I bought what I hope will be the last upgrade for my 2003 vintage Alienware system, a Sapphire x1950 Pro 512MB AGP video card. I went for the Sapphire model because it came with 512MB, which at least one friend of mine insists will be a requirement for upcoming games.
While the PowerColor x1950 looked good as well, its main benefit, a quiet cooling mechanism, wouldn’t do much for me. My Alienware case has so many fans blowing in it already that they drown out any video card cooling.
Over the weekend I pulled out my old x800XL 256MB, installed the new card and tried it out on various games to see how it changed things.
World of Warcraft
Well… World of Warcraft wasn’t taxing my system in the first place. I turned up some of the video options in the game, but everything ran about the same. I think, on the road to Darkshire, in the fog and darkness, I could see more little glowing lamps along the road out into the distance than I used to, but it is hard to tell. I think the spell effects are a little more zippy. Blizzard uses so many little tricks to keep the system requirements manageable that when you actually have some power to play with, it is hard to tell. This is certainly a measure of one of WoW’s strengths: The game still looks good on a modest system. And at least the card will run cool when I play WoW.
In the past I played at the setting “Balanced” and had pretty reasonable performance with my old card. The first thing I did was log on my paladin, zone into his inn room, and start playing with the video settings. I eventually went up to “Very High Quality” (the top setting is “Extreme Quality,” but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that) at which setting you can see a lot of nice detail on your character’s equipment that is otherwise not shown. I wish I could get a screen shot of just his Ebon Longsword at this setting, as it has a lot of very nice detail on it.
Then I swapped characters and ran around with Blintz for a while in The Enchanted Lands. After a short bit I started to get annoyed. I could see some small improvement in performance, but not that much. Things were still a little bit slow at times. And then I realized I was still set for “Very High Quality.” Oh. I guess there was a pretty good performance boost after all!
I did have to turn off the atmospheric bloom after a bit though. Not for performance reasons, but because at the higher setting there was a persistent blur in the distance, as though it were raining. It was somewhat like playing in a Renoir painting, pretty, but a bit disconcerting. Turning it off made the game easier to look at.
(And, on a tangent, what is with SOE and shadows? I had to turn off shadows after a bit because my character kept showing multiple shadows, or shadows in unlikely places. Was this an EverQuest feature they felt they just had to keep?)
And then there was Vanguard, or the Beta 5 release thereof. I actually got reasonable performance at the setting “Balanced” as long as there were no people around. Any other players in the vicinity made the game grind some until I went down a setting. Still, the new card got me up one setting, and I hope that with the final tuning of the game I might get to actually play at the “Balanced” setting all the time.