Ultra High-End Graphics

Starting off our ultra high-end graphics section, we have NVIDIA's 7900 line-up. With the 7900 GTX, you'll find it performs right up there with the X1900 XT and X1900 XTX. It's difficult to say which is better as the 7900 GTX brings some excellent competition to ATI. The 7900 cards also generate less heat, use less power, and generally run quieter than their ATI counterparts, the X1900 XT and XTX. The main deciding factor between these cards will be the price and features, as well as the intended use. We would say that ATI tends to have the performance advantage in many games right now, but there are still titles that favor NVIDIA's cards. Taking a step down in performance, we've discovered that the 7900 GT performs slightly better than a 7800 GTX, which compared to ATI's offerings would put 7900 GT up with the X1800 XL and X1800 XT cards, performing about the same or slightly better than them.

At the moment, the MSI GeForce 7900 GTX 512MB [RTPE: NX7900 GTX-T2D512E] is going for $430 after a $30 mail-in rebate. Leading the 7900 GT pack this week are two cards, the MSI GeForce 7900 GT 256MB [RTPE: NX7900 GT-T2D256E] and the XFX GeForce 7900 GT XTREME 256MB VIVO [RTPE: PV-T71G-UCF7] going for $250 after a $30 mail-in rebate. Coming up very close behind are the eVGA GeForce 7900 GT CO 256MB [RTPE: 256-P2-N563] and the BFG GeForce 7900 GT OC 256MB [RTPE: BFGR79256GTOCE] on sale for $260 after a $40 mail-in rebate. You'll note that many of the 7900 GT/GTX cards come factory overclocked, so if you don't want to overclock on your own, you should pay attention to clock speeds.

The GeForce 7800 GT/GTX used to be very popular. However, we are only picking up on a single GT card this week as all the others are now out of stock, and as mentioned already you will get better performance out of the 7900 GT cards. All the other 7800 GT cards listed in the RPTE are coming up as pre-order only, so you will not see them displayed in the above chart. The best/only price we are able to find on a 7800 GT is the BFG GeForce 7800 GT OC 256MB [RTPE: BFGR78256GTOC] going for $305 shipped. With only 20 pipelines compared to 24 on the 7900 GT, there's absolutely no reason to recommend a 7800 GT anymore. If you already have one and are looking to upgrade to SLI, you can get a moderate performance increase, but that's about the only reason to even think about the 7800 GT cards.

In the 7800 GTX line-up, the best price we're pulling up on is the eVGA GeForce 7800 GTX KO 256MB [RTPE: 256-P2-N529] which is currently going for $408 shipped. You can also find quite a few of these cards going for between $445 and $460. As with other models, these 7800 GTX cards come with many different package alternatives, so read the details carefully to get what you really want or avoid what you don't. Given that the 7900 GT is over $100 cheaper and will generally overclock and outperform a 7800 GTX, we again emphasize that your money is probably better spent elsewhere - or just save it for the next graphics card generation.

Moving on to ATI's ultra high-end offerings, we'll start off with the X1900 XT cards. We found a few X1900 XTs priced roughly the same as the 7900 GTX cards. The best price we're able to bring you is the MSI Radeon X1900XT 512MB [RTPE: RX1900XT-VT2D512E] for $400 after a $30 mail-in rebate. If it wasn't for the mail-in rebate, we would also suggest either the PowerColor Radeon X1900XT 512MB [RTPE: 1900XT512OEM] on sale for $436 shipped, or coming in very close behind that is the Sapphire Radeon X1900XT 512MB [RTPE: 100149] for $437. Since the X1900 XT and 7900 GTX perform similarly, the deciding factor will usually be the price. As you can see here, the X1900 XT wins this week at a considerably lower price.

Just as we hoped, we're seeing the X1900 XTX going for under $500. We're finding the Gigabyte Radeon X1900XTX 512MB [RTPE: GV-RX19X512VB-RH] running for $478 shipped and also the Sapphire Radeon X1900XTX 512MB [RTPE: 100150] for $490 shipped. The XTX cards are really only about 5% faster than the XT cards, and of course if you ever upgrade to CrossFire you will be stuck with XT speeds anyway. We definitely recommend the XT cards, as the extra $75 really isn't worth spending.

There are a couple more X1900 cards worth mentioning. First, there's the All-In-Wonder model. The X1900 AIW has lower clocks than the X1900 XT (500/960), but you also get VIVO support, and the price is lower. With a $50 MIR currently available, the card is certainly a reasonable alternative. The other card worth mentioning is the X1900 GT. These cards trim the number of pipelines from 16/48 down to 12/36, along with having slightly slower clock speeds than the XT (575/1200). Given the price and features, we would currently go with the AIW model instead, as both sell for about $330 (with rebates). The AIW card has more pixel processing power but less memory bandwidth, so both end up offering similar performance.

These X1800 cards aren't very appealing. While the lower priced cards seem reasonable, anything after about $350 isn't a good idea considering the X1900 XT we found above going for $400 (AMIR). We feel the performance found with X1900 XT would be well worth the ~$50 additional cost. However, we can give a moderate recommendation to the Sapphire Radeon X1800XL 256MB [RTPE: 100133] going for $292.

Let us head on over to the high-end graphics cards and take a look at what we have there.

Index 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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