The Contenders

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:

Card
Price
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.

Index The Test
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  • jcbennett - Wednesday, September 06, 2006 - link

    I've been unable to find these cheap prices for a x1900gt (nor can I find the card being sold in many places). The cheapest I see anywhere is on newegg for open box products - ~$220. For new products, their prices are ~$300. The 7900gt on the other hand I've found at Tiger Direct for $250 or less, including overclocked versions for ~$10 more. Reply
  • VooDooAddict - Saturday, August 12, 2006 - link

    It's nice to see that really any of the new "midrange budget" solutions would work well for someone. Decissions can be made more on the details then on the raw speed. Most people would be very happy with 7600GT or better. None of the cards being pushed in this price range are really lemons. (Unlike the the GeforceFX 5xxx Series)

    Shader Model 3 is also supported across the X1xxxx or the 7xxx series lines.
    Reply
  • blondeguy08 - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    since amd has aquired ati it is pointless to get a video card from them especcialy high end because amd has stomped out the ati name along with some of its name brand technologies meaning no support for the old............hello nvidia is th eonly way to go at this day and time maybe not tomorrow cause amd might potentially create a duo of the two companies products that could smoke intels relations with nvidia since they havent merged in retailation to amds move.... Reply
  • arturnowp - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    AMD said there won't discontinue ATi and Radeon brand... Reply
  • Josh7289 - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    Yeah, and there isn't going to be any real products of this takeover until 2008 or so. Reply
  • arturnowp - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    I think 6600GT stands out in Quake 4 is because of its memory amount - it has only 128MB which isn't enough for Q4/D3. This card should be tested in medium. And even though Doom 3 give nice ave. framerate with 6600GT hiccups occurs with high quality textures. Reply
  • arturnowp - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    I wonder why those resolutions 'casue midrange gamers mostly use 1280x1024 and equivalent Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    We also show the various lower/higher resolutions, and basically chose a top resolution that shows how the cards begin to separate as the GPU is stressed more. At 1280x1024, some games begin to become CPU limited. It's also worth mentioning that 1600x1200 is relatively close to 1680x1050 in terms of GPU requirements, and 1920x1400 is close to 1920x1200 - the WS resolution will typically be ~10-20% faster in both instances (more at 19x12, less at 16x10). I would say a lot of people are moving to 1680x1050 these days, even in the mid-range. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Saturday, August 19, 2006 - link

    also, if you just want to play at 1280x1024, I'd recommend going with the 7600 gt at this point ... the very low end of midrange cards can handle 12x9 and 12x10 resolutions. Reply
  • Egglick - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    Where the heck is the 256MB X1800XT?? You can get it for http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">only $199 and it offers equal or better performance than the X1900GT.

    Why do review sites continually ignore this card??
    Reply

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