OK, this is how computer components work: you buy Expensive Component Model 150, and it rocks. Time passes, Expensive Component Model 250 comes out, and Expensive Component Model 150 becomes Formerly Expensive Component Model 150. Expensive Component Model 350 comes out, Expensive Component Model 250 becomes Formerly Expensive Component Model 250, and Formerly Expensive Component Model 150 becomes Trashheap Component Model 150. And so on.

Now, add some idea of budget releases into the mix: when Expensive Component Model 150 is released, they also released Moderately Priced Component Model 100, which is like Expensive Component Model 150, but fewer widgets. When Expensive Component Model 150 becomes Formerly Expensive Component Model 150, Moderately Priced Component Model 100 becomes Dirt Cheap Component Model 100. Etc.

Now, skip ahead a few generations. Expensive Component Model 350 may be the bee’s knees right now, but Moderately Priced Component Model 300 will always outperform Dirt Cheap Component Model 200, and will usually outperform Formerly Expensive Component Model 250. And of course, anything in the 300 range will pretty much be guaranteed to outperform anything in the 100 range.

But none of this has happened with my video card.

About 3 years ago, I bought an ATI Radeon X1950 Pro 512MB. IIRC, I spent just over $200 on it, so it wasn’t top-of-the-line at the time, but was certainly a fine card. I bought a new computer Wednesday (and subsequently returned it, more on that in a future post), and it included a Radeon 3450 HD 512MB. (Sidenode: The generation is expressed in the thousands, so the 3000 series is newer than the 1000 series, and a 1900 would beat the pants off, say, a 1200.) Still, I figured the rules I set forth above were still in effect, and that a new “mid-range” 3450 would perform better than me 3-year-old 1950.

Boy was I wrong. I loaded up Left 4 Dead, set it to native monitor resolution (1680x1050), high-ish quality settings, and started a game… and watched the game fall to its knees. Even backing down to 1024x768 with medium-ish settings was noticeably slow. So I threw the X1950 into the box, and it was great.

I later found this benchmark site, and while it’s not always complete to condense a component’s performance into a simple number, it’s a nice easy comparison. The Radeon X1950 Pro scores an 857, and ranks #25 out of all video cards tested (again, 3 year old video card!). The Radeon HD 3450 scores a 137, and ranks #272.

So what gives, computer industry? Your crap is supposed to depreciate quickly and painfully, and here I am with a 3-year-old piece of technology that is still useful. I demand an explanation.