AGP Card Advice

I'm at a crossroads here and would appreciate some advice. I have a Dell Dimension 4600 (P4 3ghz, 2gb RAM) that I have had for about 3 years. Over time, I have swapped the gfx card for a newer and better model to keep up with the progression of games that have come out and to take advantage of the new technology. Presently, I am running an ATI Radeon x850 256mb card, AGP 8x.

For Christmas, I received "Dirt" by Codemasters and it requires Shader model 3.0 or up, which it seems that the x850 does not have. I'd like to be able to play this game despite the so-so reviews of it. I also received "Test Drive Unlimited" and while it runs, it looks awful and it is very slow, with FPS being in the teens most of the time.

I understand that the useful life of the Dell is nearing the end of the line (for gaming anyway) and that an upgrade is due soon. But I'd love to get another year out of it and then do a $750-$1000 range home build using the latest hardware, late in summer of 2008 or the fall of 2008. What would be a good choice to replace the x850 in order to improve the gfx in the above mentioned games? Is it worth even spending the $75-$150 on a new card or would setting aside that money and applying it to a new build right now be a better option?

Important to note, that I do not play anything except racing sims/games, so games like Crysis, HL2, 2142, etc. are not a concern for me. My interests lie in titles such as rFactor, NASCAR Racing 2003, Race07, GTR2 and the upcoming ARCA Sim Racing. In each of these, I am getting decent fps results, ranging from the 60's on the older NR2003 to the mid 30's on the newer Race07. Most of these titles feature advanced physics which chew up processing power as well.

I have looked at the video card hierarchy here at TH and it looks like the x850 is better than I thought it was, being just outside the Top 10. I have no particular need to stay with ATI, so any card is pretty much open to recommendations.

Any help you guys can provide is appreciated.

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  1. Hi Lawman02766,
    That rig cost the big $$ only a couple of years ago...
    And the X850 was top o' the line vidcard :)
    Many newer models have Shader3 (but less performance). The equivalent today would be new, non-powerful vidcards that claim to support DX10, LoL - I'd rather have my vidcard! Older, but more powerful...
    Anyway, you are fine but: you have a new Shader3 game? :(
    I just upgraded a client in your situation - nice AGP rig, coupla years old, X1600Pro vidcard (Radeon, 512MB) that died.
    Obvious replacement was X1650Pro 512MB, very affordable, but I wanted better (without breaking the bank).
    Newer Radeon 2600 claims DX10! But still no more powerful, really...
    Picked up a nice BFG GeForce 7600 vidcard, much faster than Radeon 1600/1650/2600, for $130 bucks:
    Lots of life in the old rig yet! :D Very good performance with NFS-HP, NFS-U, NFS-U2, FlatOut, etc. racing games.
    Your X850 is a 'keeper' though... better than 95% of people's vidcards. Too bad about the Shader3 thing - most games will fallback to Shader2 no problem - actually I thought it's a DirectX requirement...?
    For Christmas, I received "Dirt" by Codemasters and it requires Shader model 3.0 or up

    Unusual; a somewhat obscure game requiring very new hardware - it had better be good! :non:
    It's tough (and I'm sure the gift was given with love) but you'd almost want to let that game pass...
    The whole thing for me would be, have I got a place (a new home) for the X850? If there's a rig around that could benefit from it, and most would, then buying a newer vidcard could actually work out well for everyone ;)
  2. The 7800GS OC (BFG is the cheapest one I think) is better than the 7600GT.. however do note that the 7800GS regular would be worse than the GT.

    couldn't find one on newegg though look elsewhere.
  3. Hmmn, normally I'd point you toward an HD2600XT or X1950 pro after asking a few more questions. But your CPU is actually exactly minimum spec for dirt, way below recommended. For Dirt and future racing sims, you may want to do a new system. Shame when a P4 3.0GHz is still very good for other race sims. A nice dual core rig with an HD3850 8800GT is not cheap, but would do well in Dirt, TDU, and other demanding racing games.

    BTW, what X850 do you have. Pro, XT, XTPE ? If it's either of the XT's, there are not a whole lot of AGP options that are a performance upgrade. You can rule out the GF7600GT, 7800GS, X1650's, HD2600 pro as the X850XT easily competes with them. And Test Drive Unlimited is a beast of a game really with very little detail level options to tweak. Forget maxing that out at high resolutions. I'd say the X1950's are your best AGP bet for that game. But they require a pretty beefy power supply with about 30 amps on the 12v rail.
  4. Quote:

    That rig cost the big $$ only a couple of years ago...

    Actually, it was a great deal IMO. At the time, it was cheaper to buy from Dell's outlet than it was to build, plus the warranty they add. If I recall, it was less than $600 shipped with coupons, free shipping and my Dell account giving an extra few % off. I simply added an AGP card to it and off I went. Maybe $750 in total to start. I have added another 1gb of RAM plus 2-3 new gpus over the years. It has served me well and as you point out there is a lot of life left in it, but I am not sure it will be for gaming.


    Yeah, I just noticed the specs for the game on the back of the box. Didn't noticed the CPU info before you mentioned it. I think I might have to pass on the game for now. I'll keep it and try it again when I do my build. The CPU shortage will still remain even I upgrade the card now and I would have thrown away $100 or so and still potentially have issues with the game.

    FWIW, the card is the X850Pro.

    Thanks for all the info, it's helped a lot. I hesitated to post and add another "what card to buy?" post, but after reading so many similar posts, I saw that my situation was always going to be different than others, so I posted. I appreciate the honesty and help.

    I am going to hold off for now and see how ARCA Sim Racing performs on the current system. If there are huge problems, then I'll build sooner rather than later. I'd really like to get TDU going with better frame rate, but that seems to be a "down the road" type situation.

    Thanks again.
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