Advanced Graphics Port, known as AGP, once was the most popular way of connecting a video card to a PC. It has since been replaced by PCI Express, but many people still own older PCs which have only AGP available. What modern video cards offer the best performance for these older systems?
The Old Guard
PCI Express has been the dominant method of connecting a video card to a motherboard for about five years now. Every high-end video card is released with the use of a PCI Express x16 slot in mind. There are, however, a sizable number of people who have computers which are old enough that a PCI Express slot may not be available.
In most cases, computers which do not have a PCI Express x16 slot available instead have its predecessor, known as an Advanced Graphics Port. An AGP is very similar visually to a PCI Express slot, but the two are not compatible with one another. This means people who have older computers are often limited in selecting a new video card. This is more common than one might think, as processors are not a major factor in the performance of many video games, whereas video cards are.
Finding modern AGP cards can be difficult, but they do exist. The three cards listed here are great bets for those needing an AGP video card. It should be noted that ATI wins all of the top slots because they are the only company making reasonably modern AGP cards. Also, AGP cards carry a price premium due to their low manufacturing volume, which is why these prices will appear inflated next to the prices for modern PCI Express video cards.
XFX Radeon 4650 1GB
It is surprising that ATI's newest graphics cards are even available as AGP products, but here we have it - a 4000 series Radeon with 1GB of RAM. The Radeon 4650 is not a card that would be recommended among the PCI world as it is often overshadowed by the Radeon 4670, which is only a tad more expensive. The Radeon 4670's AGP variants, however, are outperformed by the products listed below, thus giving room for the Radeon 4650 to earn a recommendation.
To be sure, the Radeon 4650 is not for hardcore gamers, but then most hardcore gamers wouldn't be caught dead with a system that still used AGP. For casual gamers looking to play World of Warcraft or Team Fortress 2 on an older home PC, this card is perfection. The power consumption and size of the Radeon 4650 are both minimal, which means this can be put into most computers without having to worry about upgrading the power supply. It's price of $84.99 isn't a steal, but it is good compared to other AGP video cards.
Sapphire Radeon 3850 512MB
The Radeon 3000 series was the first sign of life from ATI in years. Many have forgotten the importance of these products in light of the newer 4000 series cards, but video cards like the Radeon 3850 are still quite potent. The Radeon 3850 cards are capable of running most games at high resolutions and frame-rates, and those who are playing on a smaller monitor such as a 19 or 20 inch will find this card is even capable of running Crysis well.
Sapphire's rendition doesn't offer anything special in comparison to the reference specifications, which is somewhat disappointing considering the overclocking potential found in many Radeon 3850s. That said, the price of the card reflects its bare-bones nature, as the Sapphire Radeon 3850 AGP can be found for $94.99, which is good for a AGP card this capable.
HIS Radeon 3850 512MB IceQ 3
If the Sapphire Radeon 3850 is a pepperoni pizza, the HIS Radeon 3850 IceQ 3 is an all-you-can eat pizza buffet. Although the HIS Radeon 3850 IceQ 3 is at its heart the same card as the Sapphire product, it is equipped with HIS's custom dual-slot cooler which keeps the card far cooler than a reference Radeon 3850, allowing the card to be overclocked into the stratosphere. Many companies botch custom coolers, but the HIS cooler is wonderful. I know, because I chose the PCI version as the primary video card for my HTPC.
The ability to overclock the HIS Radeon 3850 IceQ 3 means that this card is the fastest AGP video card that can be purchased today. The Radeon 3850 can, when overclocked, reach performance levels equal to the Radeon 3870. That is far more performance that most gamers will need, and certainly the last graphcis card you will need to buy until you are ready for a new motherboard or system. The custom cooler also is quieter than a normal Radeon 3850.
It's a good thing, too, as the HIS Radeon 3850 IceQ 3 costs a tad over $200 dollars. At that price it may be a better idea to buy an entirely new motherboard, but for those who don't want to make the leap to a new chipset this is the fastest card money can buy.