Not so good video card

My Mac Pro came with an ATI 2600 XT card, which turns out to be not so great. We’re having a heat wave in Sweden right now, and that card is definitely getting the vapors. The symptom is that the machine freezes and has to be hard booted to snap out of it. The most reproducible way of getting there is to run World of Warcraft in full screen. And you’re not going to tell me that I can’t run WoW during the summer holidays. That’s ridiculous.

I did get it to work by downloading and running smcFanControl, and excellent little utility that sits in the menu bar and allows you to adjust the different fans in the Mac Pro (and other models). If I run the IO exhaust fan at 1200 rpm instead of the default 800 rpm, I can use WoW in normal Swedish weather. During the current heat wave, I need to run the fan at 1400-1500 rpm, which causes too much noise to be comfortable. On top of that, the frame rate isn’t that great. Yes, I did check if the fan on the card was clogged up, and it wasn’t. Clean as a whistle. Talked to the Mac repair shop, and they’re certainly prepared to take a day to check out my machine, but I don’t know if I want to waste a whole day just because of this problem. It seems I’m far from being alone having problems with the 2600 XT, so I’m sure that even if they gave me a replacement, I wouldn’t be happy in the long run.

Looked around the net for good suggestions on other cards. Very many people complain that the ATI 1900 XT card is having thermal problems too and that it’s very noisy. I hate noisy. I’m not too fond of thermal problems either. The performance, when it works, is supposed to be pretty good though.

A cheaper alternative, the NVidia 8800 GT, is uniformly described as reliable and quiet. Generally it’s claimed by users to improve gameplay considerably, but not have much impact on graphics performance in regular apps like Photoshop and Final Cut. Since I’m only using those apps every now and then, I don’t care.

I ordered this card from the Apple Store, to be certain I got the right version with the right firmware. Take care when ordering you get the one for your particular version of the Mac Pro, since there are two different cards depending on your bus speed (1.3 or 1.6 GHz). Since I have an “early 2008” Mac Pro with a 1.6 GHz bus, I ordered that one. Next day I got it and installed it. (I really don’t get this; time and again I order something from Apple and I get it hand delivered at my door less than 24 hours later, even though it’s delivered from The Netherlands and we live out in the sticks.)

As far as I can see, this card has no thermal problems at all. I don’t need to increase any fan speeds above defaults anymore. No hangs in WoW or anywhere else. It seems more quiet than the original 2600 XT even under max stress and finally, it bumped the framerates in WoW three- or fourfold, even with all the settings in WoW to the max. What a difference.

Windows, under Parallels and Fusion, runs just fine, since they don’t even know what card I actually use. The 8800 GT is said not to be all that well supported under Boot Camp Windows, but I don’t run Boot Camp.

I’m keeping the 2600 XT in case I get a third or fourth monitor. In that case, I’ll plug it back in another PCI slot. As long as it doesn’t have to run heavy graphics, it’ll be ok, I think.

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