $1000 every month don't make all other systems outdated. It's not high end or top of the line, no. But it's by no means an outdated system.

    Upgrade your 2500+ with 1GB ram and the fastest agp vid card on the market and your rig will still run all games out.
    WTF does "playable" mean?!?

    Ok you can see my rig in sig... I can NOT play HL2 at the settings he has listed there at "playable". Sure I'll get 60+ inside, but if I go outside i'll go to the 20s. This is a 6800nu @ 380/790 fully unlocked... gig of ram and 3.0E with a mild OC. NOT playable. I'd like to see him take that rig on DoD:S... that makes my system weep with the settings he has listed there for HL2.

    I mean, I do agree that too many people suggest complete platform changes when all sometimes is needed is a new graphics card... I'd like to see a comparison of an AMD system with 2 comparable Mobos (one 939 and one 754), both a gig of RAM, one have an AGP 6800gs and the other a PCI-E 6800gs, and see how it goes.

    I think if someone has been blasting away for the last few years on a 754 setup with a 9600xt and 512 of ram, you're giving foul advice if you say go 939 and dualcore... I mean come on? Going to 2x1gb of ram and a 6800 series and up card will do great for a nice long while, especially when you look at how they've been getting along right now!!!

    (PS my rig is all default for now; but when i was gaming more, i had it juiced)
    when i had my 2.4C over 3ghz and a 9700PRO - i overclocked it like mad and had a nice increase, the i got my hands on an 9800XT and had even more performance gain

    from CPU review i think a 2.4ghz + and a 9800+ would still play most games, and new games "decent" if your not an eye candy freak.
    If I knew then, what I know now, I could've save a ton of money!

    I know quite a few guys (friends) who have done this, and they they play all the current game too.

    Without any problems.
    yeap im not surprised at this also... My current card is a 5500 and i just bought a 7800gs agp hoping that i can play all of the new games ( fear, Oblivion)