Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Graphics card recommendations

It now looks like Hari needs a new graphics card. The extra memory arrived yesterday, as expected, and has made something of a difference to the computer; switching between Warcraft and any other program is instantaneous, whereas it used to take several seconds and result in considerable hard disk noise (presumably Windows swapping data between physical and virtual memory) and aspects of Warcraft, such as navigating around cities and instances is noticeably smoother. But there’s no real improvement to the number of frames per second it can manage during general play, which was one of the main aims of the upgrade (the other being preparation for the eventual installation of Windows Vista).

Having looked at the recommended requirements of World of Warcraft, it looks like it’s Hari’s graphics card which is to blame. She has a card based around the nVidia GeForce 5200 FX chipset, with 128 MB of graphic memory. It’s not a bad card, but it’s likely to be missing some of the advanced features which more modern cards have, which in turn puts more pressure on the CPU and slows the whole computer down.
Overall, her computer spec is as follows:

  • 2.80 GHz Pentium 4 processor
  • 80 GB hard drive, with an additional 80 GB external hard disk
  • 2 GB of Corsair memory
  • 128 MB nVidia GeForce FX 5200 graphics card
  • Windows XP Home Edition SP2

(plus all of the usual gubbins like a DVD rewriter and ethernet)

The processor should be fine – World of Warcraft only requires a good 800MHz processor and recommends 1.5 GHz. Furthermore, CPU usage is relatively good – we ran Task Manager last night while she was playing and it rarely went over 80%, averaging about 50% – if it was close to 100% a lot then I’d be more worried. We can’t fit any more RAM as 2 GB is the maximum it can take, but judging by our experiences with the new RAM so far adding even more wouldn’t have made much difference. The internal hard disk should also be fine as it has plenty of free space (though it may need defragmenting, I can’t see it making a huge difference).

Software-wise I have done almost all I can. Though Hari is not a computing student, she is very computer literate and knows the risks of viruses and spyware and so she has AVG and Windows Defender running (as well as Spybot and Ad-Aware). There’s very few background applications running, and even if they were, they’d be using RAM and CPU which we know aren’t issues.

Which leads me to the conclusion that the graphics card is the weakest link. I’ve upgraded it to the latest Forceware drivers, but I honestly don’t think it has made a difference to performance. If we’re going to get decent Warcraft performance, it will probably need to be replaced.
Whatever the replacement is, the main limitations will be that it has to be AGP – the motherboard does not support PCI Express – and that it only takes up one slot as the computer has a small form factor case. Though there is space for a card which takes up the equivalent of two slots, it would render the only PCI slot useless – admittedly it is empty now but it could be used for something in the future.

You may wonder why we’re spending all this money on an old machine – after all, we could probably get a new one for the money spent so far (about £150). But there’s not much fundamentally wrong with the core components, and a few upgrades should make it very powerful. I also doubt that the money would get a computer designed for the uses it would get, i.e. gaming.

It’s unlikely that we will buying a new graphics card just yet – it’s likely to be later in the yeah when Hari has some more money. But I’d like to know if you all think I’m right with diagnosing the problem, and if you have any recommendations for good graphics cards, preferably ones under £75.

5 Comments

  1. You’re pretty much spot on with regards to the video card causing the frame rate issues. While it’s a decent card in itself, are you trying to run the game at max resolution? I can see the game being an issue on that card if you try to go over something like 800×600 at max graphics settings…
    Your toughest problem (if it’s anything like around these parts) is finding a decently capable AGP based video card since they seem to be in the middle of being phased out. I remember using a 6600GT AGP before I upgraded my mobo and it ran the game fine at 1280×1024 with of course a slight drop in frame rate when flying like in IF or something…
    Currently I run a 512mb nVidia 7950 PCI-x and no issues whatsoever when running that game, however a card like that is extreme overkill for WoW (I got it to play FEAR at max resolution).

  2. I’ve got a 6800GT (AGP). That’s easily powerful for WOW. Reduce the distance being rendered might help the card.
    My flatmate had some crappy card installed, and WOW ran fine. In the cities it was pausing but that was due to lag/swapping/loading graphics files.
    Fiddle with the graphics settings and see if that helps. If it doesn’t then it’s probably nto that.

  3. the FX5200 is what I have currently and it’s pants for anything that requires dx9, it was touted as being dx9 compliant but crawls if you run any game that exploits dx9 calls only.
    i’d recommend any of the 6000 series from nVidia for WoW.