Guidance on modern video cards: Model to performance

Hi Gang,

My recently upgraded Athlon 64 3200 system at home boasts only slightly more performance than the Athlon XP 2800 it replaced (changed out mobo, chip and ram) and I'm starting to think the bottleneck is the Nvidia TI 4200 video card it uses.

Being an avid gamer and at one time a savvy tech myself, I used to be on top of the hardware upgrade path.  Life has gotten in the way of this expensive hobby for a long time.  Thing is, catching up is hard to do!  Nvidia now seems to have produced dozens cards, and it even seems a new video standard has reared it's head- PCI express.   Oh well, I already have an AGP mobo.  

Can you folks help clear up the fog?  

It's not an urgent matter, but I'm weighting this question at 250 Points, which will be awarded for clarity, presentation, and thoroughness.

Many thanks in advance!    Jim

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davidis99Connect With a Mentor Commented:
Specifically on Tom's Hardware, you'll want to check

and look at the most recent AGP card tests from October 2004:

which cover all but the most recent cards.  The most recent test by Tom's hardware covers PCI Express cards, but cards with the same chips on AGP should give performance within a few points of their PCI-X counterparts.  One key advantage of PCI Express is that it provides substantially more potential bandwidth than AGP and orders of magnitude more than PCI, but only the highest end cards can take advantage of that bandwidth.  A second advantage of PCI-X is it allows 2 graphics cards of comparable type and performance to be installed, such as two Nvidia 6800 cards, which when linked using Nvidia's SLI connector provides noticeably 60-90% improved performance over a single card.   Since AGP is limited to a single card, this type of bonded use is not available.
Not looking for any points, but always seems to have good review on video cards.
Yes, you will be stuck with AGP will tend to be a little more $$ than for the new PCIexpress cards.
Personally... for performance it's hard to beat the nvidia 6600GT in terms of bang for the buck.  It's quite a bit faster than the ATI 9800 Pro and at the same time cheaper.  I bought my 6600GT for $237CAN at the same time the cheapest 9800 Pro was $280CAN.  Anyways... both manufacturers make great chipsets... ATI or nvidia... you won't go wrong buying Asus, ATI, Nvidia, Powercolor, MSI cards... most are actually quite good... it'll just be a matter of how much you feel comfortable spending.  As usual... $$ = power.

Quite a few of the cards available in PCI-express and also available in AGP.  The 6600GT and 6800GT have both models.  The ATI X800 is available in both as well.  The heatsink on the AGP cards make look a little unusual since it also covers a PCIe to AGP bridge chip.  Mine has it...  works flawlessly.  Some cards are only available in the ATI X850

PCI-express is the new standard... you can expect AGP to disappear totally in a few years I would guess.  Any new upgrades I would think should be PCI-express just to avoid expensive video card replacements later.  BUT, if you have AGP now... you're ok for another 4 or 5 years before your system is a write off :-)  BUT if you ever upgrade again... be certain you get PCIexpress.
It's a 16channel differential pair. Really fast... or 16x 500mbps.

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cephjediAuthor Commented:
I've been a fan of Tom's Hardware since it popped it's little head out of the internet way back when.    The thing is, I've been away from it for so long that I'm having trouble comparing the models- in essence filtering away all the Marketspeak.      Historically, there's been a runaway winner in the "bang for the buck" category, but they hide behind a glut of LX, GT, XP, FX, Turbo and whatever hype labels.   Since the 2nd generation of Nvidia chips, we haven't been able to assume a video card boasts more performance because it has a higher number or label.  Or price.   Back in the day, some of the GeForce 2 chips were smoking the GeForce 4 cards that were quite a bit more expensive!   Nowadays you have to compare the benchmarks.

That is why I ask the Experts.   If someone knows of a link that ranks the modern video cards in some semblance of order (and it should mention the prices) that would satisfy me nicely.   So far I've been unable to excavate such a review.    

Thanks, Jim
I agree with the nVidia 6600GT being the best bang for the buck - somewhere around $200, but with performance above the Radeon 9800 Pro, and it comes in AGP.  It's not on this list, but wherever the 9800 Pro is, it's above it.  

video cards, up to X800PE AGP

nVidia 6600GT vs Radeon 9800 Pro
The May issue of Computer Games recent benchmarks pretty much agrees with the consensus here, sorry no link hard copy only.

They're showing the top performing card as the Radeon X800XT 256MB. Running the 3d mark 2005 benchmark of 5892 and maxing the Doom 3 FPS. (Doom 3 maxes at 100 FPS)  Drawback is a price tag of $450.
The runner up performer is the GeForce 6800GT 256MB  3d Mark 2005 of 4517 and maxes Doom 3 FPS.  Price $360

Their favorite card by far is the GeForce 6600GT 128MB.  3d Mark 2005 of 3142 and Doom 3 FPS of 85.9 FPS.  Price $190.
The Radeon 9800 XT 256MB doesn't even touch the 6600GT's benchmarks.  3d Mark 2005 2955 Doom 3 FPS 60.3. Price $350.

They also mentioned the GeForce 6600GT OC 128MB.  This is a 6600GT card that comes factory overclocked from BFG.  3d mark 3276 Doom 3 88.4 FPS Price $210.

I have been a confirmed ATI lover since nVidia bought out 3DFX.  Benchmark vs price comparisons like these are going to make me have to rethink myself next time I'm ready to upgrade my system.
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