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Gigabyte's Radeon HD 4650: Are AGP Graphics Still Good Enough?

It's Time For An Old-Fashioned Revival!

Ah, the Accelerated Graphics Port. I remember when AGP first arrived, touted as the PC gamer’s savior.

Prior to 1997, a PC’s graphics card was limited to a measly 133 MB/s of bandwidth. Then came the AGP slot with 266 MB/s, followed by AGP 2x with 533 MB/s, AGP 4x with 1,066 MB/s, and finally AGP 8x with 2,133 MB/s of potential bandwidth. That kind of throughput is respectable, even by today's standards.

Right out of the gate, a first-gen PCI Express (PCIe) x16 slot, with its 4,000 MB/s of bandwidth, didn’t show any appreciable gains over AGP 8x because even the fastest graphics cards didn't saturate the AGP bus. Regardless, AGP was inevitably dropped in favor of the more scalable point-to-point PCIe standard. PCIe not only offered increased throughput, but it also brought with it the ability to transfer more power to ever-hungrier graphics cards.

By PC technology standards, all of this is ancient history. So why bring it up? Ask Gigabyte, one of the few manufacturers that sought to grace the aging AGP bus with a modern graphics processor, designed to save nostalgic gamers from buying a new CPU, motherboard, and graphics subsystem in making the jump to PCIe-based platforms. Its technical designation is the Gigabyte GV-R465D2-1GI, but you’ll probably know it better by its street name, ATI's Radeon HD 4650.

The Radeon HD 3850 AGP, 4650 AGP, and 4650 PCIe

This is an interesting move on Gigabyte's part, as the Radeon HD 4650 isn’t really any faster than the previous king-of-AGP, the Radeon HD 3850. In fact, the older Radeon HD 3850 is probably faster, since it sports a wide 256-bit memory bus (compared to the 4650’s 128-bit bus) and fast DDR3 memory (compared to the 4650’s DDR2 memory). Still, the Radeon HD 4650 does have a few things going for it compared to the Radeon HD 3850, such as more conservative power requirements and two times the texture units.

Who Buys This Stuff?

Sounds great, but who's interested in upgrading ancient tech? Well, 57% of the participants in Valve's Steam Hardware Survey game with dual-core CPUs, while 26% use single-core machines. The most common memory capacity is 2 GB, and the majority of users with processors from AMD game on machines that have clock speeds between 2 and 2.29 GHz. Now, we don't have any specific information about the CPU models folks use, but it's a safe bet that there are a lot of people out there running older rigs.

And who wouldn't want to get more longevity out of an old box? Whether it's your primary gaming machine or just an old PC you keep in the basement, it'd sure be nice to play the newest titles on aged equipment. In fact, I can personally vouch that it's useful to have a spare PC around so a visitor can join in a rousing game of Left 4 Dead. So let's find out if this new Gigabyte GV-R465D2-1GI can breathe some life into one of the great gaming CPUs of antiquity, the Athlon 64 X2 3800+.