We can draw a number of conclusions based on the benchmark results we’ve seen from our experimentation with the Radeon 3850 AGP. The main point that comes to mind, though, is that in contrast to only a year ago, the newest wave of game titles are most definitely very CPU dependent. An older single core CPU paired with the latest and most powerful video card will not allow the user to play the newest titles, as the CPU will slow the system down too much.
The bright spot is for people who would like to use their old AGP rig as a home theatre system; the 3850 AGP makes HD-DVD and Blu-ray viewing possible, if not perfect. We’re not sure if the cheaper 2600 XT would do the same job in this regard, however.
As far as pure gaming is concerned, while folks who have an older single core system with an AGP slot and a Geforce 6600 GT class card will see a big return from investing only in a powerful video card like the AGP Radeon 3850, they’d see a similar return with the much cheaper AGP 2600 XT. For these folks, the AGP Radeon 2600 XT will likely be the most cost effective stopgap measure, as the gains from an X1950 PRO or AGP 3850 will certainly be minimized with a single core CPU. It’s pretty clear that the writing is already on the wall: older single core CPUs are not going to cut it for very long, and in fact, the once-mighty single core Athlon 64 is already bumping up against obsolescence.
The story is probably very different for people who have an upgrade path to dual core CPUs, however. Those with single core CPUs on a Socket 939, Socket AM2, or Socket 775 motherboard will likely find a colossal performance increase when they invest in a dual core CPU and more powerful graphics card. This is precisely what we will be exploring in Part 2 of our AGP analysis involving the AGP Radeon 3850, when we will upgrade our single core Socket 939 Athlon 64 3400+ to a dual core Athlon X2 3800+. While this is far from the fastest CPU available, it’s typical of a lot of the older dual core AGP platforms out there, and will give us a good idea of what kind of benefits will result from a CPU upgrade paired with an AGP Radeon 3850. Will it make Crysis playable with higher physics detail settings? Will all of the games show a boost in playability? Or will the slow 2.0 GHz clock speed of the X2 3800+ bottleneck the games even more than the 2.2 GHz Athlon 3400+ did? Stay tuned to Tom’s Hardware to find out!