So the 'not quite useless' bit was that it revealed that I was already running in 8x AGP. So... I don't know what the heck is up with the framerate. Data points:
- Lowering the 3d resolution or the actual screen resolution doesn't help.
- Lowering the texture quality doesn't help.
- Turning off antialiasing, mip-mapping, reflections, bloom, depth of field, and all that junk doesn't help. Basically, nothing that you'd do to compensate for a crappy video card helps, because the video card isn't crappy.
- The CPU doesn't get above 73% utilization. Running extra programs in the background doesn't hurt.
- The maximum memory use is 700 megs out of 2 gigs of physical memory -- I'm not running out of memory.
- Decreasing the view distance helps *dramatically*, as do other things that reduce geometric complexity.
- In Oblivion, turning off shadows was what made the game playable, more than even reducing view distance.
Only things left to try that I can think of are (a) getting broadband, in case the network connection is somehow the cause (on certain teams the network is definately the bottleneck), and (b) getting a new sound card or updating the sound card drivers.
*sigh* I went through all this years ago, too, and ended up coming to the same conclusions, but nooooo, I have to listen to someone saying that I should try again and this time it'll magically work. My computer's a piece of crap, that's all their is to it, no speciifc part can be replaced or tweaked to fix it. Never, ever try to build your own computer if you aren't an expert, that's the lesson here. And don't trust friends who say they are.