It's The GPU

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Somebody asked me about “bang-for-the-buck” comparisons between video cards.

“Bang-for-the-buck” works well when improvement is linear. You’d be happy if I gave you $100, and twice as happy if I gave you $200.

However, most of the time, at some point in time, benefits stop becoming linear, especially if it costs you more. You’d probably not be twice as happy if I offered to give you $20 billion dollars rather than $10 billion, especially if I attached some nasty conditions to the $20 billion and not the $10.

Improvement isn’t linear for video cards, and it degenerates quickly.

If a video card upgrade improves your average FPS in a game from 20fps to 40fps, that is a tremendous improvement. Going from 40-60 is much less so, and I’d question if going from 120-140fps gives you any real improvement at all.

The GeForce3 should be considered in that context. The only immediate instant improvement you’ll apparently get from the processor is running games at full antialiasing at high resolutions. At least in theory, it’s supposed to do much, much better at that, and under those circumstances, it could turn a game from unplayable to pretty good.

However, you then have to ask yourself: why?

All the good stuff, whether it be for now, or in the future, is packed into the GF3 GPU itself. It’s not in the supporting cast; that’s little better than what you get in an Ultra card. Sure, that’s a little better, and will yield a little improvement. Key word: little.

This is much different than was the case with the Ultra. The Ultra does better primarily because the supporting cast (i.e. RAM) is substantially better.

I suspect that’s somewhat overpriced, too, but at least there’s some visible reason why it costs substantially more, and that costly reason is substantially why the card is better.

We don’t have that with the GF3; the improvements are almost entirely due to the GPU. Most of those improvements pretty much boil down to using limited memory bandwidth more efficiently. Those improvements will remain substantially intact once that GPU gets downshifted into cheaper packaging.

Keep the XBox in mind. It uses the GF3 core, and it isn’t going to cost any $700, or probably even $100. Probably won’t be quite as capable, just close.

I would expect to see the same from cheaper version of the GF3, probably less and slower memory, but it still should provide most of the improvements.

P.S. Full DX8 compatibility demands programmability of the GPU, so expect ATI’s answer to the GF3 to offer at least the same; this isn’t some new innovation on NVidia’s part, it’s what MS wants.

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