As a change to most threads here I'm pretty certain of the issue at hand, and what measures to take. But a little conformation is always nice ;)
A couple of days ago, the X800 XL in my aging system started acting up. Intermittently it would artifact badly in games, usually after a few minutes. I immediately thought of heat issues, but this is somewhat puzzling since the video card is passively cooled (a large prefitted Zalman heatsink with heat pipes), and hasn't overheated at all in 3.5 years of fairly heavy use. The GPU heatsink felt hot, but no hotter than usual and was clearly still attached to the GPU and working.
Anyway, I quickly bodged a 12cm case fan a few cm's away from the video card heatsink, which should have easily provided enough cooling. But this didn't appear to ease the issue at all. In fact the artifacting was becoming progressively worse as the evening went on, affecting desktop use and even the BIOS bootup screen (always a bad sign). Now the issue is severe enough to make the computer effectively unusable, though it still boots up and manages to load both Ubuntu and Windows (before freezing the computer when attempting to render the desktop).
Anyway, to me it seems pretty obviously a hardware problem on the graphics card. Whether it be overheating related or not is a non issue right now. I'm just wondering if these visual artifacts could be the result of any other hardware failure such as the motherboard chipset? I can ill afford to replace the video card right now, and it would be a rather crushing blow if I replace it only to discover the fault lies elsewhere.
So to cut through all the waffle, can I be fairly safe to assume it's a video card issue?
Its the video card going down the crapper.
That's a pretty ancient card. It sounds like it's about time to retire it and get a new one.
affecting desktop use and even the BIOS bootup screen (always a bad sign).
Yep, then that card is shot. I'm suprised you have a X800XL with a passive cooler though, those cards (along with the rest of the X800's) ran pretty hot.
How much would you be willing to spend for a new one? Tell us a price range and we can point you in the right direction. Can you tell us though (its very important), is this the AGP or PCI Express version?
Considering the age of your system, i wouldn't recommend anything more than a current cheap low end card since the rest of your system is not going to keep up with the newer cards.
It's PCIe, currently considering something like a Radeon 4670. But I suppose even that would be bottlenecked badly by my CPU (Athlon 64 3500+.... no laughing at the back there!). I was very annoyed when AMD jumped ship from socket 939 so quickly, it really cut down on my upgrade options.
A new system would obviously make most sense... but a cheaper graphics card is the most I can even think of affording :(
nVidia's 8800GT goes for pretty cheap these days, around $100 US, and it's a very solid mid-range card. It will probably be bottlenecked to a degree by your CPU, but even if you upgrade your system later, it will be a good card to keep. At 1680x1050, I can max pretty much anything but Crysis, which runs fine on mostly medium settings. Source engine games, CoD4/World at War, BF2142, Halo 2...never had any issues.
I'm not sure about what the equivalent would be for ATi, perhaps someone else could step in and enlighten us.
The 8800GT is sort of equivalent to a 3870. The ATI offering is slightly less powerful than the 8800, but it doesn't make much of a difference, and it's on the cheaper side of $100 as well.
I see. Well, if you're intent on sticking with ATi, then the 3870 does look like a pretty good option.
According to Anandtech benchmarks, the 8800GT outperforms the 3870 at almost every game at every resolution, sometimes drastically:
The price difference may be enough to justify the slight lack of performance, though. It's up to you, really.
The 4670 is a good card. If you can find it for around $70 its a good deal. If you look in classifieds sections in some forums you can find 8800gt's used for that price also, though.