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A Tale of Two Vidies (yes, groan)

PC Hardware | Monday, March 27th, 2006 | 11 years, 2 months ago

So my girlfriend bought a new video card to replace her failing 9800pro (which wasn’t actually failing, still has problems, don’t even ask). She got an Asus 6600LE which, to some extent, puts my Sapphire Atlantis 9800pro to shame. Being of the male persuasion this predicament came as swift kick to my 64-bit gonads so I shortly thereafter ordered myself an Asus 6600GT.

I was hoping for a slightly better card but my options were limited. I’ve got a Socket 754 motherboard which not only means I’m stuck with AGP for now, but if I want to upgrade to the new stuff I’ll have to buy a Socket 939 motherboard with PCI-Express, a 939 pin Athlon 64, plus a new video card all in one go. That’s a hefty investment, especially since I’m drooling over the uber sexy 7900GTX, so I thought I’d get a little something to tide me over. I was hoping to nab a 6800GT but those are out of print for AGP, as is most everything. I read about the 7800GS for AGP which is a hefty $330 CAD, but I was advised against it by my favourite local computer store, PC Village Canada, who warned that it was a pretty good card but didn’t give bang for the buck. I had my sights set on the BFG brand 6600GT since theirs are overclocked and have a lifetime warranty, but despite the fact that the store advertised a $50 mail-in rebate for the card, it too has apparently been discontinued all of a sudden. So the Asus 6600GT it was. It ran me $207 with tax.

I like the look of the card, as it’s a one-slot profile which is a lovely change from my previous card’s 2-slot profile which was, ‘ow you say, coocoo for ze cocoapuffs. The low profile alone will undoubtedly allow for nicer airflow in my already crowded case. The card has only 128MB of DDR3 which I wasn’t crazy about, but I figure it’ll last me at least another year or so or until I can afford a proper upgrade. The package came with a bunch of CDs, none of which I cared about, though it came with Joint Operations (which Otto might say is “flagrant false advertising”), a DVI to VGA coupler, a short SVHS to RCA video out, and a poster (!?!?) with quick install instructions.

I benchmarked my old 9800pro with 3DMark 2006 which scored 256 on the first 2 tests and gave me a lovely slide show.

I uninstalled all ATI drivers and software and booted into safe mode. I ran Driver Cleaner Pro to gut out any ATI remnants and I shut ‘er down. I opened up my old girl, ripped out the 9800, plugged in the 6600 with ease and after one false start (turned the on PC, beep, no video. Turned off and on again, eureka.) my monitor was singing the CMOS calypso.

I booted into Windows… well, almost. I got stopped just before the desktop, prompted with a lovely message serenading me to the tune of “Your hardware has changed significantly since you activated Windows. I suspect you of the heinous crime of trying to fool Microsoft so you have 3 days to verify your honesty by reactivating, you (probable) scumbag!”

I selected the option to activate over the internet, but it prompted me with a web proxy config screen. Pretty roundabout way to say it couldn’t connect to the internet. I hit cancel and clicked the activation bubble in the icon tray after my desktop displayed. Sure enough, my firewall prompted me to allow access to the app. I accepted and the bits and bytes went on a wild and wacky ride to Washington.

“This CD key has been installed on too many computers. Please enter another CD key or call this number toll free to be grilled under a 1000 watt spotlight.” This is a damned legal copy of XP by the way. Microsoft Genuine Advantage indeed.

So I called the number and was greeted with a chipper voice recognition fembot. With her feminine wiles she coaxed from me the 48-digit verification key displayed in my activation window. I had to speak slowly and in monotone and it took a good 3 minutes to relay the whole thing. I swear she got more and more hot for me with each relayed sextet.

And my reward for entertaining this cybernetic chatty Cathy? “The key you have provided is invalid. Now connecting you to an agent.”

So I’m connected to an Indian woman on quaaludes who asks me to repeat the first 6 numbers of the huge code. She asks whether I’ve installed Windows on more than one PC (I figure she probably knows the answer better than I do) and I say I might have put it on a laptop but I can’t remember. She dreamily and throatily dictated a new 48-digit verification code which I inputted, I clicked Finish, and voila!

I installed the drivers and rebooted and everything was hunky dory! Well, mostly.

First order of business was to benchmark this baby! So I loaded up 3DMark and was happy to see that all the greyed-out tests had now been enabled. I flagged the first 2 to make for an even test and put ‘er in gear. The first few seconds looked very promising, but when all was said and done the new card scored a paltry 250 – a full 6 points LOWER than my old card!! Yikes!!!

But benchmarks aren’t everything so I booted up some games to get the real scoop.

Guild Wars undoubtedly ran faster. I went into a heavily populated town with a big smokey bonfire in the middle and enjoyed about double the frame rate I used to. I whipped the view around and was confident I was getting some good GPU results.

Half Life 2 was surprisingly choppy, but I wasn’t too concerned since that game is optimized for ATI. I tried the free tech demo The Lost Coast which makes heavy use of pixel shader model 3.0 and that ran brilliantly! HDR (High Dynamic Range – simulates pupil dilation reaction to light changes) is really something else, and the way Valve accentuated it with bloom for overbright colours is really striking! Strangely, when I looked right down at the ground the framerate plummeted – like less than 1 frame per second – but when I looked forward and saw that same ground texture tiled 300 times it ran smooth as silk (at 1024×768). Very odd.

Call of Duty 2 was a bit disappointing, but the game is in fact a notorious PC gobbler so I wasn’t terribly dismayed. Having recently finished the game in DX7 mode (which looks like a beautiful CoD expansion pack and runs solid at 60 frames) I wasn’t terribly inclined to give it another go.

I then decided to go for the gusto and installed F.E.A.R., a certified GPU slayer which ran like ass crack on my 9800. I was VERY impressed at the improvement on my 6600. The game has a very handy benchmarking utility which reports the high, low, and average framerates and what percentage the scene was rendered at certain framerates. I found a very happy medium of great graphic quality above 25 frames and recently finished the game. When it’s at a playable frame rate this game is quite awesome. Not as good has Half Life 2 (or 1 for that matter) but a great game with awesome AI and the best bullet time since Max Payne.

Finally, I picked up Elder Scrolls: Oblivion which ain’t running too bad. We tried the game at my girlfriend’s place and found that it looked fantastic at nearly full quality at 800×600 with 2xAA. I gave this setting a try at home and was very impressed and surprised at the image quality, smooth frame rate, and clarity of textures and fonts at this low resolution, so it’s a keeper.

So after a few code blue coronaries I can safely say that my new video card eats my old one for breakfast with Canadian bacon. I am also proud to declare that my additional $70 bought me about 3 frames per second more than my girlfriend’s 6600LE which of course is mandatory for me marbles.

And I’m happy to declare that, since construction on her floor has concluded, my girlfriend’s PC hasn’t crashed once. I suspect the power tools and open hanging wires made her power fluctuate below normal levels. A weekend of Oblivion was certainly a fair test since she was stable all weekend (and so was her computer).

So buy a video card! It’ll make you happy! Wee!!

Now back to my Kahjiit archer agent and his feisty feline exploits!

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