Introduction

Greetings and thanks for joining us for another one of our monthly video card price guides. Our astute readers may have noticed a bit of a dry spell with our price guides, but not to worry, we're back in full swing and expect them to be up once a week like before. If this is your first time here reading our weekly price guides, you'll see that we not only pick out hardware we feel you should consider for your next purchase, but we also like to follow the market trends, giving you an outlook as to what we see happening. We rotate the topics every week, four different topics a month, covering CPUs, motherboards, video cards and storage media.

Although we only discuss these four topics in our price guides, our Real Time Price Engine, more commonly known as the RTPE, includes all aspects of computer hardware; all the way from LCD monitors, to desktop and notebook RAM to sound cards. The RTPE also experienced quite an overhaul a couple months ago, and in case you missed our announcement then, you'll notice that the RTPE's speed has picked up significantly and is much more enjoyable to use thanks to our RTPE administrator and other behind-the-scenes coders. We're still working on getting even better performance in the future, of course, and as more people use our pricing engine we will do our best to keep up.

We're noticing this week that there are many cards with mail-in rebates, especially from MSI. Not all of us on the AnandTech crew like dealing with mail-in rebates, but if you don't mind dealing with the hassle of filling out forms, photocopying UPCs and mailing them out, and perhaps waiting eight weeks for your check to arrive, mail-in rebates can really make a good deal that much sweeter. We would also like to mention that the high-end graphics cards don't appear too appealing as they have been priced unreasonably for quite some time now. Rather than going with a card from that section, we suggest going with something from the ultra high-end or mid-range line-up.

As always, we like to begin our video card price guides with the ultra high-end graphics solutions all the way through the high-end, mid-range and ending with the low-end graphics cards. Note that when we talk about market segments, we are primarily concerned with performance and positioning rather than price. This is why we generally don't recommend the high-end market right now for video cards, as in many instances you get better price/performance from either a slightly more expensive card or a cheaper card.

There are many cards to cover, and we'll do our best to cover them all, but please do feel free to leave us any comments, suggestions or death threats in the comment forum below or send us an e-mail at the e-mail address above. The feedback we receive is always invaluable and helps improve our guides for the best. So here we go, starting off with the ultra high-end video cards...

Ultra High-End Graphics
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  • koomo - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    First, glad to see the price guides back. What a tremendous improvement in price/performance from what we thought was the cat's meow earlier this year!

    Would you please consider comparing systems in your future High-Range Price Guides to those systems previously recommended? By the time they are ready (I assume you will be waiting for Conroe) I know there will have been an enourmous leap in the past year, but I would very much like to see it graphically with your testing.

    Also, what's the safe bet on DX10 card arrivals? I imagine they would be ready for release once the system is ready for sales, but will they require some time for optimization? Will it be awhile before games are capable of utilizing DX10 well? (Such as the somewhat languid adaptation of dual-processor advantages.)

    In other words, it seems to me that a very good card purchased today could still be quite competitive a year from now, and not made "obsolete" when DX10 arrives.

    Thanks again.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    AFAIK, DX10 won't come until *after* Windows Vista, so that means we're at least 6-8 months away from DX10 hardware. I also expect games to lag behind by quite a bit, just like with SM3.0 support. DX9.0L (WGF1.0) will be available for Vista launch, but I'm not sure what it adds.

    I'll see what I can do with the high-end buyers guide. Generally speaking, we let the CPU/chipset/etc. articles cover performance; otherwise, the guides end up taking a long time to write.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    Do your sources suggest DX10 hardware will be delayed until Vista is released, even if the hardware is ready and Vista suffers yet more delays? Let's face it, Vista is likely to be delayed more than the next-gen DX10 compliant cards intended to be released near the end of this year. I mean in Jan 2007. Or Feb 2007. Or sometime early next year which seems to be the current Vista release data. Along with "when it's ready" which is a very good thing for quality, but not so good for release dates. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, May 28, 2006 - link

    Derek probably has more info than I do. All I know is that NVIDIA and ATI are both working on DX10 hardware, but they aren't discussing any of the features that will be present - at least not with me. Reply
  • Sahrin - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    "The X1900 AIW has lower clocks than the X1900 XT (500/960), but you also get VIVO support, and the price is lower. "

    The vanilla X1900XT supports VIVO as well. Doesn't it?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    I believe the X1900XT only has TV out, though I suppose some manufacturers might add non-AIW video in hardware. Reply
  • Missing Ghost - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    but when the 6800gs was announced they said it would be a short-lived product. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    One reason for purchasing a low-end graphics-card you didn't mention is if your mobo does not have integrated graphics, which includes every nForce3 and nForce4 mobo sold-- in other words the vast majority of people with an Athlon 64 processor. If they're not a gamer then a cheap card is pretty much a necessity in order to use the computer.

    Another reason would be if you've got a good graphics card already but want an emergency replacement than can be immediately swapped in should it fail (not all of us are hardware reviewers who have hundreds of graphics-cards in the closet). If you've made the jump from AGP to PCIe like I did last year, you probably don't have any other PCIe cards you can use if something should go wrong, so unless you have an old PCI card available you're stuffed unless you have a cheap PCIe card as a spare. Which is the situation I'm in as the fan on my 6800GT has almost died judging from the racket it is making which means my main box may be out of commission for at least a week while it is RMA'd as I have nothing to replace it with.

    Obviously for people with integrated video available, the only reason for a low-end card would be for DVI output or higher-quality analogue output like you said.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    There are various reasons for budget cards. Our point was that you shouldn't buy one hoping for moderate gaming performance. Buy at the bottom of the price bracket, because the extras are mostly worse than getting just about any mid-range offering. If you buy one as a temporary replacement, though, you're basically buying hardware that's not going to be used much.

    If you are purchasing a new PC and just need any GPU (i.e. because you don't have IGP), then go ahead and buy one as well. I purcahsed four 6200TC cards for my brother's dental office for exactly that reason, but they were all the $50 versions rather than spending even $20 more for faster clocks.
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    I agree 100% on the purchasing a cheap low-end card for boxes that don't have a mobo with integrated graphics. Not spending even slightly more on cards that would be quite a bit faster for 3D stuff is also wise. The arrival of Vista sometime next year will make 3D performance important for workplaces that might migrate to it over the computer's lifetime, though most workplaces won't even consider migrating until it has been out for a year and then when all their applications have been thoroughly tested (probably another year) so by then the ROI has already been covered.

    The temporary replacement scenario I pushed isn't as daft as it might sound. Obviously it's not going to be used much, that's the whole point of the emergency stand-in solution to keep the box working. But for a single-user scenario, if you've got important recently updated files on a system with a PCIe graphics-card and that card suddenly fails, then you're stuck unless you have an old PCI graphics-card (I have a friend with a Trio64 gathering dust) or a cheapo PCIe that could be instantly swapped in to get me back up and running. I've got three AGP cards but none of them will be any use in my current system when I have to return the PCIe card, and I now regret not also spending a tiny bit extra on an X300 or 6200 last year when I bought this 6800GT.

    Like I said we aren't all PC hardware reviewers with hundreds of graphics-cards lying around the house we could choose from if one fails. My PCIe 6800GT is on it's last legs and I don't have another PCIe or PCI card to replace it with while it is RMA'd (though it can run passively in 2D or if downclocked in 3D so I can choose when to RMA). I imagine you have a closet stacked to the ceiling with everything from X1900XTXs and 7900GTXs from several manufacturers, through everything back all the way to the Trio32 and earlier. The rest of us don't have that luxury unfortunately. And yeah, I know you don't really have hundreds of graphics-cards in your closet as most have to be returned, but it's nice to imagine that :)
    Reply

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