Video Card Supertest
We put every current model from ATI and NVIDIA through its paces to find out which offers the best performance and value.
Such is the intense rivalry between ATI and NVIDIA that it often seems as though they launch a new graphics card every month. It makes for great headlines, but also means that even if your current card is only 18 months old it’s already several generations behind the latest chips.
This isn’t just technology for technology’s sake, though: with the latest games requiring every last drop of 3D power, you could be missing out on the full graphical experience unless you upgrade. Also, high-definition video is upon us and requires a hefty PC to decode and play smoothly.
Rather than review individual cards, we’ve focused on the chipsets themselves, as most suppliers’ cards are identical in all but bundle and price. We’ve chosen cards with standard clock speeds and memory to give a fair comparison of performance, but you’ll also find an alternative choice for each, offering silent cooling, a better bundle or an overclocked core.
As prices start at just $109 for the GeForce 7300 LE and climb to the heady heights of $1099 for the GeForce 7950 GX2, we’ve split the Labs into three. The entry-level cards include everything up to $200 for when games aren’t a priority: media centre PCs in particular can benefit from these cards.
The mid-range rises to $410, and there’s real value to be found here, particularly as it houses both ATI’s and NVIDIA’s newest offerings. Finally, at the top end, it’s no surprise that NVIDIA’s new GeForce 7900 series and ATI’s X1900 range are the speed kings. But speed alone isn’t enough to win an award: we’ve looked at the features, bundles and value as well.
We’ve kept the test to Shader Model 3 cards only, as the majority of new games are written to take advantage of its graphical features, but some may be wondering why a few variants are absent (the GeForce 6800 Ultra being a good example). The simple reason is availability: we’ve only reviewed chipsets you can actually buy.
Finally, should you invest in SLI or CrossFire setups? Theoretically, these allow you to boost speed by adding a second card to run in parallel with the first, but all isn’t quite as it seems.
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This Group Test appeared in the August 2006 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine