My new graphics card turned up, so I had a great time fitting that last night. The little plastic clip on the motherboard holding the previous graphics card in place was tucked under the heatsink of the X800XL, making it rather fun to try and release, but a bit of deft knife-work did the trick (remember, kids, always wave cutlery around your PC case when fitting new bits, what could possibly go wrong?) With the 8800GTS fitted, I was just doing the last minute checks (new card fitted, check, all screws removed during the fitting process screwed back in (ideally but not necessarily where they came from originally), check, all cutlery taken out of the case, check), and was on the verge of powering the system back up when I thought… “power, power, that rings a bell… oh yes! The graphics card needs power!” You might be wondering how I missed that, as I carefully followed the detailed, step-by-step instructions for fitting the new card. Well, as it turned out, the detailed step-by-step instructions were a somewhat generic pamphlet, obviously included in every graphics card from that manufacturer (and several others, probably), which included such pearls of wisdom as “insert the graphics card into the appropriate slot (AGP or PCI-E)”, “if the graphics card requires power, plug cable in” (picture of several different types of plug that may or may not be needed by your card). I suppose I should be thankful the company specialised in graphics cards, if they made a variety of PC components it might have been more generic still. “Fit the component into the PC case in the appropriate place. Use appropriate connectors. Enjoy your new component!”
Anyway, rooting around the case to find the PCI-E connector from the power supply, the realisation slowly dawned that… it didn’t have a PCI-E connector (the X800XL hadn’t needed one). Cue much swearing, wondering whether an 8 pin EPS connector (whatever that is) would fit into a 6 pin PCI-E slot (I figured the chances were good, especially with a suitable amount of brute force), and searching for the bits that came with the power supply in case there was an adapter there. Fortunately, the graphics card came with an adapter, so with a bit of tinkering, turning the spaghetti mess of wiring in the case into an even spaghetti-er mess, power was connected, and away we went! Miraculously, it all seemed to work as well. Fingers crossed, touch wood, clutching horseshoe etc.
Graphics-wise, it’s… nice and all. Framerates were up with the same settings as before, and I could crank up some extra levels of detail without everything shuddering to a halt; the previous card wasn’t totally obsolete, though, so it’s not going from “Super Low Quality” at 640×480 to “AIEEE MY EYES!” at 1680 x 1050. It’s a bit like getting an epic weapon in WoW, it’s an upgrade, you’re doing more damage, but it’s not like you can suddenly take on three elites at once and smite them all in a couple of blows. In MMOs, the “oooh, pretty landscape!” effect wears off the 17th time you’re running from Bree to the North Downs, and combat involves more squinting at health bars and cooldown timers than admiring flecks of realistically rendered spittle from the Warg trying to bite your legs. Still! I’m ready for DirectX 10 and Vista, when it becomes unavoidable, and there might be a bit of scope for tinkering with drivers n’ stuff.
What I’m really pleased with is actually the overall noise of the system. Like I mentioned, the PC sits in the living room, where whining fans would get pretty annoying (so I steer clear of official game message boards, *badum tish*). In the previous setup, with a passive graphics card, the only fans were the CPU cooler and the case exhaust. This worked reasonably well, but the case fan had to be set to a fairly high speed as it was the only outlet for all the heat produced by the graphics card (and everything else). The 8800GTS is a chunky card that takes up two slots, using one of them to exhaust heat directly out of the case, and it varies its fan speed depending on the load on the card. The net result is that I can maintain the same temperatures as before with the main case fan at a lower speed, and the graphics card fan is barely audible when the system’s idle (and it doesn’t even spin up too loudly while gaming). So that’s nice.