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PC Hardware is “Toast”

By Shamus
on Wednesday Jan 2, 2008
Filed under:
Rants

 
 

Hey man, I need a new toaster. You know all about kitchen stuff. Have any suggestions?

The KitchenAid4000 series just came out.

Are those good?

I have a KA4510, and it’s really good.

Does it have 4 slots?

Oh you want 4 slots? Well, the KA4510 XN goes up to four slots, but it only toasts one side.

Let’s pretend I want to toast both sides.

Then you probably don’t want a KitchenAid. Their 4000 series 4-slicers aren’t very good. You could get one of the old KA3510 XN or XNS for cheap these days, but they take like, twenty minutes to toast the bread.

Er. What else is there?

The Cuisinart 7000 series is comparable to the KA 4000 series. The 7420, 7520, and the 7420 all do four slices. Just don’t get any of the SIP models because they can’t do bagels.

SIP?

“Slim Insertion Port”. The units are small, but only regular sliced bread will fit. KA has the same thing on many of their units. Actually, if you want to do bagels with a KA you’ll need the ASI units.

Which is?

“Adaptable Slot Interface”. It just means it can handle bread of varying widths.

So I should get a Cuisinart ASI?

No no no. That’s nonsense. In Cuisinart the units all handle wide bread unless they are SIP.

My head hurts. So I want a Cuisinart 7000 series, but not a SIP, right?

Pretty much. Now, the 7000 series is actually two generations. You don’t want anything before the 7400, because the pre-7400 units actually took up two wall plugs. The 7100 and 7200 four-slotters were actually two dual-slot units strapped together, so they had two cords. Plus, they didn’t have a timer so you had to stand over them yourself.

All I want is to toast bread! Four slices! Both sides!

Then the C7520 T series is for you. You can pick one up at Wall-Mart for about $400 these days.

FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS! I could buy an oven for that! I could just go out to eat every morning for that kind of money!

Ah, if you’re worried about price then the KitchenAid 4510 ES is a good pick. It’s only got three slots but it’s retailing for about $90.

I’m looking in the Wal-Mart flyer, but I don’t see that model.

Sure you do. Right here: The “Magitoast 7”. See how underneath it says “KA4510 Ex”? That means it’s the KitchenAid 4510 ES or the KitchenAid 4510 EP, just with a brand name slapped onto it.

…?

KitchenAid and Cuisinart don’t actually sell models directly. They make the insides parts of toasters, then other companies buy them, put the fancy shell on them, and give them a new brand name. But if you want to know what you’re getting, you have to look at which design the unit is based on.

Ah! I get it! Then why don’t I get this “TastyToast 2000”, which is like that 7520 you mentioned earlier. This one is only $50.

Er. That’s not the same thing. That’s a 7520 OS. The OS means “One Slice”. Total bargain unit for suckers. Some goes for the 6000 series and anything with a MRQ after it.

You know what? I’ve decided I don’t want toast anymore. I’m switching to breakfast cereal.

I’m shopping for a graphics card, and this is exactly what I’m going through, except I don’t have a know-it-all to help me out. I have never seen such rampant ineptitude at marketing products. I’m even savvy enough to know what I’m looking for, but the endless chipset numbers and sub-types and varying configurations makes it impossible to get any sort of handle on the thing. It’s actually worse than my example above, since higher numbers aren’t always better. I’ve searched around, and I have yet to find a breakdown as clear as the conversation above. What is the difference between these two generations of cards? What does this suffix mean? Why am I seeing this chipset in one place for $119.99 and elsewhere for $299.99? Is this the same product with a huge markup, or is this second unit different in some way I can’t discern?

Features get added in the middle of numeric series. Like, an NVIDIA 7800 supports 3.0 pixel shaders, and earlier 7000 models don’t. (Or don’t list it among their features.) So it’s impossible to do any real comparison shopping until you’ve memorized all the feature sets for all the chipset numbers for both NVIDIA and ATI. Yeah, let me get right on that.

Game developers who keep cranking up the system specs are killing themselves. They’re making sure that their only customers are people who are willing to wade through this idiocy, fork over hundreds of bucks, and then muck about inside of their computers to do the upgrade. You shouldn’t need to be Seth Godin to realize most people would rather drop that same $400 on a console and have done with it. In fact, it’s pretty clear that this is exactly what people are doing by the millions.

The main advantage of the PC as a gaming platform was its sheer ubiquity. But while PCs are probably more common than televisions, PCs which are equipped with the latest hardware are pretty rare, and graphics card manufacturers seem to be doing their level best to keep it that way.

This is the second time this year I looked into upgrading, and both times it seemed like such a stupid, pointless hassle. Like our toaster-buying friend above, I know what I want, but its the sellers job to tell me what they got. Offering someone a Fargleblaster 9672 XTQ is stupid and meaningless.

It really is a shame to watch this aggregate stupidity suck all of the fun out of this hobby. Buying other electronics is fun, but buying graphics hardware is homework. ATI and NVIDIA need to adopt a policy of sensible naming of product lines, fewer products, greater differences between products, and (most importantly) clearly delineated graphics generations, so that consumers can look at a product and know what it is without needing to read the long list of specs. In an ideal world, they shouldn’t even need to understand the meaning of things like DirectX 9.0c and 3.0 pixel shaders. They should know that X is better than Y, and buy accordingly.


 
 
Comments (105)

1 2

  1. Inane Fedaykin says:

    My solution?
    Hey forum-I-post-on, I want to play these games…

    Can anyone tell me what to buy?

    And before anyone says that doesn’t work, it does.

  2. AstroBoy says:

    As you have found out, AGP is severely limiting as to what graphics card you can buy. I’ve got an ati radeon 9250 256mb AGP. Works with most games until now but not well. I recommend not upgrading and just driving that computer into the ground until you can afford getting a whole new computer.

    It’ll only be games that’ll suffer; you’ll still be able to do most important things. Also, when you get a new computer, you should still be able to get those games you really wanted cheaply.

    Of course, it’s your money.

  3. Lanthanide says:

    Shamus – just in case you ever think “hmm, maybe I can get Vista” – it will most likely not work on your motherboard due to driver problems. I’ve got an Intel 865 chipset motherboard, which was one of the last ones before the switch to PCIX (ie, the latest AGP board you’re likely to find), and there are no Vista audio drivers for it and no intention to ever release them. There are also no Intel storage manager drivers, so I cannot run the machine on RAID.

    If you want to eventually get Dx10 and Vista, you need to bite the bullet and buy a whole new computer – it will be *far* less hassle that way.

  4. Rival Wombat says:

    Oddly, you don’t want a 4 slot toaster. For a really good toast you need a two slot toaster or a single slot toaster that can handle two slices at once.

    To get a good toast on four slices at once you would need to draw enough electricity to trip some household breakers.

  5. Tuck says:

    For toasters, you can’t really go past this:

    http://en.amadana.com/product/tt111/tt111.html

    Purely for entertainment reasons. Be careful though! “Cannot be used as an aquarium!”

  6. Carra says:

    Yeah, I know exactly how you feel as I myself want a new pc. Choosing the gpu seems like hell.

    Pick a 8800 GT, GTX, GTS? What the heck is the difference?
    Why is the $200 card faster then the $400 card, ain’t that completely ridiculous?
    What the heck is pixel shader anyway, vertex shaders,…?

    And if I decided to pick x, should I go with ASUS, another brand? What’s the difference anyway, one comes with game x and the other with game y?

    Let alone how I can compare the ATI models to NVIDIA. Yeah, one has direct x 10.1, should I worry about that? Does it matter if one has more pipes?

    Bottom line is, you have to check hardware sites who bother benchmarking them all and find out how good they perform. And follow their advices… And check them a lot as new cards come out on a monthly basis.

    I’m far from being a pc noob but having to pick a GPU is so bloody annoying it just makes me want to not bother at all. It’s about time they find a better naming system!

  7. Takkelmaggot says:

    Amen, Shamus!
    I see a few plugs for the 8800GT around here, which jibes with what I’ve read in a few magazines- a $400 card for $250. I’ll be buying one myself in a few months. In the meantime it’s simply depressing to watch the Crysis mentality destroy my favorite hobby for the last 10 years.

  8. Curaidh says:

    Well well… personally I think it’s kinda easy nowadays IF you don’t have to search AGP cards.
    For PCIe there’s actually only two intelligent choices:
    nVidia: 8800 GT, since it’s the only Chip atm made in 65m, technology, thus uses a lot less Power than all other cards while still haveing a good performance.
    Ati: Radeon HD 3870. Only chip made in 55 nm technology.

    Both allow you to play high end games on decent settings and will continue to do so for at least 8-10 months.
    As for Manufacturers: nVidia -> eVGA
    ATI: Not so sure, I did not follow it closely, but my guess would be Sapphire.

    But then again that’s just my personal Opinion and my 20 years experience as a Hardcore Gamer speaking. ;)

  9. Shamus says:

    Current candidate:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814131043

    I was prepared to spend almost double this, but there doesn’t seem to be any need to do so. I don’t mind if it’s a little slow, as long as it has the features that will let me play the games. I don’t mind dropping the res down to 640×480 or whatever. I’d rather drop resolutions than turn off features anyway.

    I’ll probably get this later today as long as nobody jumps in with dire warnings.

  10. sunphoenix says:

    These days I try to buy the cheapest things possible. A good branding and all the features I know that I need or will eventually need. I bought a new laptop AND PC recently and happy with them. I will need a second video card soon and will need to shop around * sigh *

  11. Shawn says:

    I just upgraded from my POS video card to a Radeon x1050, which is probably even less exciting than that one. I just wanted something that would run Portal and make WoW look shiny and cool (and not crash every time I went to Tempest Keep.)

    Installing it was a pain in the ass. I ended up having to download and install older drivers in order for it to work on my machine, a solution I found on the WoW forums of all places, but since then I’ve been very happy with it.

  12. Davesnot says:

    Sounds like you did your homework.. nice find.. enjoy!

  13. Phlux says:

    That looks like a solid card. I’m amazed you can get a 512 meg card for that cheap.

    I’ve never been let down by well-reviewed products on Newegg. I’ve even bought one or two things based solely on customer ratings.

    AGP had quite a bit of legroom left in it when it was depricated, so I wouldn’t feel too worried about having AGP.

  14. Blackbird71 says:

    Curaidh said:

    “nVidia: 8800 GT, since it's the only Chip atm made in 65m, technology…”

    Holy crap that’s a gigantic chip! (Yes I know it’s a typo, I still found it funny :))

    Anyway Shamus, I’m afraid that AGP is at the end of its lifespan. If you don’t upgrade your motherboard now, you will before much longer, and that will just mean buying a new graphics card all over again. You should be able to find an inexpensive motherboard that fits your current processor without too much difficulty, and that’s the route I’d have to recommend. Good luck!

  15. Mephane says:

    Your whole post shall be Quoted For Truth! It is *almost* the same with CPU, however, and probably getting worse with dual and quad core (and then eight core etc.) CPUs being compared to each other. Although I am a quite advanced user, I always feel humilated when I realize once again I have no idea whatsoever about all of the newest fancy hardware available. I just look up what’s out there in which price category when I am really about to buy a new machine, sigh.

    Even as an experienced user, I’d rather much prefer a good old “look at the number – bigger is better” scheme, even if it doesn’t mean 2000 is twice as good as 1000, but definitely better. Wishful thinking, I suppose.

  16. Gothmog says:

    Fargleblaster 9672 XTQ? Oh NO. Don’t you know that the Fargleblaster 9672 XTQ Deluxe Gold PLUS Card is the one you really need? ;)

  17. Jansolo says:

    Shamus, you think you’ve got a graphic card. Prepare for fun, ATI has at least 3 chips with the X1650 number: X1650, X1650 pro and X1650 XT…

    Which is the best? :D

    Even worst: what the hell these silly sufix (pro, XT, nothing) stand for?

    Enjoy yourself ;)

    P.S.: as I said, I chose the X1650 XT (AGP) 9 months ago (I trusted a friend of mine for this choice)

  18. J says:

    General agreement here as well.

    Game on!

  19. Chevalier says:

    As some one who recently upgrade their 3D card this summer, and ended up with the wrong one, having to sell that one and buying a new one again… I feel your pain.

  20. Luke Maciak says:

    Oh boy… I’m in the same boat and I can totally feel your pain. I’m on AGP too and I kinda gave up on that whole deal – I think I will just build a new computer instead :P

    Thanks for the helpful hints everyone.

  21. Yahzi says:

    As Nilus pointed out, the marketplace is incomprehensible on purpose.

    Next time you’re in the grocery store, check out the toothpaste aisle. You’ll see dozens of different kinds of toothpastes, “Whitening” and “Tarter-fighting” and “White Tarter Fighting” and on and on.

    Then look closer. Most of the different kinds of toothpaste… [i]are the same brand.[/i]

    Same stuff… in different bottles. And then they charge you more for it.

    Whatever happened to the business model of “We’ll make the a really good product at a really good price?”

  22. Dana says:

    The joke is one me after all… :P

    My “cheap” $40 card uses an ADP interface, and of course, I don’t have the proper slot for it. This is not, as you might imagine, because I have only PCI-Express, but because I have only PCI slots (yes, my computer is practically ancient by PC standards, but it’s always been dependable, which I find to be a crapshoot [even in a good product line] and I don’t want to get a new computer until they’ve got most of the bugs worked our of Vista).

    One of the places in town here has a $100 PCI card (one based on the ATI Radeon 9250 set), and if that doesn’t work, I’m going to send away for a GeForce 6200A PCI (which is from the next generation after the GeForce 5500-based one I got cheap anyway).

    You’re right, though – it is absolutely ridiculous how the graphics card market works. I am an intelligent guy and fairly good with computers, and I am having trouble finding something that I have any confidence will work when I get it here (I am worrying that I am still missing something)… *sigh*

  23. LintMan says:

    The forums at Anandtech are a great place for purchasing advice, I’ve found. A post in the video forum saying “Help – I need to find a good AGP video card for under $120” will likely get some helpful well-informed answers. A great set of forums for almost any kind of PC info.

    You mention that the benchmark lists don’t show AGP/PCIe – so you have to shop. But you can do a fairly easy correlation by opening the benchmark listing in one window and something like a Newegg.com guided search for AGP 4x/8x, sorted by price-highest. Then just drop down the list to your price point and see what models (chipsets) are available. Then look and see where those models stand on the benchmark.

    But another question: have you considered upgrading your motherboard to a PCIe one? (Giving you an excuse to upgrade your processor too?) Since you have an AGP MB, I’m guessing your CPU is single core. You can get a dual core CPU for under $60 now. Add a cheap MB for $60 also, and you’re free to buy whatever vid card you like, including nvidia 8-series.

  24. Ryan says:

    I’ve just come out the other side of the seemingly-endless research period and am now finding that the card that is for all intents and purposes perfect for me (NVidia’s 8800 GT) is incredibly hard to find, with shipments often selling out within hours. I may be limiting myself by sticking to EVGA (I’ve heard great things about their customer service and the lifetime guarantee is a must, with my horrible luck with any kind of technology) but this should not be so damn difficult. I just want to give them my money, why the hell won’t they facilitate this process? As a friend of mine pointed out, at least it’s better than the Wii situation, but honestly, not by much.

  25. Davesnot says:

    @Dana… buy a new computer with XP on it.

  26. Chris Arndt says:

    The first problem could be summarized by refering to my old Packard Bell or my eMachine. Both PCs were unusual among the industry for having motherboards that were are all put together and that was mostly it. You want a new graphics card it wasn’t a replacement but something put in the slot and installed on top. So computers that work like that…. aren’t begging for the modification.

    Secondly, when I got Dawn of War for Christmas in 2006 I was shocked and disappointed to discover that my top of the line laptop computer couldn’t run it not because it wasn’t powerful enough or top of the line enough, new enough. Most simply the graphics card wasn’t built for the stuff that the game was designed for, including but not limited to something called “AGP video card with Hardware Transform and Lighting”. What the hell is that?

    I looked it up. Didn’t help. In August or Sept 2007 I purchased a laptop with a ATI Radeon Xpress 1100 Hypermemory I’m not sure what that means but I was told it makes nVidia GeForce 3 look like nothing. Which makes sense.

    The point is that neither of the two laptops, the first I got for my business (and I had to give back after I was discharged damn them) and the second I purchased in September, are gaming computers yet games can be enjoyed and good graphic appreciated if the graphics requirements for a game are not too specific.

  27. Shapeshifter says:

    Huge thread. I don’t really have time to read it all so i apologize if this has been said before. Anyway:

    The real problem here is that it is difficult to impossible to find accurate and complete specifications for modern video cards. (Or, indeed, modern anything relating to computers. Video cards are just the part that hurts the most.) Because of that i ended up with a video card that doesn’t accelerate video(?!) but is otherwise extremely powerful and expensive. Now, NVIDIA doesn’t make any video cards that accelerate video… oh no wait, that’s not true: their 8800 GT does (i think) but good luck finding any sort of clue on the specifications. (I guess i can’t blame them, i wouldn’t want to admit that either.) I also ended up with a monitor that has DVI input and can go up to 1920×1200 resolution, but only does 1080i HD and not 1080p(?!) for some reason. And it doesn’t have HDMI, which is basically the same as DVI but with some bad parts and audio built into it. And my motherboard claims it can operate fanlessly, but that is (to borrow from Penny Arcade) a precisely-worded lie.

    And i’m a computer science major and i spent about a month (in my spare time) researching.

    Real specifications for these things would be nice. Even the experts have to run half-way on intuition.

  28. Whiskers says:

    Man I’m glad to read about that, from the lack of information the manufacturers were giving I thought I was missing some kind of obvious guide somewhere when I was searching for a card recently :p. As a side note kinda, I found a thread on a forum that was an awesome guide to power supplies. I know that’s not the main focus, but trying to find a decent power supply suffers from a similar lack of information.

    http://www.devhardware.com/forums/power-supply-units-98/how-to-choose-a-power-supply-94217.html

  29. kllrnohj says:

    Shamus, if you are stuck on AGP your best bet is either the 7900GS or X1950 – the X1950 is faster but costs a bit more. Forget about DX10, as the only cards that can actually RUN a DX10 game are the 8800 series or 3870. I must disagree with your post, however, I follow all the models just fine :D

    @Shapeshifter: All current nVidia cards accelerate video, and the entire 8xxx line except the 8800 series has hardware decoding for HD. The lowly 8400/8600 will decode HD video on hardware just fine.

  30. Smackphat says:

    I know it’s late, but this site is simple and invaluable.

    http://www.gpureview.com

    You can compare videocards side by side.

  31. Dannerman says:

    When I was building my gaming rig I had the ‘techie-bloke’ in work sit down with me to help me work out what I’d need.

    It still took us four days, and many of our conversations on the matter were very similar to your ‘toast’ example, above.

    In the end I just told him to email me with what *he* would buy – and I bought that.

  32. kamagurka says:

    I’m blessed with a friend who owns his own IT business, so I know next to nothing about hardware now. Everytime I need hardware I just call him up, tell him how much I’m willing to spend and what I need the part to do, and he figures it out for me.

  33. SolkaTruesilver says:

    My video card just died on me, and I’ll have to buy a new one. I got a chill down my spine just thinking about it..

    Please, if you don’t hear from me in 2 weeks, wait a little longer.

  34. GeneralBob says:

    I don’t think anyone really understands every number and detail with this sort of thing. Some people get some bits, others get other bits but they all pretend to know everything just to look smarter then the guy next to them.

  35. James says:

    I used to build my own. Then the above mess happened, and the way I got my last PC was:

    1.) Pick the games I care most about
    2.) Find some systems I can afford
    3.) Find benchmarks of those systems, playing those games

    The one that did best overall in #3 I bought — happened to be a Gateway P-7811 FX (laptop), and I couldn’t be happier. I miss being able to understand the exact advantages of every component in my PC, but not so much I’ll actually get the associate’s degree I’d need to do it.

  36. ThaneofFife says:

    This just got re-linked so I thought I’d throw this in. TomsHardware.com is a decent review site for PC hardware, if you can get over their upgrade obsessions and the degree to which they seem to be in the pocket of components manufacturers. Most useful there is the monthly “Best Graphics Cards for the Money” feature, at the end of which, there is always a comparison table of all the desktop graphics chipsets ever made by Nvidia and AMD/ATI. They’re grouped in tiers, and three tiers of the suggested threshold for upgrading–anything less is two similar. Here’s this month’s article. It gets updated every month for prices, and the chart at the end gets updated every time a new card comes out.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-graphics-card,2118-7.html

    Anyway, that’s not to disagree with Shamus or say that the above is any less true–I agree with 100%. I just think this is a useful resource if you are shopping for a graphics card.

  37. Dan says:

    Homework indeed. I probably spent weeks sifting through reviews that compared it to other graphics cards and listed the frame-rates on different games such as Crysis or Left 4 Dead 2. Even after all that, pretty much the only thing I know now that I didn’t when I started was that the card I’m choosing will do what I want it to for about a hundred less than another card that will do the same a little better. Incidentally it is a Sapphire HD Radeon 5850.

  38. lowlymarine says:

    Looking back on this now (after you linked it from your article the Escapist, I’m sure you’ll get a fair share of new comments), it’s funny because to an extent, the two GPU manufacturers have done exactly what you wanted. nVidia only had about a half dozen chipsets right now, and they’re labeled by Prefix (general performance level ) – Number (Relative performance in level). The G 210 is weaker than the GT 220, which is weaker than the GTS 250, which is weaker than the GTX 260, and then the GTX 275, 280, and 295 are faster still in that order. AMD’s done the same thing, and in fact done away with prefixes and suffixes entirely (except the “HD” which proceeds all of their cards). Higher numbers = better, period.

    That’s only within the same generation, of course, but I don’t really think that’s unreasonable. When shopping for a new car, you don’t really consider anything but the latest model year unless you’re buying used, in which case you can expect to be in for a ton of homework, just like in computers or anything else. But for someone who just wants a shiny new graphics card, like a car, it’s as simple as “bigger number = better.”

  39. Erik says:

    agree, i just have a friend who i say, god card need to play napoleon total war, and he points and i pay

    i tryet several times to figure the cards out and i simply gave up

  40. […] and the works) for advice/ And I consider myself a knowledgeable computer professional. A Shamus wrote about this some time ago and it is getting progressively worse. At this point for example my brother doesn’t even […]

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