While at Best Buy yesterday I once again found myself checking out the various video cards for sale. My ATI Radeon 9600 had served me well for over three years, but it's definitely getting long in the tooth. In fact, it's now one of the oldest major component of my computer, which is saying a lot.
I've once again started wondering whether or not to upgrade, what components to upgrade, or to go with a complete build at all. Or, heaven forbid, finally cave into the pressure and get myself a Mac. But which one?
Let's break it down one by one. The first thing I can update is my video card. Unfortunately, my motherboard is also old enough that it only supports AGP, not the far-more-common PCI-Express now. That being said, I don't plan on spending more than 100 dollars on a card anyway, unless I just go for a full rebuild. If I can squeeze another year of gaming out of a 256 or 512 megabyte AGP card for less than 100 dollars, I'd feel justified.
I can also buy a new motherboard that had PCI-Express but still supported my AMD Athlon 64 (socket 754). There are far fewer of these around nowadays, but they can be had for as little as 30 dollars. For just around 100 dollars I can get a new motherboard and a PCI-express video card, with the option of being able to upgrade more in the future.
But this is a much more involved project than just replacing a video card; replacing the mobo would likely involve altering my Windows install. If I were to commit to that much labor, I could easily just replace my processor as well.
At that point I'm basically rebuilding my computer outright, which I haven't done since 2002. In fact, I'd have to buy new RAM as well, since I'm using old DDR RAM, not DDR2 (albeit 2 gigabytes of it).
Console vs. PC
This brings up the next debate: should I migrate to consoles and ditch PC gaming?
My wonderful girlfriend Lynn got me a Wii for our 2 year anniversary in September, the first console I'd owned since my Sega Genesis. I'd been a staunch PC gamer since elementary school, reveling in the high definition gaming on my computer. But with the current generation of consoles finally stepping into Hi-Def, it's hard to deny that consoles have finally caught up. My current computer certainly can't do the graphical tricks that consoles nowadays can do at the resolution they do it in.
That being said, the Wii is not a serious gaming machine. If I wanted true HD gaming, I would have to spring the 300-400 dollars for an XBox360 or PS3, and then I'd have to rebuild my stable of games to play. I'm not even a huge fan of gamepads, since I mostly play FPS'es and strategy games!
Still, the current gen of consoles should probably stave off obsolescence for 3 or 4 more years, basically the longevity of an upgrade for my computer anyway. It's getting to be a hard choice.
Mac vs. PC
And then the hardest choice of all: do I finally cave into the pressures of getting an Apple computer. As an animator and filmmaker in Los Angeles, I am one of the last bastions of people who do their professional work primarily on a PC still (I use Macs at the office). I've managed to get by this far, but if I want to keep editing in my skillset, I have to start using Final Cut Pro.
But Macs are ridiculously expensive for their performance, compared to a PC of the same specs (a friend and colleague's 1800 dollar PC rendered the same AfterEffects file as his workplace's 2500 dollar Intel Mac, and the PC rendered it 30% faster); They aren't built for gaming; they require brand new software; and they're more expensive and a pain in the butt to upgrade.
I volunteered to swap the power supply on a Mac Pro at work once. What was a 20 minute procedure for a PC, took me over six hours (spread over 2 days) with the Mac. Ridiculous.
Besides, I only really need to use the Mac for FCP... I can keep using AfterEffects and Flash on my PC.
An Indecent Proposal
It would cost about 2500 dollars to buy a Mac Pro (quad core Xeon, 2 gigs of RAM, 512 mb video, 320gb HD). With a budget like that, let's see how much I can spread the money around:
$260 - Intel Core 2 Quad 2.4 ghz Processor
$65 - MSI Intel Motherboard
$57 - 512 MB Radeon x1650 video card (PCI-E)
$170 - 8 gigabytes of DDR2 RAM
$552 - TOTAL for a PC rebuild (salvage rest of parts from current PC) (via Newegg)
$400 - PS3 or Xbox 360
$952 - SUBTOTAL
That gets me $1548 left to buy a Mac. Not a Mac Pro, but I can get a 2.0 ghz 20-inch iMac with 2 gigs of RAM, which should be more than enough to run FCP without a ridiculously amount of filters and layers, for just $1349.
Total: $2301, 200 dollars cheaper than a Mac Pro that would likely be slower than my PC.
Really with that kind of a PC, I wouldn't even need an HD console for at least another year (almost certainly more), at which point the price for a console will have dropped even more, or we'd all be eyeing the next generation by then.
Of course, this all presupposes that I had this kind of money. Maybe after taxes, we'll see. What do you guys think?