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February 26, 2004

Worms 3D

At long last, Team17 and Sega will be bringing Worms 3D stateside. The game has been available in Europe for a few months now. Supposedly, there were problems finding a US distributor which delayed its release over here. EBGames.com shows the release date as next Tuesday. Worms Armageddon is one of my all-time favorite games. In fact, I still play it online regularly with my brother (who happens to live in Japan). It's one of those games that never gets old, because each match is completely different from the previous. Hopefully, Worms 3D will have the same staying power.

Video Card Arrives

I received my eVGA Geforce FX 5900 video card yesterday afternoon, proving once again what a great online retailer NewEgg.com is. Every time I have ordered from them, my order arrives quickly. When one considers their large selection and excellent prices, they are unbeatable in my book. I hope they'll be around a long time. This is my first experience with eVGA, the card's manufacturer. They seem to offer nice after-the-sale support as well as a well-designed website. The card included a nice software bundle including the full version of Ghost Recon, some video editing software and NVIDIA's DVD software. While I probably won't use the bundled software myself, it's still a good offering.

I installed the card without a hitch. Since NVIDIA uses a unified driver set, I already had the latest revision (53.03) downloaded. Game performance is markedly improved with the new card, especially in games that utilize DX9 Pixel Shader 2.0 technology like the new Far Cry demo. Far Cry had my previous card screaming for mercy. Now, it's nice and smooth. Also, I was able to run the benchmarks in 3DMark03 without them looking like a slideshow. I nearly tripled my previous 3DMark with a nice score of 4993. It's not as high as it could be, since my two-year old processor (2.2GHz Pentium 4) hampers the score somewhat. But, I'm very happy with the performance of the card. It will definitely keep me happy until I do my full system upgrade later this year.

Also, it turns out that NVIDIA has announced support for PCI Express. They released an announcement early last week that can be found here. It doesn't say anything about future offerings, but it does solidify their support for the new interface. One can deduce from this release that future product offerings will support PCIe as well.

February 22, 2004

PC Upgrade Choices

I'm starting to get the PC upgrade itch again. I built my current rig in March, 2002 and added a few upgrades to it over the past two years (including a slick Matrix Orbital LCD display). Since I typically upgrade my PC every two years, it looks like 2004 will bring some new hardware to my desk.

I had originally planned to upgrade my motherboard, processor, hard disk and video card in the May/June timeframe. This timeframe was based on rumors that Intel's new Alderwood (925X) chipset would be available near mid-year. This new chipset will support DDR2 memory and PCI Express — two technologies that will bring improved performance to the desktop. I had also hoped to take advantage of new graphics chip introductions by NVIDIA in this timeframe, as my Geforce 4 Ti4600 is getting rather long in the tooth. However, things have changed on the technology front that are causing me to re-evaluate my upgrade timeframe.

First, Intel announced this week that they will be introducing 64-bit extensions into future Xeon and Prescott server processors. While this doesn't directly affect my upgrade path, it does open the door for a couple of things: Intel could reduce the price of their Extreme Edition procs, since they are essentially repackaged (non-64 bit) Xeon procs; or Intel could broaden their support of 64-bit extensions across their desktop processor family. Intel have stated that their 64-bit strategy won't extend to the desktop for some time. But, things could change with AMD providing market pressure via their Athlon 64 processor.

Second, there haven't been any announcements from NVIDIA regarding new chipsets or PCIe support. ATI announced their support for PCIe the other day, so it stands to reason that NVIDIA will do the same. I can't imagine that NVIDIA wants to continue to play catch-up with ATI, especially since ATI has gobbled up a considerable amount of market share with their Radeon 9600/9700/9800 products. Personally, I would prefer to stick with NVIDIA products, as they have been consistently reliable and well-performing. I had a poor experience with ATI a few years back. So, I'm very hesitant to buy their products again, in spite of reports that their drivers have improved with the newer generation of Radeon cards.

What does this all mean for me? I've decided to hold off on my full upgrade until late summer or early autumn. This should allow time for new chipsets (processor and graphics) to hit the market and settle in, as well as the 64-bit question to become a bit more clear. Hopefully, some higher clock speeds will hit the market by then as well — it would be nice to have a 3.8GHz Prescott proc. I also plan to give my system a bit of a performance boost with a new video card in the meantime. It doesn't make a lot of sense to spend a lot of money on the upgrade, but I do want a noticable performance improvement. So, I've decided to buy a card based on the Geforce FX 5900 chipset. Cards based on the FX 5900 are only slightly lower in performance (about 5-10%) than those based on the flagship FX 5950 chipset, and they cost a lot less. My favorite online vendor NewEgg.com has an eVGA card for $217, which is about what I'd like to spend on the upgrade. The card has received good reviews, and anecdotal customer reviews appear to be good as well. It will be interesting to see how much better games (especially SWG and BF1942) perform with the upgrade.