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Last week Valve launched a new online hardware survey via its Steam service. It’s been running for about five days now and I have to say that the results make very interesting reading. Once you agree to participate in the survey, Steam then has a quick look around your PC and presents you with a report of your hardware. As long as you agree with the information, you can then click a button and send that data to Valve for inclusion in the survey.

The Steam survey reports on pretty much every specification of your PC from how much memory it has, to which operating system you’re running. But the section that interested me the most, was the report on graphics cards. Unsurprisingly, ATI was keen to send me an email a few days back highlighting the fact that the top two graphics cards in the survey were ATI branded, but the surprising thing is that both these cards are over two years old.

The Radeon 9800 tops the chart with 11.03 per cent of users, while directly below it is the Radeon 9600 with 10.44 per cent. Next up is the most popular nVidia card owned by Steam users – so what do you reckon, the GeForce 6800 or even the budget 6600? Nope, it’s the GeForce FX5200, a card that even when it launched two years ago I considered to be too slow for the latest games of the time.

But it was when I saw that the fourth most popular card is the nVidia GeForce4 MX, that the whole thing started to get surreal for me. We’re not talking a couple of years behind the current technology with this one, we’re talking a few generations back, but it would appear that 8.32 per cent of Steam users are still happily plugging away with this technology.

Now, I had thought that finding the GeForce4 MX in the top five would be the most shocking aspect of the graphics card section, but I was wrong, very wrong. Nestling in eighth position on the table is the nVidia GeForce2 MX – a card that’s half a decade old, and was outgunned by the competition, even in its heyday.



So where do the top of the range, current generation graphics cards sit? Well, the card that I’ve currently got in my gaming PC is an ATI Radeon X800 XT PE, which blazes a trail to the number 31 spot, while the nVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra puts in a similar poor showing at number 33. That said, giving nVidia its dues, the GeForce 6800 GT managed to grab 11th spot with 2.6 per cent, which is pretty good going.

Since taking all this data in, I’ve come to the conclusion that technology journalists like myself, may well have lost touch with the average gamer on the street. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that people have asked my advice on prospective PC purchases and having studied the spec and spotted a low end graphics card I’d reply “You won’t really be able to play games on it”. But now I’m not so sure that’s true. What I’m really saying is that they won’t be able to play games at a high resolution with all the image quality features turned on, but perhaps that’s not the experience that they were looking for.

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