PC Hardware is “Toast” (Repost)

By Shamus
on Feb 17, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games
This is a repost of an article from last year. The previous post exploded when it was put up on Reddit. The original post is lost, along with the comments. Alas.

Hey man, I need a new toaster. You know all about kitchen stuff. Have any suggestions?
The KitchenAid4000 series just came out.
Are those good?
I have a KA4510, and it’s really good.
Does it have 4 slots?
Oh you want 4 slots? Well, the KA4510 XN goes up to four slots, but it only toasts one side.
Let’s pretend I want to toast both sides.

Then you probably don’t want a KitchenAid. Their 4000 series 4-slicers aren’t very good. You could get one of the old KA3510 XN or XNS for cheap these days, but they take like, twenty minutes to toast the bread.
Er. What else is there?
The Cuisinart 7000 series is comparable to the KA 4000 series. The 7420, 7520, and the 7420 all do four slices. Just don’t get any of the SIP models because they can’t do bagels.
SIP?
“Slim Insertion Port”. The units are small, but only regular sliced bread will fit. KA has the same thing on many of their units. Actually, if you want to do bagels with a KA you’ll need the ASI units.

Which is?
“Adaptable Slot Interface”. It just means it can handle bread of varying widths.
So I should get a Cuisinart ASI?
No no no. That’s nonsense. In Cuisinart the units all handle wide bread unless they are SIP.
My head hurts. So I want a Cuisinart 7000 series, but not a SIP, right?

Pretty much. Now, the 7000 series is actually two generations. You don’t want anything before the 7400, because the pre-7400 units actually took up two wall plugs. The 7100 and 7200 four-slotters were actually two dual-slot units strapped together, so they had two cords. Plus, they didn’t have a timer so you had to stand over them yourself.
All I want is to toast bread! Four slices! Both sides!
Then the C7520 T series is for you. You can pick one up at Wall-Mart for about $400 these days.
FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS! I could buy an oven for that! I could just go out to eat every morning for that kind of money!
Ah, if you’re worried about price then the KitchenAid 4510 ES is a good pick. It’s only got three slots but it’s retailing for about $90.

I’m looking in the Wal-Mart flyer, but I don’t see that model.
Sure you do. Right here: The “Magitoast 7″. See how underneath it says “KA4510 Ex”? That means it’s the KitchenAid 4510 ES or the KitchenAid 4510 EP, just with a brand name slapped onto it.
…?
KitchenAid and Cuisinart don’t actually sell models directly. They make the insides parts of toasters, then other companies buy them, put the fancy shell on them, and give them a new brand name. But if you want to know what you’re getting, you have to look at which design the unit is based on.

Ah! I get it! Then why don’t I get this “TastyToast 2000″, which is like that 7520 you mentioned earlier. This one is only $50.
Er. That’s not the same thing. That’s a 7520 OS. The OS means “One Slice”. Total bargain unit for suckers. Some goes for the 6000 series and anything with a MRQ after it.
You know what? I’ve decided I don’t want toast anymore. I’m switching to breakfast cereal.

I’m shopping for a graphics card, and this is exactly what I’m going through, except I don’t have a know-it-all to help me out. I have never seen such rampant ineptitude at marketing products. I’m even savvy enough to know what I’m looking for, but the endless chipset numbers and sub-types and varying configurations makes it impossible to get any sort of handle on the thing. It’s actually worse than my example above, since higher numbers aren’t always better. I’ve searched around, and I have yet to find a breakdown as clear as the conversation above. What is the difference between these two generations of cards? What does this suffix mean? Why am I seeing this chipset in one place for $119.99 and elsewhere for $299.99? Is this the same product with a huge markup, or is this second unit different in some way I can’t discern?
Features get added in the middle of numeric series. Like, an NVIDIA 7800 supports 3.0 pixel shaders, and earlier 7000 models don’t. (Or don’t list it among their features.) So it’s impossible to do any real comparison shopping until you’ve memorized all the feature sets for all the chipset numbers for both NVIDIA and ATI. Yeah, let me get right on that.

Game developers who keep cranking up the system specs are killing themselves. They’re making sure that their only customers are people who are willing to wade through this idiocy, fork over hundreds of bucks, and then muck about inside of their computers to do the upgrade. You shouldn’t need to be Seth Godin to realize most people would rather drop that same $400 on a console and have done with it. In fact, it’s pretty clear that this is exactly what people are doing by the millions.
The main advantage of the PC as a gaming platform was its sheer ubiquity. But while PCs are probably more common than televisions, PCs which are equipped with the latest hardware are pretty rare, and graphics card manufacturers seem to be doing their level best to keep it that way.
This is the second time this year I looked into upgrading, and both times it seemed like such a stupid, pointless hassle. Like our toaster-buying friend above, I know what I want, but its the sellers job to tell me what they got. Offering someone a Fargleblaster 9672 XTQ is stupid and meaningless.
It really is a shame to watch this aggregate stupidity suck all of the fun out of this hobby. Buying other electronics is fun, but buying graphics hardware is homework. ATI and NVIDIA need to adopt a policy of sensible naming of product lines, fewer products, greater differences between products, and (most importantly) clearly delineated graphics generations, so that consumers can look at a product and know what it is without needing to read the long list of specs. In an ideal world, they shouldn’t even need to understand the meaning of things like DirectX 9.0c and 3.0 pixel shaders. They should know that X is better than Y, and buy accordingly.

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From the Archives:

  1. Kel'Thuzad says:

    I bought a computer with a GeForce Nvidia 7300 LE graphics card. Turns out, the LE means Light-End, and it’s the equivalent of a 6200. The processor speed and RAM somewhat make up for it, but I still can’t play Bioshock or Overlord, and any new games run quite slowly; mainly, DOW II.

  2. Shamus says:

    I would have thought LE would just mean the thing came from a French retailer. “GeForce Nvidia 7300 Le Graphiques Carde”

  3. SatansBestBuddy says:

    So my machine is getting on in age, it’s over 4 years old now, and ever time I’ve ever considered upgrading the graphics card I’d stop myself and say, “no, no, it’s stilling playing games, no need for extremes here.”

    Doesn’t help that the motherboard is outdated, too, so I already have the best CPU and GPU I can get without tearing the entire thing apart and rebuliding everything from the ground up.

  4. Conlaen says:

    I just shopped for a graphics card myself today. Thanks for making my day and reminding me I’m not the only one who gets confused by all the the stupid acronims and similar numers. I say that if they make a better version of a 9800 they call it the 9801, 9802, etc. and not all these headaches with random letters behind it.

  5. Seb says:

    Your French is horrible Shamus ;-P

    Also, I use a simple algoritm to buy a graphic card :
    1. Decide how much I want to spend (usually between 150 and 200 Euros)
    2. Find some benchmarks on a trusted website
    3. Identify the one they recommand the most under the price limit I fixed
    4. Find tests of this card on a trusted website (mainly to be aware of some “unsignificant” details and issues, like noise, power usage, etc)
    5. Buy it

    It takes a couple of hours and works fine for me.

  6. Benjamin O says:

    This is so very, very true. And I am one of those unfortunates that keeps up just enough to know approximately which ones are decent and which ones to avoid, but not enough to know all the intricacies of it all. I figure I can spend minimal effort to keep up with the basics and then when it comes time to actually make a purchase figure out the details to the level I need much more easily than if I have to start over. A continual minimal effort is better than a massive investment every few years.

    Of course, in honesty I never buy any card that costs over $150…that’s just not in my blood.

  7. Korivak says:

    I bought a new graphics card a few months ago, and by ‘new’ I mean the top of the line model from a couple generations ago at discount prices. I did some research, read some reviews, compared stats…the standard due diligence required in an expensive and deeply consumer-hostile market.

    In the end, I got my new card and it seems to be working out so far, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the purchase. The buyer’s remorse kicked in before I even added the card to my cart, and only slightly decreased when the thing arrived at my door and went into my computer without exploding.

    Next time, I’m just going to buy a 360…or maybe a PS3, if it ever gets its act together. Every upgrade cycle, the idea of a simple all-in-one box designed and built by an expert, sold for less than the cost of a modern GPU, and without all the tweaking and troubleshooting…well, it’s a very seductive option.

    I’m not an electrical engineer, and last time I checked, the point of being a gamer was to play games.

  8. Miako says:

    I suggest using tom’s hardware or other good review sites (tom’s is good at setting power supplies on fire). they’ll only generally review the good stuff, and will let you know what top of the line IS.

    Just got new 300GB Velociraptors! whee!

  9. Adam Greenbrier says:

    This is precisely why I largely gave up on PC gaming years ago and bought a console. It doesn’t help that after you’ve picked out a graphics card and all your other parts that you’re stuck chasing down obscure bugs, patches, and other problems. I understand that a PC is more powerful, but I’m not interested in putting up with all of the hassle. By comparison, I can put a game in my Wii or 360, and they’ll work the majority of the time.

  10. Mark says:

    Fortunately I had some enthusiasts to tell me what to get. At the time, though, I was splurging on relatively future-proof components. It becomes a bit more difficult for bargain hunters and other reasonable people.

  11. Dave R says:

    Dave’s theory on video card shopping (this is mostly theory, because I don’t game much, and when I do it’s on consoles).

    First, figure out what the two most recent consumer graphics card families are from ATi/AMD (Radeon 3xxx/Radeon 4xxxx) and nVidia (GeForce 9xxx and GeForce 2xx). Sometimes stuff older than that is worth buying, but it’s usually not, and in any case it isn’t worth checking on.

    Unless you’re made of money, go ahead and ignore all cards over $300. This doesn’t save you as much time as it used to, but eliminates a good chunk.

    Then, if you want a basic card that’s better than integrated graphics and maybe some 3+ year old or not graphically intensive games, get a $50-$100 card.

    If you want to run the latest games, but are okay with turning off some wizbang features or running at medium resolutions (say, up to 1680×1050 these days), get a $100-$200 card.

    If you want to run the latest games at non-extreme resolutions (say, up to 1920×1200 these days), get a $200-$300 card.

    After cutting the set of cards down to size by price and limiting things to the most recent stuff (or possibly renamed stuff, but you really don’t care all that much, you just want a good video card for the money), then you look at reviews to see if there’s an obvious GPU of choice in your price range. There probably isn’t; nVidia and ATi/AMD try quite hard to prevent this from happening, but it does happen some times. If there’s an obvious GPU choice, pick your card from the cards that use that GPU. In any case, don’t think too hard about it; you’ll be buying another graphics card in a couple of years anyway.

  12. grasskit says:

    actually it’s a lot simpler than that. nowadays radeon 4850 is the most cost/performance effective.that’s all there is to it.

  13. Annon says:

    Actually, I think this is a much more nuanced problem than you give it credit for. In all electronics, performance depends more on the application it is used for than on the hardware itself.

    Take an extremely simple processor, for instance. Let’s say you have a 3GHz Processor and a 4GHz processor. You want to buy the 4GHz one right? You can’t be sure from just a number. Certain instructions might take twice as many cycles to finish on the 4GHz, so it’s essentially moving at 2GHz speed in certain applications*. One number is not enough for a comparison

    Video cards are nice in that they don’t cook numbers the way processor and other hardware do. To me, this truth in engineering is a nice break from “just design it so we can sell it”. However, when the marketers get a hold of this, it turns into a royal clusterscrew. The point of marketing is not to give a concise, accurate report on the features of your product, it’s to shove it in poeple’s faces so they buy it.

    From a marketer’s standpoint, the only people who buy this stuff are the l33t screwballs who live in their parents’ basement and spend their money on computer parts instead of rent. They want to obscure the features and cover the packaging with as many acronyms and jargon that they can, to make it look like it’s high tech. I mean, just look at the graphics on the box of any new video card–it’s ridiculously stupid, and transparent what they’re trying to push.

    Unfortunately, all this adds up to marketing skewering the market down to the people they are targeting and it’s turned into a self-propagating problem.

    *NOTE: Processor companies actually do this on purpose–using pipelining and other techniques to increase frequency by sacrificing cycles and efficiency–just so they can report a bigger number.

  14. Captain Kail says:

    I imagine this article will stay relevant for a long time to come. Toasters will probably be antiquated before the dumb naming system is.

    Also, some of the comments on Reddit are really hilarious. I think my favorite is “nobody complains about how complicated the gasoline engine market is!”

  15. Magnus says:

    Back in the day, I used to know this sort of thing inside-out.

    Mind you, it was a lot simpler when I used to build/upgrade my own PC, back in the mid-to-late 90s.

    Since then, I caved in completely and bought from Dell, purely because I needed functionality and ease of assembly far more than I needed any power.

    Despite that, I can run everything up to about 2005 no problems, and after that it varies hugely depending on how much graphical quality I want. Since I’m from a time when you were lucky to get four colours, lowering the graphics is a no-brainer for me.

    My main problem with my current PC is that its a slim case, which I’m sure some people love, but it makes buying hardware a total pain.

  16. Luke Maciak says:

    Hay Shamus, here is a crazy suggestion – put this in your .htaccess file:

    redirect 301 /twentysidedtale/?p=1477 /twentysidedtale/?p=2133

    This should seamlessly redirect all traffic from that post to this one.

    And yeah – once again I agree. I can’t make heads or tails out of all these names and acronyms on modern video cards without spending inordinate amounts of time researching the damn things, comparing benchmarks and etc…

  17. Steven Burnap says:

    This is part of the reason I have mostly given up on PC gaming. I was exclusively a PC gamer from when I got my Apple ][+ in 1983 until approximately two years ago. I finally got tired of the headache and bought a PS3, and couldn’t be happier. I haven’t had a game I purchase fail to work in all that time.

    I do play the odd PC game still…but only games old enough to run on a work laptop.

  18. Christian Groff says:

    Yeah, I hate having to check specs. The only way I can be assured of a good graphics card is this – I install The Sims 2 Deluxe on both my laptop and main computer; The Sims 2 sucks arse on the laptop because it’s slow and clunky, the characters are difficult to control and the camera is slow to react. On the main computer, everything moves easily and smoothly. Special event cinemas are permanently disabled on the laptop Sims 2, but you can choose them on the main computer Sims 2. This shows that the laptop would crash if they TRIED to run the cinemas, which means they can’t handle complex animation.

    I don’t care jack about XAFADSJASJADSHA222222238 or any of that garbage, I want to know if a game will run on it without suffering major lag and requiring a lot of messing around to have a good gaming experience. That’s why consoles are technically better – you don’t need to know what’s in the thing, just that your games will run on it.

  19. Will says:

    No, don’t redirect them to this one, or they’ll just wear these bits out too.

  20. AGrey says:

    Would anyone mind terribly if i put this article on Digg?

    i kid, i kid =P

  21. UtopiaV1 says:

    Graphics cards are like any specialist product: You have to do a bit of research before you go out and buy one. The NVidia and ATI websites are always the best place to start, and both have a list of cards from order of best to worst.

    Still you are right, it’s overly complex. But then again I make an effort to keep up with the latest developments in hardware-land, so if u want suggestions on what to get next I’m… probably not the guy to come to cos they’ll be someone round here smarter than me. This isn’t like 4chan or something, no-one here is a hooting dickhole.

    Love this toaster dialogue, its absolutely classic! :P

  22. Shamus says:

    Actually, I am looking forward to the next traffic crush. I’ve offloaded the Wavatar processing and delivery to Gravatar.com, I’ve installed Super Cache, and made some other small adjustments. I’m keen to see how the site performs.

    Now I just need to write my Best Article Ever and we’ll see how it holds up…

  23. ThaneofFife says:

    You’re absolutely right, Shamus. I actually follow this crap b/c I plan on buying a new PC in the near future, but I don’t even know what’s what after the first three tiers or so.
    Tom’s Hardware has a monthly round-up of graphics cards that includes a chart at the end that ranks card models roughly by performance going back to the dawn of GPUs. It’s pretty useful. Here’s the link to the Feb. ’09 one. Go to the last page of the article for the chart. http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/geforce-gtx-radeon,2151.html

    Edit: Wow, I seem to have a new Wavatar. I like it!

    Further edit: This is directly from this month’s graphics card round-up–“We will note that there are now three versions of the GTX 260 cards: the original (65 nm process with 192 stream processors), the upgraded (65 nm process with 216 stream processors), and the new version (55 nm process with 216 stream processors). All three cards are called GTX 260s and all three have identical reference clock speeds.”–

    Seriously? Three cards with identical names and different prices and performance specs such that you have to read the very, very fine print in order to understand what you’re buying? That’s ludicrous. It allows system builders to walk all over you by using the low-end GTX260 and charging you a high-end price
    This is blasphemy! This is madness!–This is hardware!

  24. gamercow says:

    Huh, seems like someone could become very popular by making a “Will it play?” web site. It would be a database with games and their graphics specs, and the graphics specs of video cards. The user page would just be two drop downs, the game and the video card. Output would be what resolution/graphic quality level it could play on. Yeah, that is very subjective to the various other components of the machine, but still, it would be helpful.

  25. tdot says:

    … and let’s not forget driver chaos. Replacing your video card without reinstalling Windows? Jeez, who are you kidding?
    Oh, and you have Catalyst 8.12, but want to play game XY? Go read a good book, the game will be glitched beyond repair.

    seriously, sometimes even I wonder why I’m still putting up with this.

  26. B.J. says:

    I agree with everything you say in this post. I am tech-savvy enough to build my own PCs, but I just don’t have the time or inclination to keep up to date on all the latest videocard garbage they push out. Luckily I have friends who do and will happily tell me exactly what to buy for my price range.

    Seriously, if someone like me (who is enough of an enthusiast to put together his own computer) can’t be bothered to figure out your mumbo-jumbo, your business model completely sucks.

  27. Abnaxis says:

    I’ve never actually needed to reinstall an OS for a video card. Perhaps I’m lucky…

    Oh, and it appears my wavater has shapeshifthttp://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-ajax-edit-comments/ed as well. Lemme try an alt…

    EDIT: huh? The wavatar stays exactly the same. I thought they used the name as a seed?

  28. Rob S says:

    @gamercow

    Actually, there is one.

    Can You RUN It?

    I found that through a link from the Eidos website while debating whether to download the TombRaider Underworld demo (1+ GB is not a trivial download…)

    My laptop passes everything except the graphics card. Big fail on Eidos’ part.

  29. Rats says:

    Shamus – if you want to see how the site performs under duress, perhaps you should inform reddit of the reposting of this page? Then perhaps links will be updated and you may suffer similar woes, i mean traffic, to the last day or so?

  30. unitled says:

    I’m fortunate enough to have a friend who likes (well, adores) buying computer parts… I set him a budget, and he goes away and picks all the parts. When someone asks me about my PC my eyes glaze over…

    I know how much RAM I’ve got, and what version of Windows I’m using, but when they start talking about double-flipside reverse bit endemnity waivers or whathaveyou I get completely lost.

    It’s strange, I did Electronic/Electrical Engineering at Uni, so I understand how they go about designing the silicon, but what all the triple-buffered pixel polishers actually DO, I have no idea.

  31. Scott says:

    Abnaxis: It’s the E-mail that seeds it… I think?

  32. Muttley says:

    @Rob S:

    would you really let an unknown application scan your system’s hardware? Good luck pal!

  33. Rick C says:

    “Now I just need to write my Best Article Ever and we’ll see how it holds up…”

    That’s not what gets you dugg or whatever. Instead, why don’t you post another article bashing Halo 3. :)

  34. ThaneofFife says:

    Shamus,
    This is only quasi-related, but I saw this on Slate.com just now and thought of you. It’s an article on “What’s killing the video game industry”

    Best part: Piracy is NOT mentioned even once…

  35. Namfoodle says:

    Shamus, this post is comedy gold.

    I said that the first time around, so I figure I should say it again.

  36. guy says:

    Insult space marine type heros while you’re at it.

    Oh, and insult console FPSes in general again.

    EDIT: hm, seems that someone in the comments thinks that people being stupid about graphics is all that PC gaming has over console gaming. how he managed to post a comment without noticing the MOUSE is beyond me.

    Honestly, when i heard starcraft was out on a console, my immediate first reaction, prior to having been involved in platform wars even a little, was, “but, it doesn’t have a mouse, how do you play starcraft with no mouse?”

  37. I admit that buying a new system (which my wife decided I needed for Christmas) was easy until I got to picking up a video card. My needs are modest, but still. Arghh.

    Especially with bridging technology for dual video cards, which works, except when it doesn’t.

    I now have an Nvidia Geoforce 9800GT which I am assured at the price I paid for it was a good price/performance point.

    First Nvidia product I’ve gotten in years, after a lot of Diamond and ATI products.

    I don’t miss the Catalyst drivers at all, though my daughter is happy with them.

    But yes, I’ve noticed that for a price of a hot video card I can just buy a PS3 or a 360.

  38. Derek K. says:

    I’m in the same boat. I’m buying a laptop. My current choices are a 2.13 core 2 with a GeForce 9800, or a 2.26 with a GeForce 9600 (or something close).

    How the hell do I know which to get?

    I did find a very nice site for laptops, that I can’t find again, that had a sticky listing graphics cards in four categories (cheap, mid range, high end, extreme). It’s a bit subjective, but it helped me tremendously – I just found where the cards I was considering were, and looked how far away the others were. (If you’re wondering, I got the slower chip and the higher card, because apparently the 9800 is just ubar).

  39. HeadHunter says:

    I’ve been a dedicated PC gamer for years, but recently I realized that it would be more economical to simply buy a new console every few years instead of constantly upgrading my PC to be able to play the latest games. Last year, I bought more RAM and a better video card for my PC. This year, I spent the same amount on a console instead.

    I use my PC to surf the Web, e-mail, and play games. Lately, however, the only games I play on it are MMOs, because it’s likely that I’ll find the other games I want for the 360 as well.

    Fallout 3 was the first game I could have bought for my PC, but got for the XBox instead. My reasoning was simple – I had no way of knowing how well it would perform on my PC or how much I’d have to spend on hardware to get it to run as smoothly and look as nice as I’d expect. “Recommended” system requirements are bogus – sometimes even those specs or better don’t guarantee a game that looks and runs well.

    Buying it for the XBox, I knew it would look and run every bit as well as it does for any other 360 owner out there. It’s consistent performance on consistent hardware.

    If PC game developers want to stay in the market, they’re going to need to start developing better – games that unnecessarily hog system resources or require hardware that didn’t even exist at time of release just to run well are going to lose sales to their console counterparts.

    The future of PC gaming is NOT “bigger, better, faster”… it lies in designing games that will look and run well on the rig that Joe Gamer bought two or three years ago. If he’s got to spend a few hundred dollars to upgrade his rig, he’s likely to just go and buy a console instead.

  40. Nathan says:

    The total absurdity of trying to keep a computer up to date for PC gaming is why I never even got into PC gaming in the first place. Well, that and a general preference for Macs and the kinds of games you can only find for consoles.

    PC gaming would be a lot better off if they build graphics cards like they build consoles: sets of thoroughly engineered and reasonably well-understood parts that are designed to work as-is for the next few years without being replaced by new components. In other words, a dedicated “gaming unit” that can be counted on to run a game a certain way by both game designers and consumers.

    At this point though, I don’t think that even something like that would persuade me to get into PC gaming.

    Edit: Hey, I also got a new Wavatar. I like this one much better.

  41. I’ve thought about getting a new PC for a few years now. There doesn’t seem to be much point. I’m so many years behind in gaming, I’m only now playing System Shock 2.

    I figure I’ll work my way into the latest Far Cry around 2015.

  42. Noble Bear says:

    I want to thank Shamus and many (if not all) of the posters here (then & now)for offering comfort and understanding by helping me not feel like a severely developmentally disabled child regarding this and other more technical matters.

    I’m not a Luddite by any means I’m just very easily confused and befuddled. I was introduced to PC gaming about three years ago when I used some of my student loan money to get my first ever working PC for school. this means that even though I’m at the right age to have been around when a lot of these foundations were being lain (I’m 32) I still ended up coming late to the party and as such quickly find myself out of my depth.

    Even right now I’m borrowing my dad-in-law’s laptop while going through some techno drama related to getting my comp updated so i can use it to do things like play TF2 and/or chat with my friends or even run iTunes, AIM and Photoshop at the same time without the thing crashing.

    Anyway long story short (too late) I’ll just thank everyone here again for being awesome; Shamus, for sticking up for the “little’ guy (at 6’5”, I’m speaking very metaphorically)and the posters here for sharing their stories.

    I’ll shut up now.

    Carry on. :)

  43. João says:

    I got my 8800GT a couple years back… it still plays everything at decent visual settings (except the ending for crysis, although I was able to play the whole game at “high” settings but had to set it at “medium” for the ending).

    Sure, I payed 350€ for it (there was a 500€ version), but I spent about 2-3 hours researching what to buy… and I find that a card will last me at least 2-3 years nowadays. So my current plan is buy a medium-to-high end PC every three years :D

    Sure I can (almost) buy a PS3 for that price, but consoles have several big drawbacks for me:
    – console games seem to cost 20-30€ more than PC games around here (a PC game is about 40-60€ and a console game will be about 50-80€)
    – no mouse/keyboard in FPS (I’m told some of them support it… but I haven’t seen it yet)
    – I do WAAAAY more than play games at my PC that a console can’t do and I’d still have to have a decent PC for that (although I could still have a lower-end GPU, I don’t think it would be worth it)
    – Console game controllers hurt my fingers :-P

  44. Gasoline says:

    @HeadHunter
    Absolutely my opinion.
    A few years ago I bought a PS2 and now I am kinda “Consolero” (with a PS2, a Wii, XBOX 360). At the moment I use my PC for MMOs and that kind of games that – in my opinion – require a mouse. Probably I’ll end up with a special gaming-device for each kind of games I like to play.

  45. MikhailBorg says:

    This is actually one of the benefits of owning a Mac. I have my choice of three stock graphics cards, ‘good’, ‘very good’, and ‘I do 3D work for a living good’.

    I bought ‘very good’, and if it won’t run on that card, it probably wasn’t ported to the Mac anyway, and I’ll just play another hour or two of WoW. Or get up and go out with some friends or something.

  46. Apathy Curve says:

    If it were easy, Mac users could do it.

  47. LintMan says:

    The video card market is somewhat ridiculously complex, especially where you get stuff like the new 8700XE model underperforming the old 7800XL model. But there are 2 mitigating factors:
    1) A lot of those people that don’t want to obsess over performance specs and hardware nuances when buying a video card are just going to go down to the Best Buy and pick a card off the shelf that fits their price range and has the best box art. Nothing difficult at all about that.

    2) The market is quite competitive, so you often can use price as a rough guide to performance class (at least when comparing prices at the same store). Generally, one $150 card at Newegg isn’t going to be substantially better or worse than another $150 card at Newegg, and you can probably expect both to have less performance than a $200 or $250 one at Newegg. (Whether the more expensive one is better enough to justify the extra $$$ is another question, of course). But if you’re willing to live without the certainty you’ve gotten the biggest/best bang for your buck, just buying by price will generally serve you OK.

    There is really only a problem if you really care about performance and specs, but really don’t want to spend the effort to educate yourself on the technology. And if that’s the case, do you really care if one card supports Pixel Shader 3.0 and another doesn’t? Are you really going to miss it?

    When you buy a console, you pay your $400 or whatever and get what you get, performance-wise. They don’t tell you most of the specs, and you don’t ask about them.

    Is it so different to pay your $120 or $300 for a video card, and not worry about the specs? They’re available if you care to research them, but who says you have to?

    Full disclosure: I generally love to obsess over the specs and details before I make a purchase, but in-between upgrades, I don’t pay a lot of attention. I have a GTX280 in my PC, which was a splurge for me after after having lived with a fairly low-end card (for gaming purposes) for a number of years. I usually like to upgrade to the latest medium-high end PC hardware every 2-3 years to stay current.

    @Annon: The idea of using pipelining, and other techniques to increase clock speed at the cost of cycle efficiency is not just a marketing gimmick. It’s even the core philosophy behind the RISC architecture. Sure there’s a tradeoff there, but the idea is that reducing per-cycle complexity not only enables an increase in the cycle rate, but also makes it easier to add other optimizations that increase performance in other ways. Has this always paid off? Probably not, but it’s not just a gimmick.

  48. Abnaxis says:

    Shamus, I just read through the article ThaneofFife linked, and I think a lot of the issues in it are very interesting, especially the part about consoles having problems with inflated budgets, when I thought that was mainly the ire of PC titles. I would be very interested in reading your thoughts and having a discussion on it here.

    EDIT: Just caught up, and I need to reply to LintMan. First, I agree 100% with you’re saying about buying cards. I only pay attention once every few years when I feel the need to splurge, and when I buy a card I usually 1) look at the price and 2) only look up what the specs actually mean on the cards that match my price.

    And I am not saying that pipelining is solely a gimmick. It is a very powerful design architecture. I am only saying that it is pushed beyond its usefulness in order to sell more processors, because you can charge more for a 3GHz than a 2.9GHz, regardless of actually efficiency.

  49. Julian says:

    I’ve had the same problem. My computer used to have an NVidia GeForce 5200. At the time I bought it, it was practically top-of-the-line, being able to play Hitman: Contracts in near-max settings (no post FX nor AA). Then, some four years later, I had it repaired. The guys who repaired it threw in 1GB RAM (up from 512mb) and a Dual core processor (also up from a single core one). They also replaced my 5200 with an INTEGRATED 7300. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that integrated cards have much poorer performance and plug-in counterparts. So, the 7300 ran just slightly better than the 5200, despite being, to a regular consumer, “2100 better”.
    Ended up buying an 8600, which is powerful enough to run any game, though not many of the newer ones at max settings.

  50. Deoxy says:

    Still just as funny as it was the first time.

    Oh, and Wavatar check…

    Well, crap. I got a new Wavatar, too. I LIKED my wavatar, darn it! This one’s ok, I guess… :-(

  51. Klay says:

    Maybe I’m just a freak of nature, but I have always liked learning about different components the like. This may stem from the fact that I personally built every computer I have owned since I was 13 years old. Granted I have a fair bit of electrical/computer engineering background (a least before I changed my major) so it is fairly easy for me to cut through the bull on the box.

  52. Stranger says:

    I haven’t bought many new PC games – frankly, I’m not interested on playing ports of console games, or ones which would play better with a gamepad than a mouse and keyboard.

    However I did recently update my graphics card – only so I knew I could run GuildWars on a decent setting and not worry about the heat which was happening in my old case from the old card. I stopped, realized it was a PCI-E card, my computer’s motherboard didn’t HAVE a PCI-E slot . . .

    . . . and five months later, the motherboard crapped all over itself and wouldn’t stop resetting randomly no matter what I did. New computer, plus new card, I should be able to run everything but bleeding-edge games. And none of that interests me.

    (Crysis? Whazzat? Never heard of it, must not exist.)

    And I *know* Blizzard’s releases which slightly interest me (Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2) will be beaten down to sane minimum requirements, because Blizzard generally is very good at minimum requirements meaning “you can actually play the game at these, not just watch a slideshow”.

    I also know I’ll be able to play my older games and have them look good too. If you’ll excuse me, I might just be able to win X-Com.

  53. Simply Simon says:

    I must admit I don’t either know a lot about these things.

    Our previous computer, for example, had a 3,1 GHz processor, and we got that one at the start of year 2004. In 07 we got a new one, a better model looking somewhat like a monolith from space. But the processor in this one has a 2,6 GHz processor.
    My father bought it through his work, and I trust that the nerds at the national police knows what is good, but I still haven’t really figured out what makes this computer better.
    I expect it to hold at least two-three more years before upgrading though, because it still runs everything on high (more or less).

  54. Nalano says:

    Annon has it right:

    Your enemy is not nVidia or ATI. It’s the marketers of the resellers. nVidia’s mostly just acting like a collective of engineers.

    Not to mention that I would much rather the straight-forward “solve this problem once and you’re an informed consumer” than the constant “can’t check beneath the hood because it’s hermetically sealed” problem with consoles in general and Apple products specifically.

    I’d rather constantly be treated like I know something as compared to constantly being treated like I know nothing.

    After all, if you walked on a car lot and stated, “just give me something with four wheels and a steering column,” you’d practically see the dollar signs rolling in the dealer’s eyes. A fool and his money…

  55. Namfoodle says:

    The comments of the “1337” hobbyist types on Reddit are just killing me.

    They’re saying that if Shamus is complaining about the effort needed to navigate the video card market, then he shouldn’t be allowed to work on his own PC and should just go out and buy a new Dell.

    In my opinion, if you think that searching for a video card is supposed to be “part of the fun of PC gaming” as opposed to a means to an end, you are broken. That’s like saying that searching for the lost Monopoly piece in the crusty couch cushions is part of the fun of the boardgame. (There’s nothing wrong with being proud that you got a good piece of hardware at a good price, but as much fun as a playing a game? Really?)

    The Reddit comments ignore the fact that Shamus is a freaking programmer by trade who was able to concisely communicate his narrow set of needs based on the his budget and the specifics of the PC he’s upgrading. The issue is that so much of the video card market is obscure or misleading that it’s difficult and time consuming for someone to find the data they need to make an informed purchase decision. Just going to Tom’s won’t always work if you have some specific issues you have to work around.

    If you were in a similar situation in an auto parts store, it would be much easier. It usually doesn’t matter how obsure the part is and the make, model and year of the car. You can ask a guy to look it up in the computers and/or books and he can tell you if they have the part, with choices for new, rebuilt, performance, etc. You will usually only strike out if have a very old rare import car.

  56. HeadHunter says:

    @ LintMan & Nalano:

    The real issue’s not about being informed of the stats, etc. so much as it is *having to buy a new one every few months* just to be able to play the latest releases at a reasonable quality. That’s simply insane, and shouldn’t happen.

    Sure, the cost of a console is about the same as that new video card and some more RAM… but you buy the console once every 3 years. Will a $300 videocard really help you to play the games that come out 3 years after it? Probably not – you’ll likely spend 2 or 3 times that much keeping it current.

    I used to be the person people went to when they wanted to know what they should buy for their PCs. After a certain point, it became more and more of an effort to do so, and I decided my time would be better spent actually *playing games*.

    If I had to buy a new car every 3 months just to be able to travel at the prevailing highway speeds, you bet it’d eventually come down to a choice between “4 wheels and a steering column” or an alternate form of transportation that would cost about the same as a single car, but would remain current for several times longer. And the choice would be simple.

    I’m not “pro-console” or “anti-PC gaming”, I’m simply practical. And I’m saying that this situation is *harming* the future of PC gaming, a medium that needs all the help it can get right now.

  57. Uncle Festy says:

    Ah, good old confusopolies. Screwing us over since, well, ever.
    For those of you who haven’t read The Dilbert Future, a confusopoly is when lots of companies who have essentially identical products conserve their high prices by doing everything they can to prevent customers from being able to tell the difference.
    … and that was really annoyingly long. v.v

  58. I’m an uber graphics nerd so the model numbers are not lost on me. Though, you raise a great point about the complexity of computer component marketing. Not only graphics cards, but processors as well.

    I think part of the problem for the manufactures is how quickly the tech moves. If its the uber card or cpu today, how long is that going to last? A month, three or four maybe? So other than just slapping a higher number on the next one, what else do you do? So, if I am AMD, and I know my best single chip GPU is the 4890 today, instead of 4890 I might call it the 2009 uber gpu, the best money can buy, until we see the first DX11 cards Q4. So all the “old” 4890’s no longer uber, and I’m sure there will be stock on the shelf. So, how do you name a product accurately today in a way that holds up throughout its shelf life?

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