For one thing, given the rate of technological progress, expect your brand new product to lose out around 50% of its status in a year to 2 years. Lower percentage decreases if you bought top of the line 1000+ or 1500+ dollar products for computers or $200+ video card products.
So in essence while there might be a 20% increase in performance from a 500 dollar computer to a 1000 dollar computer, by buying the 500 dollar computer now, because it is cheap, you will be able to spend the 500 dollars conserved in 1 to 2 years and still be top of the line, nearly anyways. This is compared to the buying strategy that buys top of the line products at retail or slightly less than retail prices when such product lines arrive on the shelves. The difference between relatively modern and state of the art, may be simply 30% yet the cost difference may be far more than 2X. You are essentially buying, if you so choose, state of the art products for immediate gratification. Again, this kind of buying strategy is different from the more conservative strategy I first listed.
[Typically what I mean by “obsolete” is the time frame in which you can buy a computer that outperforms your current one in all sectors, and have it cost 50% less than what you bought your first computer for. A 500 dollar computer in 2000 would become obsolete, in my view, when a 250 dollar computer in 2002 would outperform in ALL aspects the 500 dollar computer. Typically the rate of obsolescence for CPUs are lower than the ones for ram and the obsolescence rate for RAM is lower than that for GPU, graphics cards]
Concerning recouping of costs or conserving of dollar value, there are some methods people use to make the strategy of always buying brand new state of the art products more cost effective. For one thing, ebay allows you to sell your state of the art products once the “new state of the art” has been reached. Since you paid like hundreds for one piece of electronics and thousands in aggregate computer component costs, you are able to recoup some of your expenses by selling it on ebay. THe users will bid because while your product may not be brand spanking new, it would still be at least one tech level above what most people could afford and would definitely be far <B>cheaper</b> than an equivalent retail product. So this is sort of an addendum strategy to buying state of the art. It requires you to use your own initiative to recoup your expensive buying habits, but in return you get unparalleled performance. Not cost effective for people that don’t use games or their computers a lot, of course. That would simply then be a status symbol, rather than a tool for commerce and life.
Okay, second topic. The guide on buying video cards is sort of similar to the one to computers. I am leaving out the very different models of computers, such as barebones kit, full complete kits, individual assembly of computer with pre-selected parts, etc. There is a rather significant difference between buying a bare bones kit and stocking it up to your standards and needs, and buying a full kit complete with computer accessories and near state of the art memory,video card, monitor, etc. The individual computer assembly strategy is employed by people that already have an economic grasp of what components cost, what they can afford, and what they are willing to pay for. Aside from that, the topic on video cards is divided into similar categories.
For one thing, there are two primary main designers of video cards for computers: nVidia and ATI. Different manufacturers take their motherboard design and tweak it, thus you get like eVGA cards and whatevers. Then there is the naming conventions such as Geforce 2 TI, Geforce 4 420, Geforce 5 GO 5600, Geforce 6600, Geforce 8800 GT, Geforce 8600 GT XXX. Seems like nonsense code to most folks. It is very important to understand the difference, however, since it will allow you to get the best value for your dollar. I will chiefly focus on nVidia graphics processors, rather than the ATI brand naming conventions. They are similar in design, but the numbers are the same. Both nVidia and ATI use the “series” form of naming conventions, after about series 4 or 5 I believe. The first number after the “GeForce” is the series number. So Geforce 2 is the second generation, Geforce 4 is the fourth, and so forth. THe early generations were sort of industry revolutionary days, so don’t expect much consistency. THey were still figuring out what was what. WIth the advent of ATI as a main competitor, the two companies figured out a sort of “balance of powers” in terms of marketing and advertisement. One area where knowledge of war, strategy, and politics come into play for a short time.
Essentially, every new generation of video cards come with new technology, new shader model versions, and better chip architecture and memory/ram/ramdac/core speeds (in mega hertz and soon gigahertz). So the value is determined by the performance and generation your product comes from. Performance is determined by the market the company seeks to address. For rich folks and power gamers, nVidia provides the upper number systems, the 800+ such as 8800 or 7800 or 6800. The first number is the generation number, the second number is the quality of the card in terms of how much raw power they stuffed into it. It is like an up armored humvee in a sense. Instead of a newly designed jeep, we get the old one and spruce it up with extras and bells. That would be the x800s and x900s and anything above. For folks on a lower budget, in the 200-300 range, they have the below x800 line. They remove some of the power (like horsepower and cylinders in engines) and reduce the memory bandwidth and core clock. Still better than the last generation’s stuff, but now it becomes more difficult to tell.
To give some concrete examples, Tigerdirect.com sells Geforce 6600 card, a low budget card of the 6 generation series which had a very nice value especially since it was the lowest end card you could get that had Shader Version 3.0 (minimum required by Bioshock), at 79.99. In comparison, tigerdirect.com also sells Geforce 7300 LE at around 69.99. The x300 series are a really low budget card compared to the x600 or x800. I mean, they strip much of its power away, leaving the main GPU, graphics processing unit, with little memory speed or processing pipes to work with. In practice, a 7300 would definitely be outperformed by a 6800, even though the 7300 is a generation higher on the scale of things. Now take a look at the more expensive line of Geforce 8800 line of cards. The reason why it is more expensive is because those cards DON’T have most of their power stripped away like the x300s. It is why typically a 6800 card can outperform a Geforce generation 8 card of the 300 series. Typically speaking of course, since there are a lot of overclocking, memory size, memory bandwidth, etc issues that could affect speed.
Anyways, the value of the x300 series is pretty low. In that, before long you will have to replace it if you wish to play the more modern games. It’s 50, 60, 70 dollar value will be replaced by the new generation’s x300, thus requiring a very high turn over value that still won’t let you play most games well. However, the x600 series I have found are very affordable and are of average value. The 6600 which I bought had shader version 3.0, which allowed me to play Bioshock without upgrading. I had to play it at the 640X resolution, but it was good for a year and a half for most things. It was good value for a card that only cost around 55 dollars one bay. Now the 8600 is the newest generation card, and it prices around 110-220 retail in US dollars. Typically a x600 card is obsolete by the time two generations of new video cards have been produced. That takes about 2 years all in all. That still has more [affordable] endurance than the 8800 card that costs 300-800 dollars. That might conceivably last 3 years to 4 before becoming obsolete.
Obsolescence for video cards are a tricky phenomenon. Framerates, meaning performance, is important while playing games for with a fps below 20, you will get slowness. SLowness equals more time spent on game and less value. Ebay typically sells new cards for 25-50% off if you can get a good deal. My friend Phileosophos bought the new nVidia Geforce SLI cards that cost something to 800 dollars total for two cards in SLI. He usually sells old video cards on ebay after a year or two, since Phil likes maximum performance and he is willing to pay through the nose for such. Buying retail gives you warranty, usually eBay doesn’t have warranty unless you buy from some kind of select shop rather than an individual. I am okay with Resolution 800X600 or 1024X860. Others prefer 1600X+ resolutions or 1980X resolutions. The higher the resolution, the greater the demand on the video graphics card. A card that might be able to play games well at 800X could have its fps, or performance, value decreased by maybe 50% once the resolution is bumped one level to 1024X.