Monday, February 12, 2007

BLOG is short for BALROG

I'm starting a column for T3 Magazine this coming March. Below is the first, unedited version of the article.

The View From Vista (Or Why You Shouldn’t Upgrade Your PC Just Yet)

Joel M. Toledo

A friend texted me a few days ago, asking for advice re: building up a new system. He needed a new sleek hardware; saying he can’t wait to own a Windows Vista-ready PC, having probably been “privy to” (he’s a law student) all the hype that surrounds the much-awaited successor of Windows XP.

And who in his right computer-savvy mind wouldn’t be excited? Windows Vista promises a plethora of software features that would make one drool. The view from Vista is a definite sensory assault, in all probability marking a new age in computer systems.

Still, I simply told my would-be-lawyer friend, not to even bother with an upgrade. Sure, he has his plausible arguments as to obtaining a dual-core processor, a bigger hard drive, A DVD-burner, and newer RAM. But the bigger issue really is his willingness to settle for a mid-range video card—you know, that square-ish graphics contraption that non-gamers often take for granted. And which is actually the heart of this column’s argument.

My friend says he’s getting a 7600GT card, one of graphics developer giant NVidia’s touted products in the recent year. Any other time, I would not have hesitated recommending it; heck, it’s powerful and rare: certainly not often bundled into most pre-assembled systems nowadays. Moreover, it’s usually a per-order basis card, not readily available in your neighborhood computer hardware shops.

Ironically, the 7600GT is relatively cheap, priced in hardware warehouses at about six to seven thousand Pesos. And if my friend had more dough to spend, I would have suggested he get a 7900GT card or its equivalent from ATI, NVidia’s graphics competitor. The usual price range for these supposedly high-end cards are in the 10K to 15++K level. And again, most likely per-order basis, unless you really bother to scour the Gilmore row of shops in San Juan.

Ridiculous, one might say (I can already see readers rolling your eyes, hear the collective groan), for a simple video card. Why, you can get a really nice appliance for that kind of money, a large TV, an LCD monitor, an Xbox 360 even. In the past, high-end graphics cards are mostly the ludicrous contraptions of fanatic gamers and the powertools of video editors.

Well, not any more.

This is probably the first time in the history of computing that you can truly take the word from gamers (and, uh, former game reviewers) and NOT upgrade yet. While the wicked dual-core processors and next-generation RAMs and motherboards are already out in the market, the missing link can simply and ultimately be summarized in one word:


The video card technology has made significant leaps toward PC independence in the past few years, giving birth to the now-popular term Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). Now, this ideal severance is almost completely realized, with DirectX10 technology—
arguably Windows Vista’s ultimate attraction—allowing for dedicated GPU utilization.

All in all, it is not a good idea to upgrade yet because of two basic points: one, the general lack of DirectX10-ready software; and two, incredibly expensive hardware (and the lack thereof) to truly harness Windows Vista’s power (Think P25K. And that’s just for NVidia’s cheapest DirectX10-ready 8800 series cards). More importantly, no amount of Windows XP tweaking will let you experience DirectX10’s beauty, as Microsoft will not let this technology trickle back to your aging XP operating systems.

The bottomline? Yes, by all means you may upgrade to a Vista-ready system now, but at this point it will most likely be temporary, transitory and, worse, a waste of your money. Wait a little bit for the technology to cheapen to sane price ranges and for the support to multiply. Don’t expect your Vista experience to open up to lovely and wondrous DirectX10 sceneries just yet. Keep those Windows latches firmly in place and preserve those precious XP points.

If only for a little while longer.


at syemps...