Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

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Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Tue Feb 04, 2014 9:10 pm

Hey guys. I haven't kept up to date on a lot of the hardware side of things and was hoping some of you could loan me your experience!

I work in IT for some small schools and I have some students that want to take some game development and 3D modeling courses. The computer models that we have available at the school are: Optiplex 960 and Optiplex 760. Both have decent Intel multicore CPUs so I'm not too worried about that. But one of the programs in the course requirements will be Blender which wants a 256MB video card... The games side of it doesn't look as demanding (TrackMania Nations!).

That begets my question: what video card (if any) do I need or can I get away with? It's a bit more complicated than that so let's see if I can frame the criteria a bit better here:

  • A video card with at least 256MB
  • A video card with really low power requirements...
    • The OptiPlex 960s have a PSU (model: WU123) that outputs only 255W
  • Needs to be half-height to fit in these half-height cases, or super-bonus points if they have different sized brackets for full and half-height systems.
  • Bonus points if it's passively cooled
Any ideas on that?

And a second quick question: another class of students wants to get into doing some photo editing. And by photo editing I mean just like Paint.NET or something; nothing too crazy like Photoshop or rockin' 20 ultraHD layers in Gimp. Anyway, one of the administrators asked if they needed to get video cards for those machines as well. I haven't kept up to date on this, but I thought GPU acceleration in photo-editors is uncommon and didn't think it would be necessary for this. Can anyone shed a bit more info on this for me? If we ensure the systems are multicore and upgrade the RAM to 4GB, are they pretty much good to go for this or would a discrete video card make any significant difference?

Thanks for any input!
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Tue Feb 04, 2014 10:11 pm

Anything low profile and passively cooled is going to be ultra low end by default, but something like this looks to be exactly what you're looking for. Or this if you want something approaching what I'd call a 'gaming' card (and can accommodate a dual slot card in those PCs).

You'll also want to check the compatibility lists in the documentation for the software you're planning to use. You should also find out exactly what Intel CPUs those machines have. Anything Core i7/i5 2000 based or better is going to have integrated graphics that might be sufficient for your needs. That is, of course, if things like Blender and Paint.net don't specifically require a discrete chipset for certain features.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Tue Feb 04, 2014 11:03 pm

russty wrote:You should also find out exactly what Intel CPUs those machines have. Anything Core i7/i5 2000 based or better is going to have integrated graphics that might be sufficient for your needs

While true, the OptiPlex 960 & 760 are Core2 Duo/Quad machines. So, no dice.

I've put an AMD 7750 into a Dell OptiPlex 760 and had no problems. It's about twice as fast as the R7 240. If you're looking at different GPUs, here is a helpful comparison chart. The lower end cards are less frequently reviewed.

What's your budget? If you're not in the market for $80-$100 GPUs, a 6450 for $40 is faster than a GT 610 (albeit 1/3 or less the speed of a 7750). In the <$120 GPU segment, the price/performance curve is DEFINITELY NOT 1:1. Just so you're aware.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 12:34 am

Thanks guys.

I'm not terribly concerned with making games scream or anything with this; I just want to find a smart option that meets and/or exceeds the requirements needed for the user(s). I figured I'd do a little due diligence in finding a card that makes the experience better and maybe broadens their options a little if they go extracurricular. :)

According to some WMI queries, it looks like the chipset on these 960s is Q45/Q43. A wikipedia page tells me that this is purportedly a GMA X4500. And DPete27's handy comparison link tells me that this is similar to:
Discrete: 3 Ti500, FX 5200 Ultra, FX 5600, FX 5700 LE, 6200 TC, 6600 LE, 7200 GS, 7300 LE
Go (mobile): 5700, 8200M, 9200M GS, 9100
Integrated: 8200, 8300
Discrete: 8500, 9100, 9000 PRO, 9600 LE, X300 SE, X1150
Mobility 9700 (64-bit) Integrated: GMA X4500


Since there only a handful of users in this trial-run class, I'm going to guess that the budget to shoot for might be around the $50-70 mark unless that's on the cusp of some significant upgrade for a bit more.

I think a GT 610 or 6450 might be in the right area, but let me know if there's a good compromise somewhere in between the 6450 and the 7750! I also think full-height cards will suffice as well since some of these 960s (refurbs) have PCIe riser cards that allow you to put in a full-height video card in sideways.

Anywho, let me know your thoughts after that info and I'll see what we can do for these kids.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 1:45 am

My personal experience with Blender is that it doesn't end well if you try to run it on weak hardware. If it was me I'd be looking at the GT 630-640 and Radeon 6670-7750, with the better card costing about $10 more for adequate medium-res gaming performance. I used to have a 6670 before getting a bigger monitor, at 1024x768 it could run anything but Deus Ex 3.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 5:36 am

Radeon HD7750 for $100 is probably the best low-profile gaming graphics card.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 8:30 am

I am with JAE,
The 7750 is the way to go it performs a good bit better then a 6670 and uses less wattage since it it manufactured on 28nm and not 40nm like the 6670.

Also the 7750 uses around 50 watts max so you should have no power issues. On top of that it games at 1080p on medium settings with no aa quite well. The lower the resolution the better it will perform.

Whatever card you go with make sure it has GDDR5 memory and not DDR3 it makes a big difference.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 9:30 am

I was really trying to persuade you into a 7750 without being too forceful (budget restrictions trump all of course). The HIS card JAE linked is the low-profile card I'd choose. The fans should be pretty quiet. Getting something with decent power now should ensure they remain powerful enough for a few years.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 9:58 am

I'd be most concerned about power draw. I recently had a slimline Dell at work with a 240W mini-PSU that couldn't even handle a GeForce 210 being added without becoming unstable at times. It could be that the PSU was tired or not performing up to spec, but power usage would still be my foremost concern (aside from making sure the card physically fits, of course).
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 10:12 am

There are a couple of questions...
Is this mainly about them creating models then plugging the models into an existing game engine?

What kind of game development are they wanting to do, and how much programming experience do they have?
There is plenty of game logic that can be learned without getting into 3D programming, and they might be a little ambitious if they are wanting to build a 3D game engine with little programming experience.

The version of OpenGL or DirectX the video card supports is something to think about, for the programming part, and it would make things easier if the cards were all at the same level.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 8:12 pm

Thanks guys, I'll pass on the 7750 recommendation and see if they'll go for it.

The course is very much introductory level material for a highschool. Looking at its requirements, I'm guessing they'll learn to use Blender and maybe use an in-game level editor to make something in TrackMania. I'm getting the sense that they just want to give some of the technically inclined students an outlet instead of having them conspire to find ways around the Internet filter. If there's ever a demand for a more involved course than that, we'll probably need to get different machines or build our own with some more powerful graphics capabilities and power supplies. For now, though, I think this will do just fine.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 05, 2014 10:36 pm

I used to develop indie games on a iMac (can't remember the specs) and then used a LG notebook in the end of the contract (windows machine, better for me to work with). And I used Blender all the time with the GeForce gt520m without any problems. Sometimes even with Blender and Unity, altogether. Blender really prefers nvidia drivers and CUDA can be used with Cycles renderer (for some beauty shots of the models).
I guess something like a gt220 or a hd6450 should be enough.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Wed Feb 19, 2014 9:48 pm

UPDATE!

Be careful with what kind of card you order if you're putting it in an Optiplex 745, 755, 760 (etc.). Because they use BTX motherboards, the card orientation is flipped around so that a typical video card's heatsink will be facing upward (towards the top of the case). The problem in this scenario was that the heatsink of the video card was protruding too far and hitting the CPU heatsink/fan/shroud which prevented it from being installed. Fortunately, some of the convertible mini-tower 960s we had have those PCIe risers which allow you to put in a full-height video card in sideways. That worked and the computers seem to be handling it just fine.

So if you're looking to go down this road as well, double-check and verify that your intended video card won't interfere with the CPU heatsink unit!

Thanks for the help, guys!
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Thu Feb 20, 2014 9:43 am

You really want the just-released GTX 750 Ti. Powerful, extremely low power requirements.
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Re: Low-power, solid GPU for a gaming class?

Postposted on Thu Feb 20, 2014 9:55 am

jbweb wrote:Be careful with what kind of card you order if you're putting it in an Optiplex 745, 755, 760 (etc.). Because they use BTX motherboards, the card orientation is flipped around so that a typical video card's heatsink will be facing upward (towards the top of the case).

Yeah, BTX mobos can pose a challenge for double height GPUs that are common these days. Definitely need to check clearances before purchase with those BTX abominations. Usually can't go wrong with a single-slot GPU in a BTX rig though.
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