All right...so, I wasted money for my first computer on a laptop when I started college. That was a mistake, but I learned from it, and built a computer my second year...again, making mistakes, as I wasn't quite privy to this whole performance-based world...
Well, now, I'm stuck with a P4 system (3.3GHz) and a Radeon x800 GTO, which works great for shader model 2.0 games...but not so much for newer stuff.
I recently upgraded my motherboard to an MSI P965 Neo-F, so I have some interesting choices to make in my upgrades.
Oh, and MSI motherboards have about the worst english I've ever seen on some of their screens.
The main question:
Of these three routes, which is the best to go?
1)8600 GT + E4300 for around $250
3)8800GTS 320 MB version
they all cost about the same...so which would I be most satisfied with. Would the new processor really bump my frame rate with an x800GTO? Would the 8800GTS stall out because of my Prescott 630 P4? Does spending less on both mean better framerates and faster load times?
The 8800gts definetly. It will work just fine with your P4. If you are looking for a better gaming setup, buy that first.
The 8600's have received many reviews as of late and everyone is in complete argreement that they are nearly completely worthless and one of the worst choices you can make for gaming. A 7600gt would be a better choice than an 8600.
I know you said you are on a tight budget but really if it was me i would save a bit more and try for a processor and g/card.
To answer your questions.
1 Crap card /brilliant and i cant stress how good of an overclocable cpu.
2 dont really think you will get the kind of diff you are looking for as the gto is fast ok its sm2 but its still fast(have you tryed unlocking or ocing it)theese cards are pretty good at this also.
3 Probably the best compramise card /value /performance at the min only my opinion though, its a fast dx9 card which will play some dx10 stuff well enough but dont think of it as a long term dx10 solution as it isnt.
4 Have you def decided that if you get a new graphics card it has to be dx10 conpatable because in your position i would get (depending on your budget as im in england and our pricing is different)either a 1950pro/xt and the E4300.
That gives you a fast dx9 card and a fast if you oc it processor
I have one of the x800GTO's that doesn't unlock, I believe...so, it's not terribly overclockable, or at least the program that I used to overclock it didn't work so well...I got about a 20 MHz overclock on both GPU and memory before seeing anomalies, which seems pretty weak.
The 1950 PRO is probably the better option, you're right, especially since I don't wholeheartedly want to put Vista on this rig any time soon. I could pair that with the E4300 and still be under $300.
Plus, it still would give me the option of just paying for one at a time.