Sunday, February 06, 2011

Graphic Card Upgrade

My old Geforce 7600LE card was good enough for playing Mass Effect in the lowest resolution and in the lowest detail settings, but not much good for many other modern games, so I went out in search for a new card. After quite some month of search I finally settled on a Sapphire ATI Radeon HD5670 512MB. Here some of the issues I encountered along the way:

Powersupply

Almost all modern PCIe graphic cards not only need a powerful powersupply, but also a separate power connection that gets plugged into the card. My computer has neither and the powersupply is a 350W one and doesn't have the needed power connection. What is worse is that most reviews or product descriptions don't bother to mention that fact, so it took quite some search to find that this is an issue to begin with and then some more search to find out how to solve it.

The ATI Raedon HD5670 seems to be the most powerful card that fitted the powersupply I had and didn't require a separate power connection. It was still a bit on the edge, recommending a 400W powersupply in the product description, but search around the net indicated that this wasn't really necessary and a good 350W or even a 300W one might be fine. To be a bit more on the safe side I ripped out a small additional HDD that I had in that case and moved its data to an USB one.

One Slot vs Two Slots

The old Geforce 7600LE was a single slot card with only passive cooling, almost all modern cards on the other side are two slots wide, this basically meant I had to scarify the only PCIe x1 I had on the motherboard along with the card that was currently plugged into that slot. Wasn't to much of a problem for me, as that card didn't had Linux drivers to begin with, so it was just hanging around unused anyway and saving whatever power it used couldn't hurt either.

Model Numbers

Digging through all those model numbers of graphics card is insane. Even if you have settled on a model of a card, you still have multiple manufacturers and multiple variations of the card to chose from. Reading through a whole bunch of reviews indicated that the Sapphire one would be decent and that the HD5670 wouldn't profit much from a 1GB of memory. The 512MB variant also happened to be quite a bit cheaper.

With the manufacturer and card model set, there where still some model number variations to chose from, namely:
  • 11168-01-20R
  • 11168-02-20R
  • 11168-06-20R
  • 11168-07-20R
Finding out that the 01 and 07 cards had a display port instead of the VGA one that the 02 and the 06 one had to offer was the easy part. The exact difference between 01 and the 07 or respectively the 02 and 06 one however still puzzles me. The product matrix at Sapphire list one as "Hyper Memory Enabled" and the others as not, however only in the cards name, not in the tech specs, other information on the net however indicates that basically all ATI cards have hyper memory support. A question send to their support indicated that both cards are to their best knowledge completely identical and there wasn't much logic to begin with behind those SKU numbers to begin with.

I finally ended up getting a 01 card, as I was getting really tired of looking through product charts and there didn't seem to be any more information on the net regarding those product numbers. While I can't tell if it is technically any different from a 07 card, I can say that it does look different from all those official product photos of the Sapphire ATI Radeon HD5670 that I could find on the net. As unlike in those photos, my card has two slot blends, not just a single one. Maybe thats the defining difference between 01 and 07?

Adapters from the DVI output to VGA and from the HDMI output to DVI come in the box.

Windows

Windows driver installation was easy. I just download the Catalyst driver from the ATI page and the thing is ready to go. One mistake I however did was uninstalling everything that had Nvidia in its name, bad idea, seems that Nvidia Physix is something that is actually required by some games even when you use an ATI card and those games (Alpha Protocol) won't properly function after an uninstall of that. Had to reinstall the game to get it back up and running.

Linux

Like most graphics card, especially when a few month old, the HD5670 does have solid Linux support, both in the form of Open Source as well as proprietary drivers. At the moment I am running the proprietary ones, as the Open Source ones that came with Ubuntu didn't have 3D acceleration and I didn't want to bother with recompiling stuff right now.

And while the installation went smoothly in the end, there was one big showstopper when it come to installing the drivers that took quite a while to figure out: ATI drivers and Nvidia drivers are incompatible. You can't have both on your system at the same time, as somewhere down in the virtual dependencies or alternatives or whatever there will be silent conflicts which cause the drivers to not function properly and crash the system. After purging everything Nvidia and everything ATI and quite a few reboots and crashes later, I however managed to install the driver properly and so far it has been working smoothly ever since.

One subjective thing I couldn't yet really confirm however: 2D performance seems sluggish. Scrolling in Emacs has always been mind boggling slow with anti-aliased fonts, but now it seems to be even slower. Not sure whats up with that and if its a real thing or just imagination.

Configuring multi-display support is very simple in Linux, just a few button clicks in the ATI configuration tool. The card seems to have three XVideo "ports", allowing you to watch three videos at the same time. Adjusting contrast and brightness in XVideo also works, which didn't with my earlier NVidia card.

Conclusion

With the Sapphire ATI HD5670 512MB I can now play almost all games I have tested in with at 1680x1050 in high details, Crysis is one of the few exception, that is only usable at medium details. Overall this is quite respectable for an otherwise four year old PC. The power supply seems to hold up fine, no crashes or any other issues so far.

The annoying part with PC upgrades really isn't the cost, as that card doesn't cost all that much, but the amount of information you have to wade through to make an informed decision on your purchase. That information is also often hard to find, especially with OEM hardware. For example benchmark information for my 7600LE is basically non-existent, the documentation for my motherboard is not available from the manufacturer of that board as it is an OEM and information of how much power your power supply should have is vague at best. So it becomes really hard to tell if a new card will fit the system and what advantages it will have over the old one.

I didn't even look at all information out there, the Nvidia GT 240 seems to be comparable to the HD5670 and there is an endless numbers of models for that, some cheaper, some more expensive then the HD5670, I didn't even bother to look through much of that and if I would, I would probably still digging through it. After finding out that it is probably close enough to not matter much in practice was enough for me to just ignore it.

If it wouldn't have been for all that crap I had to wade through I might have already bought a new card a year or two ago, but back then I always ended up reaching a point where I just had enough of it and stuck with the old card. No surprise in that situation really that consoles are taking the market share away from the PC.

2 comments:

Ali said...

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mahasiswa teladan said...

hi..Im student from Informatics engineering, this article is very informative, thanks for sharing :)