There are a lot of cards out there with the potential to be included in an article such as this. We've tried hard to pick the cards with the most potential for greatness, as well as references that were popular and represent what our readers may want to upgrade from. Our reference set contains 3 NVIDIA cards and 2 ATI cards:
ATI Radeon X800 GTO
ATI Radeon X1800 GTO
NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GS
NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT
We didn't include any X700 series cards, as the phantom X700 XT was the only card with any potential to do well. The bottom line is that none of the products that made it to market in the X700 series were worth the money. The X800 GTO, on the other hand, was incredibly popular due to the ease with which it could be overclocked. Most people were also able to unlock the disabled pipelines on the card without issue. For our tests, we are looking at a baseline X800 GTO, as it is difficult to gauge how much individual users were able to squeeze out of the part. While the X1800 GTO wasn't quite as versatile as the X800 GTO, its existence served to fill in the large gap between X1600 performance and X1900 level performance. Now that the X1900 GT is on the scene, it's a little less necessary. We've included it here because it's a good ATI counterpoint to the 6800 GS and fills in the lower end of the X1800 lineup.
As for NVIDIA, the 6800 GS was a reasonably priced, good performing product introduced near the end of the 6 series life cycle. The card wasn't nearly as popular as the X800 GTO, but it's performance mark does a very good job of representing older NVIDIA hardware: it's performance is higher than a vanilla 6800 and nearly that of a 6800 GT. The 7800 GT, aside from being a pretty popular card, can also still be found for between $250 and $300. While we wouldn't venture to say that it's worth the price, the performance of the 7800 GT at launch was highly acclaimed, and availability was much better than it's big brother. And finally, with the popularity of the 6600 GT, we wouldn't think about excluding it. With no real competition at it's price point for most if its life, the 6600 GT was a very popular card.
On to the current generation cards we are including.
ATI Radeon X1600 XT
ATI Radeon X1900 GT
ATI Radeon X1900 XT
NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT
On the low end of the range we've got the 7600 GT and X1600 XT. While we initially proposed a $200 price point during the conception of this article, both of these cards can be found for well under $200USD. There are a handful of overclocked 7600 GT parts available for between $175 and $220, while we don't really see a wide variety of different X1600 XT parts. Half way up to the top end (due to the recent price cuts) the X1900 GT falls just about in the middle of everything. The X1900 GT can be had for about $60 more than the 7600 GT and is about $60 less than our overclocked 7900 GT part. For our upper midrange target, we've got the 7900 GT and the X1900 XT. Both of these parts weigh in at nearly $300USD with the 7900 GT coming a little under and the X1900 XT a little over. The X1900 XT isn't as available as we'd like right now, but it can be found for about $330.
We want to end up with results that show not only what the best options are for midrange buyers right now, but whether it makes sense for owners of the older cards we've tested to upgrade at this point or wait until something faster and cheaper comes along.
Here's a breakdown of the prices on the currently available cards we tested:
|ATI Radeon X1600 XT|
|ATI Radeon X1800 GTO|
|ATI Radeon X1900 GT|
|ATI Radeon X1900 XT|
|NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT|
|NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT (Factory Overclocked)|
|NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GT|
|NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT|
|NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT (Factory Overlocked)|
With that in mind, we'll move on to the test setup and performance numbers.