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The Upgrade Dilemma - How your old graphics card stands up

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The eternal debate

Is it time for me to upgrade?

Without a doubt, one of the most frequent questions we get here at PC Perspective, on the PC Perspective Podcast or even This Week in Computer Hardware, is "do I need to upgrade my graphics card yet?"  The problem is this question has very different answers based on your use cases, what games you like to play or are planning on playing in the future, what other hardware is in your system, etc and thus can be a very complicated situation. 

Take this example: a user with an Athlon X2 processor, 2GB of memory and that is committed to Windows XP will like do just fine with the GeForce GTX 260 still humming along in their rig powering their 1680x1050 monitor with Counter Strike: Source.  But what about newer titles like Metro 2033 or Bad Company 2?  The settings this hypothetical user would have to run the game out would definitely create a different gaming experience than someone with say, a GTX 570 or Radeon HD 6950. 

With those types of questions in mind, and after the insistence of some our readers, I decided to sit down with one of the top graphics cards of the last decade in terms of popularity, the GeForce 9800 GTX.

The competition and considerations

There are going to be a lot differences in how we are testing the 9800 GTX from NVIDIA, released back in April of 2008 (and itself a faster clocked version of the GeForce 8800 GTS released in December of 2007), considering this is a DX10-ready GPU rather than the current array of DX11-capable options from both NVIDIA and AMD today.  We will address them on a per-title basis on the results pages but it is safe to assume that we are going to be running this aging card at the DX10 quality options while leaving the higher end cards of today in the DX11 code path. 



The Recruits

Above, you can see the four cards that are going to be going head to head in our benchmarking suite today starting with the classic, BFG GeForce 9800 GTX 512MB.

Coming in at a speedy 755 MHz GPU clock and an 1150 MHz GDDR3 memory clock, the 9800 GTX was a great card for the cost in its day. 

The other cards line up with what I consider to be the standard price ranges of enthusiast-class, gaming-class graphics cards of 2011.

  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB - $249
  • AMD Radeon HD 6970 2GB - $369
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 1.5GB - $499

Between each of these three options is about $120-130 of price gap and while I know we could fit various graphics cards between these lines (almost ad infinitum), I think this represents the best mix given today's market.  This article isn't meant to be an NVIDIA versus AMD comparison per se, though I am sure people will continue to look at that in our results, but rather how the upgrade dollars you MIGHT be looking to spend will result in real-world gameplay and performance improvements.

Also note we are using TODAY'S gaming titles, not the ones used in our 9800 GTX review in 2008: BioShock, Company of Heroes, Call of Duty 4, Call of Juarez, Lost Planet, World in Conflict, Unreal Tournament 3, Crysis. 

 

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