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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  • cristic - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    for #10: yes it would be, also like a 9800non-pro against a 9600XT and 9700 and 9700pro

    If I should buy a low-end card right now I would go with a 4200... heck I own one, since god know when! (:
  • DAPUNISHER - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    Since using AA/AF with budget cards in the vast majority of games just isn't doable with playable frame rates, I have to agree the ti4200 is still the king :) people who bought G4 ti4200 cards back in a day are only 2nd to 9700pro owners in bang for the buck over the long haul IMHO :) Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    I'm curious as to why the 9800 Pro was included in the results... it's hardly a budget card. I understand it gives an indication of how a budget card performs when compared to the best. But why isn't there any nVidia high end cards? If someone doesn't like ATI and wants to know how a 5700 Ultra compares to a 5900 non-ultra, wouldn't that be a useful tidbit to have here? Reply
  • nastyemu25 - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link


    i concur.
  • Maringer - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    Personally, I find it pretty amazing that the 9600SE can beat the 5200Ultra in so many of the benchmarks seeing as it has less than a third of the memory bandwidth in comparison.

    It leads me to think that it is a hell of a waste to use this chip on such a low-spec card. I suppose the market is calling for it though.
  • merlocka - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    To everyone above who is griping about the test setup and/or the conclusion, I agree 100%. Who the heck does Derek think he is testing these cards with a PC which won't cause an artificial bottleneck?

    Is he trying to provide accurate results or something?

    I can't believe I just paid money to read this article... from now on, I'm going to buy every single piece of hardware that is out there and test them all myself on a test PC which I buy so I know EXACTLY which $50 video card to buy.

    Or perhaps I'll quit b!tching and just read reviews on websites who offer content for basically free.

  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    Also, the article shows quite clearly that these three budget cards are complete garbage and should all be avoided like the plague. That's useful.

    9600SE: $99 or more
    9200SE: $46.50 or more
    5200 Ultra: $109 or more
    5200: $63 or more (but it's even slower than the 5200 Ultra)

    GeForce4 Ti4200: $75 or more

    I got those prices from, except for the Ti4200 - it's being phased out, so you'd better act fast if you want one! So, if you really want a faster graphics card, and you're looking at a budget, buy a Ti4200 before it's too late.

    And if you're thinking of saving $25 and getting the 9200SE, you're a crazy lunatic! At least pay the $10 to $25 extra and get a DX8 card with a 128 bit interface (the nicer 9000/9100/9200 cards).
  • Emma - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    It'd be good if the cards we are focusing on in the review are shown as a different colour in the tables (eg orange). At the moment it is a little confusing.

  • TrogdorJW - Tuesday, December 16, 2003 - link

    I understand that there is a desire to make the results comparable with the other parts of the article, but Sauron is absolutely right. So this is the maximum performance you'll get out of these budget cards? Big deal - you'll NEVER see these numbers, because you'll never actually run this configuration.

    The conclusion is also screwed up, since the GeForce 4 Ti4200 kicks the crap out of all three budget cards in virtually every test. Current cost is about $75 I think, which would also make it a "budget" card. The only tests it didn't win had 4xAA and 8xAF enabled, which would also never be done with any of the lower end cards. Budget-minded shoppers don't give a damn about eye candy features. I should know - I'm one of them!

    Anyway, personally, I think that Derek Wilson was given a pointless task in running benchmarks on the fastest current PC available paired with several low end cards. I feel sorry for him. If this budget information was going to be truly useful, we would need to see numbers on a 2.0 GHz/2500+ system (or less).

    Of course, on a positive note, these "maximum performance" figures for the budget cards are probably easily attainable with anything over 1.4 GHz. Well, except for the really high scores in some of the less complex games. I know my Ti4200 never scores anywhere near what is listed in this review, and on games like Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament 2003, it probably would take at least a 2.4 GHz system to max it out.
  • KristopherKubicki - Monday, December 15, 2003 - link


    The ultra high end setup is to eliminate bottlenecks. Its not really expected for you to go buy an FX51 and all; it just shows you the highest* thoroughput of the cards. We have proven in the past this scales very nicely.

    When we do our graphics and CPU benchmarks, we try to use the exact same components with the exception of the video card/CPU/Memory in question. This is simple scientific method: we want one changing variable rather than several.

    Hope that helps!


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