Friday, April 18, 2008

Graphics Cards

It's easy to spend £200 on a graphics card for a PC these days but I would suggest it isn't smart or clever (especially if you are married!!). But what does the money get you? Well, you can play the latest games at the highest resolutions and have bragging rights over your mates but that's about it. How many of us have the large monitors that need the highest resolutions?

I'm keen to reduce my carbon footprint (or as some would say, keen to save money and reduce my electricity bill). What most people are not aware of is that there are large variations in power consumption amongst graphics cards (as well as microprocessors and amongst the consoles - I seem to recall mentioning the Wii's power consumption being about 1/8 or so of the Xbox360 and PS3).

Here is some irony. There are two players in the PC graphics market (the others are insignificant)) - Nvidia and ATI (now owned by AMD). Nvidia are known as the Green camp as their logos etc are all green and ATI as the Red camp (same reasoning). The irony? Well, ATI's cards use a lot less power when idle and when loaded than the Nvidia equivalents. ATI invested in some clever technologies - they call it PowerPlay - where the graphics card is effectively "underclocked" (the graphics processor runs a lot slower when it isn't needed to work hard) when you are browsing the net and only uses full power when you want to run the most demanding 2D or 3D games.

The benefits of a lower power consumption graphics card are clear - lower power bills and less heat (meaning less vigorous cooling fans and therefore less noise).

In two months time (or so) AMD/ATI are due to launch their next generation of graphics cards. They are more powerful but again lower power usage. I would have waited for these but there are some great deals to be had on the current cards now. I have now ordered two Radeon HD3850 cards (for both home PCs) for £69 each. This will triple the frame rates on games for us but not the noise levels. Win - win as they say!

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