I didn't know if I should post this under Graphics Cards or building a system, but went with the pertinent subject. This'll be a wallop of a post though.
Basically, I am semi-computer savvy. I can troubleshoot 99% of my own problems and I am moderately comfortable switching out parts. I have never upgraded a mobo or a video card before, though.
My current PC is a 4 year old Dell (I've learned since then, sorry!) Dimension 8300. Phoenix ROM BIOS Plus v.1.10, P4 3.2ghz, and I have been using a 9800XT since then. PSU is 305W
Girlfriend is on Phoenix AwardBIOS v.6.0, she has a P4 3.0Ghz (2CPU's), a Geforce 6200, and 450W PSU.
We're both at 1 gig of ram.
Background: We both like to play games like Civ4, CS:S, TF2, and WoW, even when we have to gimp our settings. Dual-boxing WoW would be a perk if that's related on either machine. Not too familiar with the PC as a media center, but consider it as potential.
So first, questions:
1) What information, if any more, do you need to help us with selecting the right video card and upgrades about our systems?
2) We are college students living independently--broke, in other words. We do not need maxed out systems, just something that runs at nice settings and is reliable. Right now I have two 3850's (512MB) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... on order. I really liked the price ($74.99 each w/ free shipping). How do these compare at that price point?
3) What would you approximate the cost of upgrading to meet the system requirements for those cards (or a comparable model, we're open to suggestions), be? What would we need to do so?
4) How do you "rank" video cards aside from a benchmark? What features are most important in determining performance, basically? The numbering system on them seems completely asinine in helping determine what card to buy...
Thats a nice mid range card but thats a 4 year ol pc does it even have pci express ? Cause the card you ordering are pci e. On the other hand you can max out a few games but at low resolution obviously so its great card for the budget gamers.
1) It would be useful to know what resolution your monitor is running and the size? This will help determine what video card you should get. However and more importantly, with a computer that old I suggest you build an entirely new computer instead of trying to upgrade. What is your total budget?
2) Recommend you read (entirely) Tom's own article on best video cards for Oct 2008. This will help you make sense of things. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/Best-Graphics-Card,2033.html Graphics card are one component that changes very rapidly. If it were my money, I would cancel those 3850's and buy one 4850 (about the same price but much better performance.) Later, you can buy a second or upgrade if you want.
3) Dual core or quad core is matter of much debate. If I were building right now and couldn't wait I would go with go with a dual. Not much software is coded for quad cores, but it also depends on your individual needs. What else will the computer be used for? Once you answer these questions it will be easier to make specific hardware recommendations.
Your PSU won't safely handle a 3850. Your GF's probably can. I see that comment there that you don't have a PCIE slot though, so you're SOL all around :-(.
Another card to consider is the HD4670. It has similar performance to the HD3850 (maybe a little better?), but does not need as much power. Even your PSU could probably run one, but there's that slot problem.
My bottom-dollar budget system is less than $400, but sounds like it may still be out of reach, at least for a while. Still, here it is:
Rosewill R222-P-BK Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail
Antec Basiq BP500UB 500W ATX12V Version 2.01 Active PFC Power Supply - OEM
AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ Brisbane 2.6GHz Socket AM2 65W Dual-Core Processor Model ADO5000DOBOX - Retail
A-DATA 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model ADQVE1A16K - Retail
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3250410AS 250GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM
No graphics card? That's right, the integrated HD3300 graphics is much better than your GF's 6200, and similar to (maybe a little better than) your 9800XT. The upgrade paths for this system are clear; a discrete GPU such as the HD4670, and up to a 140W quad-core Phenom processor.
I just built a system for my [non-gamer] wife using that mobo and CPU, but in my tests, it handled Guild Wars pretty well, giving 50+ FPS at 1440x900 with most (but not all) settings turned up.
Oh, @AznGuy0028, my wife isn't a gamer, but she tolerates my habit without any trouble at all, so I'd say I've got it pretty good too.