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Best Graphics Card for 3.1 Ghz Processor

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June 27, 2012 8:37:39 AM

My mom got a new computer last fall that did not include a full-fledged graphics card. I would like to use it for gaming, but I am not familiar with the technical aspects of graphics card and CPU hardware specifications, and I am in need of some advice to help me choose the best graphics card for her system.

I guess I have one nagging question to get out of the way first. It seems that every graphics card is a unique combination of several features, and that the only way to rank graphics cards is to test them all with a specific game with specific graphics quality settings on a specific system, and to rank them based on frames per second, and optionally factor in heat generation and quietness. ...Is this a correct interpretation? (Or do different graphics cards actually apply different visual effects on the same game settings, making them less straightforward to rank?)

To make things even more complicated, graphics cards can be overclocked, either by another manufacturer or the end-user, meaning rankings are not accurate if a particular card in the rankings could have been safely overclocked more than it was. ...Is this also a correct interpretation?

...So anyway, all these considerations are kind of driving me nuts. I don't have any prior experience buying, testing, or overclocking graphics cards, and my brain is feeling pretty overwhelmed by the many considerations.

HOWEVER, there is a factor to consider that might simplify things a bit. My mom's computer only has an Intel Core i3-2100 CPU @ 3.10GHz processor. From what I've read, that's not the best for gaming, and the CPU would probably be the bottleneck when paired with a nice graphics card. This might narrow my options quite a bit.

So my main question is: What is the best graphics card I can get that won't be substantially bottlenecked by this CPU? I don't mind if the graphics card is a bit on the beefy side relative to the CPU (I want to make sure the graphics card is not the bottleneck), but there's no sense in spending more than I need to. Price is a secondary, but important, consideration.

Also, are there any good charts showing which graphics cards are appropriate for various CPUs or CPU speeds?

I did buy a 25" 1920 x 1080 monitor with 2ms response time, and I would like to game at full resolution on the highest settings the system will allow for smooth frames per second. I don't want to skimp too much on the graphics card, but I understand I am limited by the CPU. (Will I even be able to enjoy the latest graphics-intensive games on this system, considering the slower CPU, without too much of a hit on graphics quality or FPS? Maybe I should save my money and just wait until the day when I can afford to put together a more powerful computer.)

(Another question: Is 4GB RAM sufficient for pleasant gaming, assuming I have a good graphics card?)

(And one more question, I guess. What, in your opinion, is the minimum frames per second for pleasant gaming?)

Thank you all SO MUCH for any advice and opinions!!!!! (Of course, I hope they are all based on facts, knowledge, and experience!) So far the only thing I've been able to really figure out is that my brain is the real bottleneck here.


The handy web pages I have been using for guidance in my graphics card search:

Graphics card rankings:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-graphics-car...

Graphics card suggestions:
http://www.techradar.com/news/computing-components/grap...

More graphics card suggestions:
http://www.consumersearch.com/video-cards
a b U Graphics card
June 27, 2012 8:47:10 AM

How much money are you looking to spend?

Have a look at http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-fx-pentium-a...

The i3-2100 is a great contender, though it may not shine as bright in intense online/multiplayer games where more CPU power is wanted.

4GB should be enough for gaming and usually people try to aim for 60fps, but a lot of this is personal preference. Some people don't really notice/mind gaming at 30, others won't accept anything less than 60. But I think usually what is most important and noticeable is a steady framerate.

Also some people want to max things out where others are perfectly fine lowering settings.
For instance there are a lot of post effects and bling effects that I turn off because I do not like them, in addition to looking more pleasing to me I also usually get to see a nice increase FPS.
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a b U Graphics card
June 27, 2012 9:00:16 AM

i'll assume this is a pre-built. so you may have to get a larger case (or search for a graphics card that fits) and/or a new power supply unit.

the i3 is a good CPU for most games. it won't perform as well as a quad core in certain games, say BF3's online 64 player maps, and some RTS's, but a great CPU nonetheless.

a 7850 or a 7870 would sound about right for the most you wanna spend at. the 560Ti, 570, 6950 and 6870 are great as well.

there are no real clear cut way to determine if a GPU/CPU would bottleneck one or the other save from reading reviews and recognize which games are dependent on the GPU (BF3 campaign), or which would benefit from a better CPU (Civ 5). a bottleneck isn't really as bad as it sounds unless there's a HUGE age gap between the CPU and the GPU (say 4-5 years). just check out Lycros's link. for the most part, that i3 is bottlenecking the 7970, but it still shows some playable frames per second.

speaking of which, as for fps, people tend to aim for 60 fps, but anything around 40 or so are just as good. 30+ is acceptable. around 24fps is doable, but not really recommended for the best experience.
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June 28, 2012 12:16:11 AM

Nice, I'm glad to learn the i3-2100 will be decent for gaming! I had read that the i3's are currently the lower tier of Intel processors, but like you said, it looks like it will be fine for most games. I wasn’t expecting this to be a top-of-the-line gaming rig anyway, and it seems the i3-2100 will exceed my expectations somewhat.

Thanks for the interesting and helpful information. I see in the benchmark results that certain games, such as Battlefield 3 campaign, rely heavily on the graphics card and lightly on the CPU, resulting in the graphics card being the bottleneck, even when paired with the i3-2100. I started to wonder if I should just hold out on buying a graphics card until the current top-tier cards come down in price so that I don’t have to worry about being unsatisfied with my card any time in the near future. It seems to me that graphics in the latest, most graphics-intensive games are reaching an amazingly high level of detail, and the more I think about it, I guess I would like whichever card I choose to be fully capable of smoothly displaying that level of detail because I plan on using it for a long time. (On my budget, I will probably use it until it dies or becomes painfully obsolete.) …Of course, I’d rather not wait forever for the price to drop on high-end cards, but I’m trying to find the most cost-effective, long-term solution for beautiful gaming, and that led me to an idea: Since I would eventually like to build my own gaming PC, perhaps I should wait and get a more-powerful card for my Mom’s computer, and eventually transfer it into my own. In that case, it is more important to get the best card that I can afford.

Which leads me to a big question: About how long does it take for graphics cards to drop in price? For example, how long until the current top-of-the-line cards are down to $200-$250? Or is that unrealistic – will the current top-of-the-line cards remain super expensive until they are replaced by the next generation? But there would still have to be some mid-range cards for that niche in the market, so in that case, how long will it be until “mid-range” cards become as powerful as the current top-of-the-line cards?

(Based on historical trends.)

Thanks again.
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a c 91 U Graphics card
June 28, 2012 12:58:21 AM

heyo_speaker said:
Nice, I'm glad to learn the i3-2100 will be decent for gaming! I had read that the i3's are currently the lower tier of Intel processors, but like you said, it looks like it will be fine for most games. I wasn’t expecting this to be a top-of-the-line gaming rig anyway, and it seems the i3-2100 will exceed my expectations somewhat.

Thanks for the interesting and helpful information. I see in the benchmark results that certain games, such as Battlefield 3 campaign, rely heavily on the graphics card and lightly on the CPU, resulting in the graphics card being the bottleneck, even when paired with the i3-2100. I started to wonder if I should just hold out on buying a graphics card until the current top-tier cards come down in price so that I don’t have to worry about being unsatisfied with my card any time in the near future. It seems to me that graphics in the latest, most graphics-intensive games are reaching an amazingly high level of detail, and the more I think about it, I guess I would like whichever card I choose to be fully capable of smoothly displaying that level of detail because I plan on using it for a long time. (On my budget, I will probably use it until it dies or becomes painfully obsolete.) …Of course, I’d rather not wait forever for the price to drop on high-end cards, but I’m trying to find the most cost-effective, long-term solution for beautiful gaming, and that led me to an idea: Since I would eventually like to build my own gaming PC, perhaps I should wait and get a more-powerful card for my Mom’s computer, and eventually transfer it into my own. In that case, it is more important to get the best card that I can afford.

Which leads me to a big question: About how long does it take for graphics cards to drop in price? For example, how long until the current top-of-the-line cards are down to $200-$250? Or is that unrealistic – will the current top-of-the-line cards remain super expensive until they are replaced by the next generation? But there would still have to be some mid-range cards for that niche in the market, so in that case, how long will it be until “mid-range” cards become as powerful as the current top-of-the-line cards?

(Based on historical trends.)

Thanks again.


Ideally, due to case size limitations, you're best choice would be the short version of the gtx670, which of course currently cost a whooping $400. but if we look back, the one-time top of the line gtx480 is now going for a lowly $200. that card came out around three years ago. on the other hand, the card that succeeded the 480, the gtx 580, is still going for $500 and almost extinct because Nvidia has stopped making it (so has the 480).

the lesson here is that the 480 is cheap because when it first came out, many reviewers gave it highly unfavorable reviews due to heat and power consumption, resulting in a large stockpile of the card building up with many retailers and manufacturers (as well as possibly Nvidia itself). meanwhile, the 580 was great and sold like hot-cakes, so supply rapidly dwindled after it was discontinued.

overall, it is a bit unrealistic, but not impossible, to wish for the current top cards to drop to $200 in the future. not because they won't be that obsolete, but that they'll probably be all sold out before prices drop that low. thus, it makes more sense to spend the money now, and buy a gtx570, or a radeon 7850 :) 
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June 29, 2012 7:10:10 PM

That's kind of what I was thinking, vmem -- as long as they don't overproduce those cards, and as long as they take them off the market when the next generation comes out, the price will remain high. Which brings me to the question: how long until mid-range cards of the future achieve the performance of the current top tier?
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a c 91 U Graphics card
June 30, 2012 1:42:59 AM

heyo_speaker said:
That's kind of what I was thinking, vmem -- as long as they don't overproduce those cards, and as long as they take them off the market when the next generation comes out, the price will remain high. Which brings me to the question: how long until mid-range cards of the future achieve the performance of the current top tier?


well, the 28nm process is new and has a lot of room to grow. if we look at the growth of the 40nm process, we see that the first generation were launched in 2009 with the 4870 on AMD's side. if we look at tom's graphics hierarchy chart for an easy comparison:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-graphics-car...

we see that a mere 2 years later, the 6850 overtakes it. now given that the 28nm process is much smaller and technology becomes harder to improve (it's not a linear curve), I'd expect something like the HD985o or HD9870 to overtake my 7970 around 2015 or so :) 

Thus, it's really only worth it to get a top end card if you're using it for compute, you need it to run a triple monitor set up or something, or you're oozing money
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