Monday, January 14, 2008

Buying a Video Card is too frustrating

I'm a gamer. No, really I am. But I'm more of a part time gamer. I don't spend hours every day gaming. Instead I spend hours every week gaming. On a variety of different systems including my PC. About every couple of years I face a most frustrating experience. What new graphics card to buy?

Now I like to get my moneys worth. I'm technically literate so I build my own computers and when I upgrade I do so piece meal over time. This does require a fair bit of research but I wouldn't call the experience frustrating. Yes Intel has taken to strange naming conventions with their chips, but their model numbers do indicate which CPUs you can expect to perform better than others. AMD does a much better job by putting numbers in the names their CPUs that ruffly correspond to the relative processing power of their chips and they have been doing this for years. Their graphics cards however do not get this treatment. I will acknowledge ATI and NVIDA have made efforts to give buyers some idea of the relative speed of their cards by model number but they have not been consistent.

I can't just walk into a store and buy a graphics card that will suit my needs. I can't compare the speed of my old card to a new one unless I upgrade regularly because new video cards are rarely benchmarked against low to mid range cards more than a couple of years old. I don't know how much faster my new card will be compared to my old one. And so it begins. Hours spent pouring over benchmark results. Days lurking forums for anecdotal evidence on what card will play the games I am interested in. Culminating in a splitting headache before I finally give up and just by something..

Is it just me thats having trouble with this? I don't think so.

Not all game enthusiasts are technically inclined. The popularity of game consoles is due in large part to the fact that you don't have to know a thing about its inner workings to use it. Buying a video card on the other hand takes many hours of research. Few casual gamers are going to put the necessary time in to understand the technology well enough to make an informed decision, they just want to play the games. These people represent lost sales. The industry shows no interest in them what so ever. So casual gamers are left completely out of the market, part time gamers are left pulling their hair out and the graphics card industry seemingly couldn't care less.

There are exceptions, where benchmark numbers are printed right on the front of the box. Most card makers will do this some of the time but why so infrequently. Most boxes tell you only that the card inside is gives you an incredible gaming experience. Which is totally useless.

The solution is straight forward. Model numbers should tell us approximately how fast video cards are relative to other cards from the same company not just tell what generation the card is from. NVIDIA and AMD each need to create their own benchmarking standard or just adopt existing one and print the resulting scores right on the box. Their partners should be required to do the same. A synthetic benchmark won't tell me how fast a card will run a particular game but it's not supposed to. It will tell me how the speed of one card on the shelf generally compares to another. There should be a recommended list of popular games on the back of the box telling me what games I can play with that card.

I and millions of others gamers can't be wrong. We need some help and the games are waiting. Is this really to much to ask?