Unlike most of the benchmarked platforms you see reviewed here, we intentionally avoided the latest and greatest components for our testing environment. Instead, we dusted off some gear from two or three years ago: an Intel DG965WH motherboard, Core 2 Duo E6700 processor (65nm) with stock heatsink-fan, two sticks of Kingston 512 MB DDR2-533 ValueRAM, and a 250GB Maxtor MaXLine III hard drive. We threw Windows Vista SP1 on this "beast" and called it good.
Again, the idea was to approximate the sort of system a true mainstream Joe might have on his desk, especially one bought at retail. He’s been getting by with it for a while and wants to perk things up. Obviously, stepping into a Core i7 or late-model Phenom would necessitate a drastic overhaul requiring several hundred dollars. We figured Joe, a self-admitted .mp3 and mobile video junkie, might have about $150 to spare and be pretty interested in all of these wild claims of 10x or 100x performance gains bestowed by CUDA.
We picked two cards in Joe’s price range. The first was a GeForce 9600 GT with 1 GB of GDDR3, currently selling for roughly $120 online. The second was a GeForce 9800 GTX, now largely displaced by the GeForce 9800 GTX+/GeForce GTS 250 (about $30 more, if you want 1 GB of memory). Sure, you can get CUDA on a $75 8600 GT board, but we’d rather recommend the generally smaller fab process, higher clock rates, and larger shader processor counts in the newer generation.
Specifically, whereas the 8600 GT had 32 stream processors (unified, programmable shaders), the 9600 GT has 64 and the 9800 GTX has 128. These stream processors can all crunch on CUDA tasks in parallel, each handling many CUDA operations at a time. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a difference $20 and 64 stream processors makes in the real world.