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Graphics What is your rationale when buying a new card? Mid-Range or High End?

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by Zurechial, 5 Jan 2011.

  1. Zurechial

    Zurechial Elitist

    21 Mar 2007
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    When it comes to choosing a new graphics card I find myself asking the same questions every time and I'm curious to see how other people approach these decisions; especially in light of the current cards that everyone's looking at: Radeon 6950, GTX570, GTX580.

    Bit-Tech's members vary wildly in their purchasing habits - I've seen plenty of you here who are happy with a GTX 260 (Hi GoodBytes!) while others are rocking Dual or Triple GTX580s (I'm looking at you Pete J!) so I'd like to see some responses from both sides of the divide on this.

    Bear with me, this could be a long one!
    Inb4 wall of text crit etc.


    Many of these questions are relevant to other components such as CPUs, but I find myself upgrading graphics cards more often.

    1. Mid-range or High end?
    2. If I go with the mid-range card will I see enough of an upgrade from my current card to warrant the cost of upgrading?
    3. If I go with the high end card will I be wasting money on diminishing returns because of the progressively smaller differences in performance further up the price scale?

    The first question is the one I'm struggling with the most right now, but it's tied into the second and third questions so I'll deal with those together.

    In the past I've always settled on mid-range or upper-mid-range graphics cards because of the price/performance ratio.
    Voodoo 3 -> GeForce 2 -> Geforce 4 TI 4600 -> 6600GT -> 7600GT -> 8800GTS 512 G92 -> GTX 275
    (Note: I'm not an nVidia fanboy, I swear! Those just happened to be the choices that worked for me at the time of purchase and not all of them were smart!)

    Most of those cards were mid-range for the time of their release apart from the TI 4600 and arguably the GTS512 and the simple fact of the matter is that I was completely satisfied with very few of those purchases.
    When looking at reviews and online stores I always find myself hovering around the mid-range cards under the assumption that those are the best value, but I'm starting to wonder if that's really the case when factoring in more than just the price/performance ratio at the time of purchase.


    A huge part of the whole problem is purely psychological - Knowing that I could have better performance or visuals than I'm currently seeing with my new purchase.
    When you buy a mid-range card you generally do so knowingly and are aware that you're not seeing the full performance that you could have had by spending more money.

    Of course, there's a strong element of diminishing returns there and I think most will agree there is a point at which throwing money at your system won't really net a performance or visual benefit to match the amount of money spent - And I'm not even talking about the Tri-SLI systems here.


    When I had a 6600GT I was fairly satisfied with it, but always felt as though I was missing out because the performance difference between a 6600 and a 6800 was fairly significant in that series. A few months on and I had gotten over the novelty of having any new card at all and found myself thinking I should have gone for a 6800GT(X) so as to get those last 10-20 fps that would take me over 30/60fps at my desired visual settings.

    I felt the same with my 7600GT, thinking I'd have been happier with a 7800GTX.

    When I got my GTX 275 I found the same again, that it was just short of the right level of performance for the visuals I wanted from contemporary games and that I probably should have spent that bit more to get a 285 or 295.


    On top of that feeling of dissatisfaction I find that I upgrade sooner after each mid-range card, whereas even though a high-end card usually costs disproportionately more than its performance benefits can justify, it would likely last longer in terms of satisfaction.
    I'm starting to think that I would feel more like I had spent my money wisely on an investment than on something disposable, even if it's obsoleted by the next series or refresh 6 months later.

    Am I seeing another side to the decision now that I hadn't before, or am I just playing right into the hands of nVidia and AMD by thinking high-end cards are worth their disproportionately higher prices because of the psychological benefits of product satisfaction?

    For those of you who buy mid-range cards, do you just buy what you can reasonably afford or justify, stick it in the machine, find your comfortable settings and enjoy your purchase until it no longer handles new games comfortably - Or do you find yourselves slightly dissatisfied the way I do?

    4. Is it better to get a mid-to-high end card and overclock it to the speeds of the high-end card, or is it better to just get the high-end card and overclock it higher still?

    "Get the cheaper card and overclock it to the speed of the more expensive one."
    "lolol people who buy the more expensive one are idiots because i overlocked my 8800GT to the speed of a stock 8800GTS 512"
    And so on..

    Often when a new series is released we see a lot of comments like the above on the reviews of the highest-end model from people who ritualistically buy midrange cards only and I can't help but think that in some cases it's PJS (Purchase Justification Syndrome) of a strange kind; where people find themselves regretting their midrange purchases and seek to make themselves feel better by thinking that with a bit of overclocking luck their new midrange card is really a high-end in disguise.

    I don't often see it said in response, but do people not realise that the high-end cards will generally achieve significantly higher clock values because of the wonders of speed-binning?
    In some cases the high-end cards max out only a short distance ahead of their mid-range siblings when overclocking, but I don't think that's typically the case.
    I'm fairly sure a reasonably-overclocked GTX 570 will never match a GTX580 overclocked by a similarly reasonable amount, for instance - Especially when considering factors such as the differences in total RAM and memory bandwidth.

    Of course you can get very lucky doing the above too and there are some weird exceptions to all of this, such as the current situation with 6950s needing only a BIOS reflash and clock-cycle change to be converted into their 6970 siblings that cost upwards of €50 more at retail. This is an anomalous situation and I personally expect it to be fixed in the next revision of those cards, once AMD and the board partners see how few 6970s are being bought by those-in-the-know.

    It feels quite dismissive to say that people who buy mid-range cards and insist on commenting on how much smarter they are than their peers who buy high-end cards are just jealous or venting PJS, but I'm starting to think that might account for a lot of it.

    5. Is the stock cooling good enough, or do I need to add €50-90 to the price of the card for aftermarket cooling, making this the wrong choice of card?

    I'm an avid watercooler and I absolutely detest the vacuum-cleaner noise of most graphics card HSF units, so I habitually stick a waterblock on every card I buy.
    Unfortunately, that can add a hefty amount extra to the cost of the card, from €20 for a block adapter plate up to €90 for a new full-cover block.

    I love quiet systems, so I'm inclined to believe that it's a justified extra cost even without the increased overclocking headroom afforded by watercooling - But when looking at the price of watercooling parts relative to the price of the hardware I'm cooling, sometimes it looks a bit silly.
    Graphics card - €350, Full-cover block - €80, Single-slot PCIE bracket - €10, Silence - Priceless. (You know where to send the money, MasterCard.)

    This is also related to question 4 because it's arguably more justifiable to spend a significant sum on decent aftermarket cooling such as a full-cover block when you're pairing it with a card powerful-enough to 'deserve' it and get the most out of the extra cooling.
    I sometimes think it's a bit boy-racerish and silly when I see people putting €90 water blocks on cheap graphics cards when silence isn't their goal.

    Does the cost or availability of aftermarket cooling affecting your actual choice of card, or do you just choose your card as a priority and hope for decent aftermarket cooling later if it isn't available at time of purchase?

    6."Is now the right time to buy or do AMD/nVidia have something up their sleeves for next week/month/quarter?"
    7."Is it better to pay more now as an early adopter or wait, pay less, but buy something that's obsolete sooner?"

    These questions are always the most annoying to read an answer to, because they generally aren't answered until it's already too late.

    Bit-Tech is a great help in this area, moreso than many other hardware review sites, I feel. The closing paragraphs of the GTX580 review offer advice to hold off for a few weeks to see what AMD serves up in response, because the guys at Bit have an inkling that something is on the way.

    Without such advice the constant tick-tock of graphics card series releases and refreshes would make it very difficult as a consumer to get that kind of 'insider scoop' and to be able to predict if now is the right time to buy or not.

    Another factor that makes questions 6&7 awkward is that it can be tough to know when the prices of a new card are going to drop to a reasonable point and waiting too long can place you in the awkward position of buying a new card right in the middle of its shelf-life. That situation leads to the kind of dissatisfaction I mentioned in the first questions because your new purchase becomes obsolete sooner.


    Someone is bound to say that I'm overthinking all of this, but I honestly feel that these are thoughts a lot of us have when we prepare to drop hundreds of our hard-earned euro/pounds/dollars on shiny new hardware; but I don't think the psychological side of the decision is often dealt with in discussions.
    It's too easy to just look at benchmarks and price figures and think "This offers the best bang for my buck - I'll get this."

    I don't think the decision is really as simple as we often make it out to be. What do you think?
    Last edited: 5 Jan 2011
    WildThing and Pete J like this.
  2. The_Beast

    The_Beast I like wood ಠ_ಠ

    21 Apr 2007
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    Buy what you can afford

    'nuff said
  3. Elton

    Elton Officially a Whisky Nerd

    23 Jan 2009
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    >$200 is usually the sweet spot now. Although it's arguable that the $250 has good yields as well.

    Honestly, the easiest way to look at it is using your current hardware as a benchmark, if you're paying the same (or near the same) you paid for the last piece of kit and get +95% in performance, then you have yourself a winner. That formula has worked for me so far, from a HD4850 to a HD6850, the gain is tangible and the price was the same.

    Although you could stretch it out a bit more, I'd say +100% performance is about time for an upgrade. That or +200%.

    With the aftermarket cooling, that's a bit of a niggle since most high end cards(the ones I salivate for and never get..) use stock configurations, if one side is quieter and slightly slower, I can deal.

    But once again, I use my pocketbook and my current hardware as a starting point. What do I gain with this purchase? If it's below 2x the performance of the current card, why bother?

    Oh and The Beast, you could do with an upgrade....I have a shiny used HD4850. ;)
    Zurechial likes this.
  4. play_boy_2000

    play_boy_2000 It was funny when I was 12

    25 Mar 2004
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    I always buy either the mid range or last years high end, just because I don't like losing over $100 in depreciation in the first year. As is, I'm pretty sad that my 5770 has already lost ~$75 in value (off retail) since I bought it 14 months ago :(
  5. DragunovHUN

    DragunovHUN Modder

    30 Oct 2008
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    I'm usually comfortable with a model or two down from the top. I feel that's where the most value is. I'd feel guilty going for a top-end card for twice the money, can't justify it.
  6. philheckler

    philheckler Used to be a pc enthusiast

    23 Apr 2009
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    I'm usually happy with the 2nd model down from the top... if i start to get the hankering for more performance then i'll get a 2nd card for sli (if i can pick up the 2nd card cheap of course..) - don't normally buy 'refresh' products (ie gtx470 - > gtx570) as the upgrade costs dont warrant the slight performance increase....

    my buying history..

    radeon 4870
    gtx260 sli
    gtx470 sli
  7. roosauce

    roosauce Looking for xmas projects??

    12 Feb 2010
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    You need to buy what you can afford.

    In recent times I've tended to buy at or close to top of the line, then sell it (or them) and use that money towards the next round of fastest/near fastest card(s). Wash, repeat. I'm not sure that it is the most financially sensible choice over time, but it does mean that you sit on the best cards and the next upgrade is never full price.
    Elton likes this.
  8. Kaiwan

    Kaiwan Shinigami

    29 Dec 2010
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    I usually go for the best that I can afford since I don't tend to upgrade frequently. For instance I went from an 8800GT to a 5870.
  9. Elton

    Elton Officially a Whisky Nerd

    23 Jan 2009
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    Dual GPU seems quite viable these days. Although waiting every 2 generations seems to work quite well for me thus far.

    My upgrade path.
    Matrox Something w/ 4MB
    Ti 4200
    HD4850(quantum leap)

    I miss Nvidia drivers.
  10. Fanatic

    Fanatic Monimidder

    4 Jun 2010
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    To be honest whatever I can get past the misses's nose without her noticing is what I buy!

    I remember my first 'real' gfx card an Nvidia 5600xt rapidly followed by a 5900xt as the 5600 was a waste of time and a real disappointment! 6600gt, 7800gt, 7800gt SLI, 8800gt, 8800gtx then a gtx 285 which I currently use.

    In the market now to replace the 285 but along with SB, mobo and ram so funds will be the deciding factor in choice this time round.
  11. Pete J

    Pete J Employed scum

    28 Sep 2009
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    Wow, you've put some thought into this! Have some rep!

    The reason I've spent more money than I should have on hardware is that I REALLY like computer games. The extra power also comes in handy for simulations I run but that can be considered purely a coincidence.

    Before I upgraded to 3x480s, I had 260s in SLI - and they performed admirably. The only games that I couldn't run well were the usual suspects. Just once though, I wanted to be on the cutting edge of technology, so I saved up for the 4xx series. I have to say, the performance is/was absolutely mind-blowing. Things like the Heaven Benchmark, which are difficult to run, just flew by. The problem is, once you get used to playing games at ludicrous speed and levels of detail, the upgrade bug bites hard.

    As for upgrading, once you're at the top, it's hard to let go. The release of the 580 really bugged me that I didn't have the fastest combination any more, so I gave in and bought some. It's a definite psychological thing - whenever I played a game I was thinking '580s would make this run better'. Now I have them, I know it can't run any faster - unless I get watercooling and flash the bios to allow higher voltages and...NO NO NO! MUSTN'T SPEND MORE MONEY!

    In the end, I suppose it's about how seriously you take your hobbies. I have a friend who saved up to buy a brand new Golf R32. He had very little money for a while afterwards but he was very, very happy - me, I want to get a Volvo estate eventually as I just see cars as a way of getting from A to B. On the other hand, he keeps an average PC for gaming because he doesn't spend that much time on it - for me it is my main hobby.

    It's just bloody annoying that PCs don't last anywhere near as long as a car does!
    Javerh and Zurechial like this.
  12. Teelzebub

    Teelzebub Up yours GOD,Whats best served cold

    27 Nov 2009
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    I agree with Pete J I wouldn't be happy with what I would consider second best.

    Why buy something that only just does the job I would rather buy something that does it with ease.
  13. javaman

    javaman May irritate Eyes

    10 May 2009
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    in order

    a) is it broken

    b) What do I want/have to spend?

    c) Does anything in that price range offer a substantial performance increase in what Im using the product for? (ie. a 4870 to 460 offers little increase in gaming but massive gains in folding)

    d) Does the product above or below offer better value for its price? (law of diminishing returns) If so hold off till prices come down more (see point a)

    e) Although it makes sense to and I can do it, do I actually need to upgrade (no point upgrading if everything is fast enough since I can't afford to waste money)
  14. WildThing

    WildThing Minimodder

    26 Jul 2007
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    First of all, great topic!

    + rep!

    I normally want to go for the high end but ever since I sold my old 6800 GT (Goes like Hell edition which ran at Ultra speeds) for way less than I bought it, I felt the need to have some sort of rule or system which I could follow. One which meant I would get less depressed by the whole diminishing returns thing. Unfortunately, several updgrades after and I have spent different amounts on graphics cards and have still not come up with a system.

    I spent £350 on that 6800GT GLH, and sold it for a mere £40 several years later. Although I don't regret it as it was a beast at the time and lasted a good long while. After that I made a significant leap to an 8800 GTS 320mb for under £200. This also served me well, so much so that I said I would never again spend more than £200 as I thought that was the so called sweet spot. Then what do I do? Spend £240 on my current 4870 1GB. Once again this has served me very well and it still plays most games on max.

    When I heard about the 6970, I thought I would definitely buy it as I now have a 24" monitor @ 1920x1200. However after seeing the reviews and the price, I think I'll wait for the 7xxx from AMD before I decide (yes I am a bit of an AMD/ATi fanboy :D).

    This is something I have often thought about. Surely the high end will also OC about the same amount as the mid range, so what difference does it make? You might as well go for the one you feel you can justify price-wise.

    I tried water-cooling once, on my aforementioned 6800GT. It was great fun, I learnt a lot, and I do not regret it at all despite the odd leak :worried:. However I can't be bothered to do it again unless a) I get more time or b) I get a pay-rise. The main thing I look out for on GPU coolers is if they have a whiny or irritating fan sound.

    Completely agree with what you say about Bit-Tech. They have been very helpful, what with the buyers guide and everything. That's why I love 'em!

    With regards to buying older tech when the price drops, I don't like doing this. I can't get past the idea that a new one could be waiting round the corner. I can get quite hung-up on this. However sometimes I look at the price of the new high end kit and struggle to justify spending more than £200-£250 on it.

    You are not over-thinking any of this. You have raised valid points IMO. I like that you've talked about some of the psychological aspects too, especially about PJS as you call it. Man, the amount times I tried to justify to myself the £350 I spent on my 6800GT :duh:
    Zurechial likes this.
  15. IvanIvanovich

    IvanIvanovich будет глотать вашу душу.

    31 Aug 2008
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    i'm kind of at the same point here, currently on an hd4850 512, that is starting to feel a little lacking in the most recent games. i tend to try and hold out for at least 2 generations before upgrading, and its come that time, so i'm trying to decide to go for a mid range gtx460 1gb, or an upper midrange hd6950 2gb. the cost of the nvidia card is about half, but also less performance. also the additional memory in the 2gb may prove to be a more useful investment in the long run, since i think thats whats bringing me down now. so in the end i'm sitting here saying either one is better than what i have now, but is it up to needing to save the money and get the midrange, or skipping a few meals and getting a better card?
  16. mikemorton

    mikemorton Minimodder

    5 Nov 2010
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    I have only just discovered the delights of high-end graphics cards, and I'm now hooked for the rest of my gaming life.

    I currently have a GTX 580, with my "old" 480 dedicated to PhysX.

    When my second 580 arrives (SLI heaven!), the 480 will go in a second PC.

    It's a lot of money, but gaming is my main hobby.

    And I'm not particularly well off either.

    I will never own my dream house.

    I will never own my dream car.

    I have my private pilot's licence, but can't afford to fly any more.

    But I'm hopefully well on the way to owning my dream PC.

    This is something that is achievable on my income.

    The country estate will have to wait.
    Zurechial likes this.
  17. brave758

    brave758 Minimodder

    16 Apr 2009
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    :thumb: nuff said.
  18. Deders

    Deders Modder

    14 Nov 2010
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    I tend to find midrange works best for me, especially with the option to SLI when I need more power. I've come to realise that I will always play with the highest details I can anyway so I might as well spend enough to make it smooth.

    Here's a rundown of my graphics cards and my thoughts:

    ATI rage pro 8MB @work - came with computer, thought it would be able to accelerate 3D, oh how wrong I was.

    Voodoo1 - Wow, after playing Quake, Final Fantasy 7 and Half life with CPU rendering I had no idea 3D games could look and be that smooth. Great investment

    TNT2 Mach 64 - fell into the trap of thinking that anything with TNT2 on the box would give me great performance and to be fair with a little overclocking there were a few games I could actually run at 1024x768x32, at the time I didn't think graphics could get better than this.....

    Voodoo 2 - was kindly given to me, more voodoo power and at 800x600, although I started to notice the difference in rendering quality between this and the TNT2

    Geforce 3 - For the first (and possibly last) time ever I had a top of the range Graphics card, only thing is by the time anything came out to actually use the new fancy pixel shader features it was already superceded by the geforce 4 which most games were aimed towards performance wise. Still the first few months of having it blew me away in terms of what a graphics processor should be able to do.

    FX5700 Ultra - decided to go with Gainward for this as I'd heard nothing but the best from their golden samples, I was disapointed to find that mine wasn't a golden sample, nor was it actually an ultra in the traditional sense, they'd added more memory that I probably wasn't ever going to use, running at a slower rate, still with a little overclocking it gave acceptable results. I was even more disappointed to discover the 5900XT had been released a couple of weeks after I bought it, only £20 more for 8 pipelines, no dX9 card should have less than 8 pipelines.

    6600GT - This is what a mid range DX9 card should be, at least at the time, another great investment. Even up until a year ago it was the minimum card for a lot of games.

    9800GTX+ - WOW, blew me away even more than the Geforce 3, parallel shaders ran everything at super smooth framerates, for the first time ever I was getting 60+fps@1280x1024 with nearly everything, and all for less than £150, I can see why Nvidia kept re-badging this chip, well almost.

    9800GTX+ SLI - when I first got this I was disappointed that it didn't double my framerates but after upgrading my monitor to 1680x1050 a month later it gave me the extra grunt I needed to run pretty much everything at full detail, not only that but the hit from AA and AF was almost negligable, much less %wise than a single card. Now my new overclocked i5-750 has really shown me the power of these beasts. The only games that I get low minimum framerates in are games that even a single 580 seems to struggle with like Metro 2033. It even gives me the flexibility to have one card dedicated to Physx if needed. This is the first setup I've had where I've not felt the need to overclock my graphics. Now that most games are being designed with consoles in mind, these are still more than enough. But the fancy tesselation of DX11 is constantly playing on my mind.....

    Next possible upgrade - Everything i've learned so far has made me believe that a 560 would be the perfect upgrade for my machine, given the 460's already proven record, even if it will only give me slightly more FPS than my current setup in most games, It would be nice to have for when more DX11 games do arrive but If I can't quite afford it now, i'm happy to wait for them to come down in price so I can appreciate even more the difference between DX10 and 11.
    Zurechial likes this.
  19. rollo

    rollo Modder

    16 May 2008
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    My upgrades are usualy based around performance gain

    4890 to 5870 in crossfire was nice boost

    5870cf to 580 sli was a pretty poor upgrade enough it cost me little to do.

    Till the next consoles are out you will do fine with any 6 series or 4/5 nvidia series and that's a big thing to consider. Same with CPUs, i750 or above CPU means no reason to upgrade
  20. lamboman

    lamboman What's a Dremel?

    25 Jul 2006
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    I haven't upgraded in a while because...to be honest, I don't have a clue. Been too busy, and if not...been out and about. Haven't managed to get into PC gaming as much as I was hoping to a couple of years back, but with the hardware that's available now, that's about to change.

    Personally, I'd go for the card that is considered the best value and is powerful enough for my needs (obvious in a way). The meaning of this has changed over the last few years though. Back when I built my current system, graphics cards were very much split, with cards that were very mid-range, capable of only powering something like a 19" monitor, and cards that were powerhouses capable of running 1920x1200+.

    However, now, we're seeing that the mid-range cards has moved up with the display resolution (sorta), so we're now seeing our mid-range cards powering bigger displays at higher settings. This alone gives me less reason to want to go with a high-high end setup.
    Zurechial likes this.

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