Still waiting for the time that MMO's are taken into account with these kind of reviews. Most MMO's are CPU and RAM heavy and not so much on the GPU. I play EQ2 and SWTOR and I recently upgraded my mobo, CPU and RAM and the improvement is amazing. I don't think that only a new GPU would have had the same difference, because in EQ2 my RAM usage goes up to 5 GB within seconds and only had 4GB, and that was my major bottleneck
Dude... my PC from five years ago which is still in service had PCIe 2.0. Built at the end of 2007 using the QX6850. That said, most cards struggle to even max out PCIe 1.1 bandwidth. There are many, many posts on this topic. Linus from TechTips and AnandTech, HardOCP and many more!
Great article. This is a long known fact in hardware forums... before you upgrade your GPU, make sure your PSU can handle it! A lot of dual cores from the Q6600 era have only started showing their age last year (as per my non-scientific poll caused by friends going my computer is slow guy, fix it).
Have to agree with Dave, realneil, Paul, et al ; this was indeed a really worthwhile initiative on the part of Joel ! Nice to know that a GPU upgrade does, in practice, make so great a difference even when other components aren't the absolutely latest and greatest. Relevant for me, as a little more than a year ago I upgraded my main box with a GA-990FXA-UD3 motherboard, a Phenom II X 4 955 processor, a FSP650-80EGN PSU, and 16 GB RAM, but retained an ancient GeForce 7900 GTX GPU. I've been looking for a good deal on a GTX 660, but now that AMD has released a driver that seems to work decently with Linux OSs, I'm thinking of widening my search. Good to learn that such an upgrade would have significant (positive) effects !...
Really interesting article, Joel.
I'm in a pretty similar situation to your test rig - Q6600, 4Gb DDR2, GeForce 250 GTS, MSI P6N nForce 650 sli.
However, it's probably the MB that is the limiting factor in my rig. I'm about to spend a bit of cash on an upgrade, and am all-set to buy a new i5 3570k, a z77 MB (pr. gigabyte Z77-D3H) and 8Gb DDR3. However, you're article makes me pause for thought. I think I'll probably go with the CPU & MB as gaming comes second to image editing, but I'm still torn...
Excellent article Joel.
I think this would merit following up with a comparison with a system with a modern CPU/Motherboard but the same 660 graphics card to see what sort of effect that would produce.
I am sitting on a 6 year old gaming system with an E6600 and I upgraded it last year with a GTX 560. It handles most games well, but I am curious what sort of performance benefits I would see for the considerable money necessary to replace the motherboard, CPU and RAM for a new intel i5/i7 system.
Thanks for the article. I too would have liked to see a dual core CPU used, but I can understand that it just happens to be what you had lying around. It would have been great if you'd have pulled some numbers from your official 660 review and included them in the charts so people could see what would happen if you'd have upgraded everything and not just the GPU.
I'm personally sitting on a P35, E8400, and 4870. I always upgrade the video card first and if that doesn't give enough performance, then proceed to upgrade the mobo, CPU and RAM.
I thought the article was well done. My system 5 years ago was similar, except the video card was slower (8800GTS 512MB) and I had 4GB of RAM instead of 3GB. Same rocking Q6600 though. I didn't notice, but was your processor overclocked? The two things that I was curious about was, first of all, would an overclock of the processor to 3Ghz or 3.2Ghz help with the framerates much and also, what about adding another 1GB of RAM? I guess another question that comes to mind is, how badly did the SSD skew the results? If you upgraded only the video card in a system from back then that would almost certainly have had a standard HDD, I wonder how much slower it would be? In effect, you have to add the price of the SSD into the equation, but it's still a worthy upgrade for an older system at ~$300.
"One thing I notice about reviews like this they always run on high or even ultra instead of show a frame rate that is playable on both cards."
When I put this review together, I decided on a few things.
1) I wanted to use DX10/DX11. The GTX 260 was NV's third generation of GPU to offer DX10 support. Dropping back to DX9 would've improved the card's frame rates, but would've also meant more screenshotting in an attempt to capture the visual differences. BF3 doesn't even have a DX9 mode for PCs, so this would've tossed in more variables.
2) Civ V was the only game that wasn't playable. Borderlands and BF3 were choppy in places, but I extensively playtested both.
I picked settings that *pushed* the GTX 260, but didn't overwhelm it. That was purposeful.
Joel H:Reilneil, AMD and NV have candidly said that modern GPUs don't stress PCIe 3.0 vs. 2.0. If they did, the vendors themselves would have told us. I can pick up differences in synthetic benchmarks designed to measure PCIe bus bandwidth, but I mainly used those for confirming that things were working as they ought.
Agreed, this is why adding a better video card nets you a better experience almost every time. If your PSU can handle the extra power draw that some of these new cards have, (yes, I'm aware that the newest GPU designs use less power overall, but I also know that a top notch PSU makes a huge improvement too)
PCIe 2.0 bandwidth is wide enough and fast enough to give you great performance on any decently coded game if you have the GPU to handle it. That's why I agree that a GPU upgrade is such a great way to improve your gaming experience and my first recommended upgrade to others most of the time.
But if they have the cash for a whole new platform, that's how I steer them.
Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
I resemble that remark ...
E8500 (Core 2 Duo, 3.16), HD4850, 4gb ram, g41 motherboard (@Eshirou: PCI-E 1.0a), 7200 RPM storage. Windows XP 32 bit. Pretty much a second class machine compared to the one used in the article (depending on whether an app utilizes more than one core).
Borderlands 2 was completely playable at 1080p with the eye candy turned way down. The only problem was a bug that would hang the application at selected spots unless I restricted the CPU to 1 core.
I upgraded from the 4850 to a 7850 last month (which runs fine in the 1.0a socket, didn't even have to upgrade the BIOS) mainly because it came free with Far Cry 3 and the 4850 is now restricted to legacy drivers/DX 10. Much faster now, but then I don't really play many titles that are CPU intensive.
Hmm I wonder what the issue is then for me that I couldn't go from a 7200gs to a HD 5570.
Well this article sure got a nice amount of attention. Keep um coming Joel!
I've recently upgraded an E5200 (@3.8GHz) on a P35 board and 4GB RAM with an HD7850, which was brought to 1200/5200.
It plays every game at quite high settings and a 1920x1200 resolution. Thanks to MLAA/FXAA, the biggest issue with lower end machines has been largely dealt with.
Easy times for gaming indeed.
This is nice and all, but I built my rig in late 2005, early 2006, coming in at $2000...
Right before C2Duo came out I bought a P4 3.6ghz w/ HT, 2gb ddr2 667 ram, and an Asus p5n2d-sli mobo (non-deluxe). Quite good stuff for back then, haven't been able to afford an upgrade, now its poo-poo.
Started with a 7900GT video card, now running a 9800GTX (when it still cost $300) Can't upgrade CPU OR ram because mobo is too old.
Currently running Win 7 32bit Ultimate, wish I could upgrade. Living week to week, sigh. On a plus note, I upgraded my cooling fan to a Hyper 212 Evo and can now OC to 4.23 ghz :) Been through 2 PSU's, 2 DVD Drives, and some burnt out power cables (ouch!) still running!
I think this is an awesome angle and would love to see it with both sides of the GPU war. Could this be retested with something like an HD 7850?
Practically speaking, the GTX 260 / GTX 660 was a cleaner jump for me to test due to hardware on hand.
Here's what I can tell you based on relative performance between the GTX 260 and HD 4870 in 2008: I suspect the gap between the 4870 and 7950 will be slightly different than the GTX 260 - GTX 660 gap for several reasons.
The 4870 was faster than the GTX 260. The GTX 660 and HD 7950 are fairly competitive. That means that the gap between the 4870 and 7950 would probably be smaller -- except that the GTX 260 had significantly more RAM -- 896MB as opposed to 512MB. In 2008, this wasn't an advantage. By today, it could be.
The second factor means that upgrading would *improve* relative performance. So a 4870 - 7950 upgrade would give a larger advantage if the 512MB frame buffer was a limiting factor.
What an awesome approach to performance. I've always wondered how important CPU's were in today's age. It's not like we're getting external NIC's and sound cards to take the load off our single core CPU anymore. This brings a entirely new meaning to "Budget builds". I saw a core 2 duo, motherboard, and 6 GB of ram for sale on craigslist for $150 yesterday. Get yourself a $50 case and a $200 video card, and you're good to go.
Wow really liked the review. I would have liked to see with a dual core though since that's what my friend has (and he's thinking about upgrading his old rig to match my new one :P ).
The author's rig is still better than any other else, the real test for the remark is this: my five year old PC uses AMD athlon 64 X2 2.9 Ghz, 9500GT 512MB DDR2, 3GB DDR2 RAM, K9N Neo V3 mobo, 500GB samsung HDD, and windows 7 32-bit . not a good rig today compared five years ago.
I just bought an HD 7750 1GB a couple of week ago, hoping it would improve the frame rates for the latest games. I'm telling you, there's an improvement but not as much as I have expected. Probably the CPU bottlenecked the GPU's performance.
I will say that these benchmarks prove the GPU is the single best upgrade for a gamer, but I will say that an old CPU can still produce a wall. Bang for the buck it is the best, but I will say if you are willing take the time and sell some of your old components on eBay. When I upgraded my q6600 last year to a 2500k I sold my old board, ram, and CPU for about 200 reducing my upgrade cost significantly.
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