Getting a new Graphics Card.

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Getting a new Graphics Card.

Postby 123 » Sun Feb 19, 2012 9:14 pm UTC

Okay, I'm going to try and make this short and simple...
I know next to nothing about computers, and I want a buy a new graphics card so I can play newer PC games like Skyrim. I'm thinking about getting this card, but I'm not sure if it would work with my motherboard, if it has the right slot for it. I have an OptiPlex 390 computer (stock, so everything on that page is what I have), and I tried looking at the specs for both the graphics card and the computer on those two pages, but I have no idea whatsoever what any of those numbers or words mean. I don't even know if those two pages have the info that I need, and if so, sorry. I honestly have no idea how to find out if the two are compatible or not.

Any help will be appreciated, Thanks.
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Re: Getting a new Graphics Card.

Postby PhoenixEnigma » Sun Feb 19, 2012 10:18 pm UTC

There's two major points that need to be addressed, I think, and possibly a minor one as well.

One is the physical aspect. That pages suggests you should have a single PCI-e x16 expansion slot, which may or may not be half-height. Breaking that down: single is fine, as you only need the one video card. PCI-e x16 is the interface (type and size of slot), and is good - older systems used AGP for video cards, and that would have caused problems, but PCI-e x16 has been the standard for a few years, and will likely be for a while, too. Half-height is an issue, as the card you linked (and most decently powerful cards) are full height - they're "taller" and stick out further from the motherboard than the case will allow. Of the three computers pictured on that page, which does yours look like? Only the largest of the three supports full height cards.

The second issue is power. Video cards can use a lot of it, and your PC doesn't have a very beefy power supply at all - it varies between chassis, but none of the ones listed there top 265W. In addition, I strongly suspect it doesn't have any dedicated PCI-e power connectors (6 or 8 pin plugs specifically for video cards, to meet the power demands of higher end ones). AMD suggests a 450W PSU for that video card (although that's a very conservative number and you could likely get away with less), and it's going to need a 6 pin PCI-e power connection.

Normally, I'd suggest replacing the stock power supply with a somewhat beefier unit from a reputable manufacture. However, some Googling suggests Dell is using a non-standard power supply that is a little taller than the ATX spec ones. Because the Dell units are bigger, if you're willing to drill a new screw hole or two you could replace likely it, but that's starting to get kind of involved. If you want to go that route, this is what I'd start by looking at.

A simpler option would be something like this card*, which is a little cheaper, will fit a half-height case, and doesn't need as much power (or a dedicated power connector). It'd still be pushing your power supply more than I, personally, would really like to see, but it would be well within spec. On the other hand, it's notably slower - probably only about 60% as fast as the 5770.

That's brings me to the minor point - depending on the resolution you're playing at, even the 5770 getting a little slow for the more demanding of new games at good settings. With a 720p or even 900p display, you'd probably be just fine, but 1080p or greater and you might be better served spending a little more for something slightly faster still - a GTX 460 can be had for ~$25 more and is 20-30% faster. Of course, even the 6670 would absolutely crush what you have now, and you'd at least be playing those games, you just might have to skimp on the eye candy at times.

*Not sure this one actually includes the low profile bracket. This one does, and is even cheaper, but is out of stock at the moment
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Re: Getting a new Graphics Card.

Postby Carnildo » Sun Feb 19, 2012 10:22 pm UTC

123 wrote:I know next to nothing about computers, and I want a buy a new graphics card so I can play newer PC games like Skyrim. I'm thinking about getting this card, but I'm not sure if it would work with my motherboard, if it has the right slot for it. I have an OptiPlex 390 computer (stock, so everything on that page is what I have), and I tried looking at the specs for both the graphics card and the computer on those two pages, but I have no idea whatsoever what any of those numbers or words mean. I don't even know if those two pages have the info that I need, and if so, sorry. I honestly have no idea how to find out if the two are compatible or not.

Unfortunately, "Optiplex 390" isn't a single model of computer, it's a family of vaguely-related computer models. The good news is that they all have one thing in common: they are not compatible with that graphics card.

The Optiplex 390 family of computers all have 250-watt power supplies, and I don't know if you can upgrade them: Dell has a nasty habit of using non-standard power supplies with standard-looking connectors, and if you replace one with a standard power supply, you'll destroy the computer. I wouldn't put a card requiring more than 50 watts in the computer.

The other problem is that the Optiplex 390s come in two different form factors, one of which requires a half-height graphics card, and the other of which requires a full-height graphics card. According to the tech specs, f your computer is 7 inches wide, you're looking for a full-height card; if it's 4 inches wide, you're looking for a half-height card.

Further complicating things is that your computer may already have a Radeon 6350 or 6450 graphics card. There aren't many options that are more powerful than those while still being within the power limits.

Probably the best thing you can do is upload a picture of the back of your computer so people can figure out what you've got.


(It isn't just Dell that has the infuriating habit of not giving computers unique model numbers. A few months ago, I bought a used "Thinkpad T60": until it arrived, I didn't know which of 80-someodd different models I'd be getting.)
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Re: Getting a new Graphics Card.

Postby 123 » Sun Feb 19, 2012 11:59 pm UTC

Okay, so out of the three computers in the link that I provided, I have the smallest one, so I'll either need to get a half-height graphics card that will require a lower power supply, and won't be as fast as the one I listed (meaning I'll have to run games on lower settings, which isn't a big deal to me, as long as I'm not forced to play at the absolute lowest settings), or I'll have to get a new computer.

Carnildo wrote:Further complicating things is that your computer may already have a Radeon 6350 or 6450 graphics card. There aren't many options that are more powerful than those while still being within the power limits.


Is a Radeon 6350 better or worse than an ATI Radeon 4890 (the Recommended card for Skyrim)? I don't want to assume a bigger number equals better, and I don't know if the "ATI" bit means anything.

Thanks for the help guys. I'm trying to figure this out, just as I said, I really don't know much about any of this.
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Re: Getting a new Graphics Card.

Postby PhoenixEnigma » Mon Feb 20, 2012 12:45 am UTC

123 wrote:Okay, so out of the three computers in the link that I provided, I have the smallest one, so I'll either need to get a half-height graphics card that will require a lower power supply, and won't be as fast as the one I listed (meaning I'll have to run games on lower settings, which isn't a big deal to me, as long as I'm not forced to play at the absolute lowest settings), or I'll have to get a new computer.

Carnildo wrote:Further complicating things is that your computer may already have a Radeon 6350 or 6450 graphics card. There aren't many options that are more powerful than those while still being within the power limits.


Is a Radeon 6350 better or worse than an ATI Radeon 4890 (the Recommended card for Skyrim)? I don't want to assume a bigger number equals better, and I don't know if the "ATI" bit means anything.

Thanks for the help guys. I'm trying to figure this out, just as I said, I really don't know much about any of this.

ATI is the manufacture, though they've since been bought by AMD. Same company for all intents and purposes.

The 6350 is considerably weaker than the 4890.

Naming convention is more or less XYZZ, where:
X = generation. This has gotten a little fuzzy lately because of rebranding of old cards and such, but it's more or less true. So the 6350 is newer than the 4890.

Y = Performance bracket. The exact positioning has varied a little between generations, but in general, 3 and 4 are more or less just replacements for integrated graphics, 5 and 6 are more mainstream cards for HTPC/very light gaming use, 7 is mainstream gaming, and 8 and 9 are performance and enthusiast gaming. So the 4890 is (was) a high performance gaming card in its day, while the 6350 isn't meant for much more than watching youtube videos.

XX = positioning within bracket. A 5750 is slower than a 5770, for example, but the difference is much less pronounced than between a 55xx and 57xx card. The 4890 was the cream of the crop high performance ATI card* in its day, while the 6350 is average for it's bracket (though that low, they don't often bother with multiple variants.)

nVidia's scheme is mostly similar, except they use a single 'X' and an optional suffix. The numbers aren't quite directly comparable, though - nVidia generation numbers are a couple lower than their comparable ATi/AMD counterparts, and the performance brackets cover a wider spread and are generally lower.

For gaming a new PC might be the way to go, I'm afraid. There's not really any cost-effective upgrades for that Dell, nor particularly compelling ones, and no room at all to upgrade again past that point.


*Actually, there was a further step up - a 4870 X2 that was a pair of 4870's on one card. That's a bit of an odd case, and recently they've taken to calling those x990 cards. I'm not sure which naming convention is more accurate
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Re: Getting a new Graphics Card.

Postby Carnildo » Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:00 am UTC

123 wrote:Is a Radeon 6350 better or worse than an ATI Radeon 4890 (the Recommended card for Skyrim)? I don't want to assume a bigger number equals better, and I don't know if the "ATI" bit means anything.

Much worse. The key to understanding graphics card model numbers is that the first digit is the design generation (bigger numbers are newer -- except that they re-use the numbers every five to ten years), while the rest of the digits indicate relative power within the generation. A "6350" is the lowest-power card within the "6" generation of Radeon cards, while a "4890" is the most powerful card in the "4" generation of Radeons. This chart is quite handy for quick comparisons of graphics cards. The 6350 isn't on there, but the 6450 is, and the two are very similar.

"ATI" is the maker of the "Radeon" graphics chip at the heart of the graphics card (They're owned by AMD, so you may see references to "AMD Radeon" -- it's the same thing). The other major manufacturer is Nvidia, who make the GeForce graphics chips.
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Re: Getting a new Graphics Card.

Postby PhoenixEnigma » Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:18 am UTC

Worse, it's a rebadged 5450 DDR3, which is about half a 6450.
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