Detailed info about Second Life-compatible systems

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We often get asked questions like:

  • Can you provide more details than the System Requirements?
  • What's the best system for running Second Life?
  • What computer will give me the most performance for the cheapest price?

Keep in mind the following info is intended anecdotally, not as sales advice. Also, remember that "new" technology becomes dated fairly quickly; learn and use your best judgment when upgrading or purchasing a computer to use Second Life with.

Graphic cards recommendations

Because of the technology that Nvidia uses, their cards manage 3D data more efficiently than ATi cards. That being said, both Nvidia and ATi cards run Second Life just fine, so long as they're not the low-end line or old-generation technology. Both manufacturers have their mainstream and performance-line graphics cards. Because of the richness of Second Life's environment, we recommend the performance graphics cards line. Of course, they cost more, but the difference in appearance and quality in their performance can be day and night.

Things to consider when upgrading to a new card

How old is your PC's hardware in terms of processor power?

For example, Pentium III or a Pentium 4 3ghz, etc. If you're running a PIII, you're better off saving up and getting a more current P4 machine with at least 1.6ghz because there is no compensating for power, which you'll need to manage Second Life's 3D environment. Understand that Second Life is a basic 3D modeling environment that's far more content-intensive than any 3d game currently on the market. The more powerful your machine, the more effortlessly you'll be able to run Second Life.

How powerful is the power supply on your PC?

ATi (9000/8500 series Radeon cards) and Nvidia (FX/GeForce4/GeForce3/GeForce2) run on any machine with 250-300 watt power supplies. However, the newer & more powerful cards will need more powerful power supplies, especially if you've got multiple drives (i.e. CD-RW or DVD-R drives, if not both). Since we recommend the performance line of graphics cards over the mainstream line, they usually require a minimum power supply of 250 watts (300 watts recommended).

Which graphics card for my system?

ATi - ATi in general will cost more in comparison to a similar Nvidia card. ATi's 8500/9000 (including the 9200/9250/9600/9800) series Radeon cards are several years old and ATi no longer supports drivers from their site for these cards. Many customers report having endless problems running Second Life with these cards, so we don't recommend them. Also, the latest drivers for these series cards do not support the current 2.0 GL drivers in graphics industry. So stay away from these old cards.

If you must buy ATi, we recommend last year's Radeon X600/X700/X800/X850 Professionals. These cards have run well thus far with very few reported issues with performance in Second Life. The X1600/X1800/X1900 are this years latest and greatest from ATi and we expect no differently from them. The problem with these cards, though, is price. XT models are the higher-performing cards over their Pro series, but in turn they cost more accordingly. I run a X800 Pro on my high-end test machine and I've never had any issues running Second Life. In fact, had it not been for this card, I'd never recommend anything from ATi.

See ATi Chip set comparison: http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/131

Nvidia - Nvidia graphic technology manages data more efficiently than ATi's technology, but for most, that's splitting hairs. For performance, Nvidia cards are a better priced than ATi cards. The FX series is a couple of years old, but they run Second Life very well, as well as support the current 2.0 GL drivers in the industry, which the ATi 8500/9000 series can't claim. From the FX series, anything from a FX5600 w/256mgs AGP or higher runs Second Life very well. This is great considering you can get a FX5600 w/256mgs AGP card for as cheap as $76.00.

The Nvidia 6 series is last year's generation cards, so anything from 6600 or up works well. As for this year's latest & greatest from Nvidia, anything from the 7600 and up from the 7 series works well. Keep in mind that with the 6 & 7 series cards, they will require a more robust power supply ... especially if you're running a CD-R or a DVD-R drives, if not both.

See Nvidia Chip set comparison: http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/132

Which graphics card manufacturer?

ATi and Nvidia make the graphic chip set technology, which are then utilized by a number of graphics card manufacturers. Some recommended card manufacturers are BFG (see www.BFGtech.com) and ASUS, but the best bet is to go to websites like CNet.com and read the reviews. BFG cards are the gamer's choice because of their solid overclocking methods.

Also, keep in mind that some graphics card require a minimum requirement for PC power supplies...meaning in order to run that particular card, your PC must have a power supply of a certain wattage. Most of the new graphics card require a minimum of 300 watts or more.

NOTE: Though Second Life may run on dual graphic card PC systems, we're not completely optimized for this setup and do not currently support dual graphic systems. From our tests thus far, the is very little benefit when comparing the performance of a single graphics card over a dual graphics card system.