Sometimes it's easy to get lost in the high performance market. With games like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion capable of bringing even the highest powered desktop systems to their knees, the desire to see just how beautiful we can render a game is quite strong. For professional gamers, it isn't about the attention to detail, but the rendering speed. Everyone who is the least bit interested in realtime 3D graphics can easily get excited about what the latest and greatest hardware can do for their favorite games and simulations.

But the vast majority of us can't afford to drop over $1000USD on graphics hardware. Instead, we must approach our love for graphics in one of two ways. Either we need to determine the minimum level of graphical quality we are comfortable having, or we must look for the fastest card we can afford within a certain price range. What ever perspective one might have, the end result usually ends up somewhere near the topic of this article: midrange graphics cards.

The current landscape of $200 - $300 graphics cards is quite well suited to the enthusiast who wants good performance and quality for a reasonable amount of money. As such, we will be taking a look at this market segment as it stands. This really does seem to be the sweet spot in terms of bang for the buck right now. We won't be able to run Oblivion with all the options enabled, but all the games we test will look good and play well. We won't be surprised to see a few more entries into this market before the end of the year, but we are certainly over due for a good hard look at anything but the high end.

Over the past year, we've seen the 6600 GT fall in relative performance from one of the greatest midrange cards we've seen to something more like a minimum requirement for passable graphics. Likewise, the modder's darling X800 GTO is starting to struggle to various degrees (depending on how far any given card could be pushed). These two cards (among others) are included in our test as references.

This week we did run into a little bit of a snag in our testing for this article: the price of the ATI X1900 series dropped quite a bit. Not only did the price drop for the X1900 GT end up adding quite a bit of value to the card, but the X1900 XT dropped low enough in price to put it in competition with the 7900 GT at just over $300. This week has been spent testing more cards and a few extra senarios in order to cover all the bases and truly find out what cards are the best to buy in the mid range market segment. With a variety of overclocked NVIDIA cards available and price cuts on many ATI parts, things just got a whole lot more complicated. As the high end desktop graphics market used to top out at $300, we understand that even a mid range graphics card is still a significant investment for most people. It's important to be armed with the best and latest information when making purchasing descisions in such fast paced, high tech markets.

We hope to shake out the best options in the current line up as well as help those looking to upgrade from a previous generation of midrange graphics see how their card stacks up. Let's take a look at the cards we have included and why.

The Contenders
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  • coldpower27 - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link


    Well it wasn't too long ago that X1900 XT still had pricing over 400US.

    It wasn't until ATI started doing some price slashes in preparation for the X1950 that the prices have fallen alot, fairly recently.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    It's more based on price than performance, and obviously at $330 we're very close to the high end. Reply
  • Powermoloch - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Why was it not listed? These days they can be found almost under $150.00 Reply
  • kalrith - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    Actually, it's http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">$126 shipped from Newegg right now, and that's BEFORE a $30 MIR. It should keep up (or beat) the 7600GT, so I think it deserves to be on there as well. Reply
  • Jedi2155 - Sunday, August 13, 2006 - link

    Although it is plenty fast, I think the DX 9.0C has shown enough benefits over 9.0b to seriously consider the 7600 GT over the X850 XT Reply
  • Zebo - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Nice review but there should only be two choices in the sub $300 field:

    7900GT, not only can it be had for $224, not $275 as the review implies, it can be overclocked to 7900GTX virtually guarnteed, meaning it trades punches with a $359 1900XT.

    The card missing from this review is the $220 1900 All-in-Wonder, not only is it faster than 7900GT stock and has way more features, it can also be overclocked to 1900XT levels.
    Reply
  • Zebo - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    http://www.zipzoomfly.com/jsp/ProductDetail.jsp?Pr...">http://www.zipzoomfly.com/jsp/ProductDetail.jsp?Pr...

    looks like they raised price since last week... it really was 224:)
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...
    Reply
  • AmbroseAthan - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Was kind of surprised to see it not in this mix being you can get one for ~$200 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?item=N82...">Sapphire x1800xt - OEM (Retail is 250ish)

    I assume it runs faster then the 1800GTO, but how does it rank with the 7800GT and 7900GT?
    Reply
  • mpc7488 - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    quote:

    but with the recent price cuts pushing the X1900 GT down to about $230, the added performance gain of the 7900 GT might not be worth the money in this case


    The 7900GT is consistently around $240 after rebates. There are 3 cards at that price from 3 different manufacturers at Newegg right now (eVGA, XFX, and MSI). In fact, the overclocked version (520 core/1540 memory) is $244.

    Maybe rebates aren't really looked at in the price engine, but the fact remains that you can easily find a 7900GT for under $250.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Good point. We didn't include rebates as they can change without warning, not everyone follows through on them, and they take some time to recieve.

    But, obviously, they can make a difference. I'll add a bit to the conclusion about it.

    Thanks.
    Reply

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