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Planned Obsolescence

A trend with my vacations that I've noticed is that I will spend the last day doing system optimization. Logically, you'd think that system optimization would go before spending several days playing the computer rather than after. Instead, I'm driven to evaluate my system at the end, perhaps the nervous searching reaction of a cornered rat.

I don't get this: City of Heroes is once again lingering at 10 FPS while traveling the city. I had encountered that with my Radeon 9800 PRO 256MB, then noticed a sharp improvement when I upgraded to a Radeon X1600XT. How can I be back at the same FPS of a card 2 years older than it?

This discovery prompted an about 4-6 hours investigation of the Catalyst driver set. Using data from Tweaktown and entering it into a spreadsheet, I found an interesting trend: Performance in 3Dmark goes up, while performance in the actual games decreased.

This data would indicate that 3DMark is still being doctored by the major graphics card companies to make those scores appear better than they are. Otherwise, why would actual game performance get worse with each version of catalyst? The cards chosen off their benchmarks were both the "mid-low" range cards, so it seems likely what's going on is that later drivers did not support them as well as the newer cards those versions of the drivers were intended for. Indeed, if my choices were the newer cards, I'd notice a performance increase both in 3DMark and in the games.

Armed with this data, I downgraded to Catalyst 6.8, which appeared to have the best overall performance for my X1600XT.

Unfortunately, it seems that older drivers don't really support modern graphics calls very well. The games were generally a little uglier and not noticeably faster. Jade Empire actually booted with the quarter screen over the entire screen glitch, a reminder that newer drivers will include fixes. Performance in City of Heroes was no better, although Jade Empire took a little longer to be inflicted with that combat slowdown bug I've been encountering.

It's no use; I've been beaten by planned obsolescence. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that my card has been deliberately sabotaged to decrease speed, but I do have to wonder what happened to City of Heroes. Regardless, I'm getting the message loud and clear: It's time to save up some money and investigate some upgrade possibilities. I'm thinking I'm going to hold out for a quad core processor. However, it'll probably be about a year until they come down into my price range. Throw in the necessary PCIe graphic cards and memory upgrade requirements and perhaps some kind of uber AGP system would be a better plan for me.

Another option be to delete and reinstall Windows XP, something that many people recommend as a means to get back mysteriously lost speed. However, whether or not that may prove to be a good move, the fact of the matter is that vacation is over, and I'm out of time. I'm just desperate enough to try it regardless, but time is suddenly a more precious commodity.

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