For the last few years I’ve always saved money on my games PC by being about 2 generations behind the gee-wiz, super-dooper exhorbitantly expensive graphics cards which have come on the market. You know the ones, costing about £300 and getting a few more frames per second than ones costing half as much but with one extra feature which you can live without.
With this in mind, at the beginning of the year I bought an nVidia GeForce FX5700LE card as games were starting to outstrip my previous card, a GeForce 4 Ti4200, with the idea that it’d be another two years or more before I’d have to upgrade again. This was before PCI Express appeared and caused a change in the rules.
When I changed my motherboard and processor in the spring I couldn’t afford the exhorbitant prices for reasonably high spec video cards so had to go for an AGP based board. I expected that because of the large installed base of AGP and the way that they usually trickle down old chipsets to the cheaper end of the market with age that I’d still be safe to think that in a year to 18 months time the FX6800 series would be cheap and readily available as an AGP card.
Anyway, time passed. This weekend the Half Life 2 technology demonstration “Lost Coast” level became available so I downloaded it. i knew that my video card couldn’t demonstrate the new technology bit but it should play the game segment ok. Indeed it did. However, I thought I’d see how the prices on the older 6800 series cards was getting on. It was at this point I got a shock.
The prices for the 6800 series cards on offer had come down as the new 7000 series was available (for PCI-E only), however, there were very few on the market, mostly the crippled LE version. Manufacturers were dropping production of the old AGP versions entirely.
So, on Monday I decided it was time to jump. If I didn’t buy now I’d have to replace my very nice and newish motherboard at the same time as a new graphics card, and the otherall price would be more than the 6800XT (slightly cut down version) which was the only one I could find in stock and for sale anywhere. Luckily it was on Scan’s “Today Only” promotion so I got about £4 off. The total, £120 including P&P.
Anyway, I now have in my machine this new card. And the best bit is? Well, the AGP version of the 6800 series are all one chip. The lower models are just those which failed quality control for the higher specification. For example, the XT version has 8 graphics pipelines and two pixel shaders, the plain 6800 has 12 graphics pipelines and 4 pixel shaders and the GT version has 16 pipelines and 4 pixel shaders. The faulty or unused units are merely masked out in a register in the BIOS. Even better, there’s a utility called Rivatuner which will allow you to enable these disabled units and unlock the extra power available. Even better is that the changes aren’t made on the card, they merely tweek the driver settings within Windows.
So, after some testing I’ve found that 4 of the pipelines and one of the shaders are truely faulty. This means that I almost have a standard version of the card for the price of the XT version.
I would have still preferred to have waited another year and got a GT version for the same price, but they will never exist and there will be no AGP versions available by then.