Not everyone has the money to spend on graphics cards that cost two hundred dollars or more. And, not everyone who has money to spend cares to have the latest and greatest in features and performance. But whatever the reason, when building a PC on a budget, we want the most bang for our buck.

Current gaming performance is of utmost importance in this segment of the market as these cards aren't designed to be future-proof. Most DirectX 9 games will have a hard time running with their bells and whistles (the parts that will be written for DX9) turned on under these cards, especially at resolutions above 800x600. The best way to pick a budget card is to determine which game(s) are most important to you and buy the card that works best for that game regardless of other factors.

Many of the tests that we ran would have benefited from running resolutions lower than 1024x768, but we feel 10x7 is a valid resolution to shoot for these days. Lower resolutions are sometimes necessary, but this way, we can see what games for which these cards can handle with the extra load.

We will be pitting the budget cards against the cards from the earlier parts of this roundup series to add some performance reference. These numbers are just for perspective, as our current article employs the ATI CATALYST 3.9 drivers along with NVIDIA's 53.03 ForceWare release, while the previous performance numbers were run with CAT 3.8 and FW 52.16 drivers.

The Budget Cards
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  • Mana211 - Wednesday, May 19, 2004 - link

    The problem with this review is that none of these cards are common on pricewatch or eBay.

    Where would the FX 5200 333 DDR place? How about FX5200 400 DDR, FX5500, FX5600XT, FX5600 (not XT not Ultra assuming that even exists), 5700LE, 5700 (not LE not Ultra).

    In short the entire lineup from NVIDIA seems to have 30 shades of FXness and pricewatches categories and this review are both useless now that the names don't match any known specs.
    Reply
  • Zephyr106 - Saturday, December 20, 2003 - link

    I agree with what the article's author said in regard to the processor used. To compare video cards there should be one variable- the video card. This could be accomplished with a slower processor, but using the fastest setup ensures that nothing on the processor/motherboard/ram "end of things" hampers the test.

    "9200 is a junk card, but unless I'm mistaken, it's really a modified Radeon 8500 core."

    Radeon 9100 is a rebadged 8500 (LE model?). IIRC the 9000 and 9200 are based on 7500 architecture. BTW a friend of mine just got a barebones P4 2.8C and put a 9600SE in it before I could say anything. I cringed, but if he complains about sluggish games I'll tell him what's what.
    Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Friday, December 19, 2003 - link

    "Of course, in looking at the 4200, you have to remember that numbers like we got in halo were obtained using the -use20 option which the 4200 can't do."

    No kidding... and neither can the 9200!!! Obviously, the 9200 is a junk card, but unless I'm mistaken, it's really a modified Radeon 8500 core. So it's only DX8.1 capable, right? That's my point in saying the 4200 is a better choice for the budget sector.

    And, come on, you have to admit that you hated benchmarking these low end cards. Waiting for the benchmarks to complete must have taken all day, especially on the 9200SE!

    Incidentally, I don't think I've ever seen screenshots comparing "Halo -use20" to "Halo -use11". Are the differences really that great? I'm guessing not, but I could be wrong. (A link to such a comparison would be appreciated, incidentally.)
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, December 18, 2003 - link

    Well, I must say that I disagree with pure video card performance testing being done in any system other than one with maximum performance in all other areas.

    Kris has already presented the core reason behind what we do, but maybe this explaination will help shed some light on the subject and add some perspective.

    Take Halo for example. There is no current computer system in which you could drop a 9200 and get higher than 11.7fps at 10x7. Likewise, there is no system in which you could drop a 9600se and get higher than 18.7fps. Since these cards are at roughly the same pricepoint, the choice is obvious: the 9600se will be the better card to purchase.

    To extend the example, these cards will maintain similar relative performance on lower end systems. Just how close the numbers come varries from game to game, and that is the point of doing CPU scaling test. CPU scaling warrants an entire article in and of itself.

    If you just can't stand the wait for us to get to a CPU scaling test, feel free to take a look at the budget CPU roundup, compare the numbers to the FX51 system numbers for the 9800Pro and do a little rough extrapolation (this really isn't scientific and doesn't give you reliable numbers -- just an idea of what things might look like).

    I appreciate the feedback, but it just doesn't make sence to test system performance when this type of article is about what the video cards can do. We've got other articles for that.

    to change gears ...

    As far as the 4200 goes, the test shows that it is definitely not an upgrade to buy a current generation budget card. We generally show previous generation cards in a kind of upgrade path light. If you want a budget card and you can find a 4200, the performance numbers tell the story pretty well.

    Of course, in looking at the 4200, you have to remember that numbers like we got in halo were obtained using the -use20 option which the 4200 can't do. the ~18fps at 10x7 isn't bad for getting all the effects the developers wanted to include (the game is very playable on the higher end budget cards at 8x6 and high detail settings on the barton 2500+).

    Hope this info helps shed light on why we do things the way we do. Thanks again for all the feedback.
    Reply
  • deathwalker - Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - link

    I think I'm in the camp of the majority on this issue. The test setup was flawed. It is more than reasonalbe to assume that anyone who would buy any of these cards being tested would be running them on a system with much more limited capabilities than the fire breathing dragon they threw them on in this test..the results are worthless. Reply
  • Myrandex - Wednesday, December 17, 2003 - link

    Y'all the thing to do is to purchase a Radeon 9500 128MB non pro and mod it to a 9700, and if you feel adventorous, OC the thing up to 9700 Pro speeds. www.allstarshop.com has the L shaped cards in stock (I just got mine), its fantastic. Also, a regular Geforce FX 5600 can be found for under $100 ($92 free shipping 128MB at www.amamax.com) and the 256MB for just over $100 ($100 w/ $4 shipping at house of computers), and a 5600XT for $109 from Newegg. Reply
  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    Ugh... #13, you're missing the point. Derek shouldn't do it all again. He shouldn't have done this 4th part to begin with! What a collossal waste of time! I mean, how long does it take to run a benchmark where you're only pulling 8 fps? WAAAAY too long.

    The budget roundup should have skipped all AA/AF testing, since that's not a budget feature. Then it should have basically said, "If you're really looking at a budget graphics card, and you're running less than a 2 GHz PC, you should look at two options. First, if you have a DirectX 7 card or earlier, a GeForce 4 or Radeon 8500/9000 (non-SE!!!) would provide a decent performance increase. If you already have a DX8 or later card, you really need to upgrade your PC. None of the current budget cards are worth getting."
    Reply
  • Maringer - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    I, too would be interested to see the figures a 9600NP gets. Here in the UK you can get them for just a few pounds more than a 9600SE and they should be a much better option. Reply
  • Medellon - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    I was surprised to see how competitive the 4200 still is. I own one of these cards and was planning on upgrading to a 9600 Pro or XT but seeing as how it will only improve my FPS by 10-15(hardly a big improvement) in my favorite games I think I'll wait intil some real DirectX 9 games start coming out(sorry Tomb Raider). Reply
  • AtaStrumf - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    I have to agree with all the critics. Sorry but this review sux. I'd like to see 9100/8500LE and 9600 and FX5200 thrown in the bunch, since FX5200 Ultra is practicaly non existent over here, and I bet in a lot of other places as well, and a 8500LE is a good reference point for many, and 9600 in much cheaper than 9600Pro and is therefor an interesting buy to consider ... if we had some performance numbers that is. I'd give derek an F for this. Do it again, and listen to what everybody is saying and provide a comparison table of all the cards, so everybody knows what they're looking at. And please don't use an Athlon FX system this time. Reply

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