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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  • rcc - Monday, August 14, 2006 - link

    For my past sins I did a brief stint at Fry's Electronics. Only 5% of customers send in rebates and follow up. The stores count on this.

    So, I think I'd ignore them too. Unless just to note that rebates may be available on some items, but that pretty much applies to anything at any time.

  • Josh7289 - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    On Page 5, Black and White 2 Performance, this is written:


    But with cards like the 6600 GT, 6800 GT, X800 GTO and X1600 XT, the game would look much better if some settings were turned down in favor of enabling some antialiasing or a higher resolution.

    Obviously, "6800 GT" should be "6800 GS". ;)
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Obviously :-) Reply
  • Nelsieus - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    It was probably really hard making final conclusions as you noted (with price cuts and factory OCs, etc), but I think overall, you came up with some excellent choices. The review was very fair and balanced, indepth, and overall covered all the basis.

    Another great article, Derek. Thanks for keeping an eye out for us midrange buyers. :)
  • saiku - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    amen, thanks for remembering the guys in the "middle". Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Thanks! We did want to do even more with it, but we were afraid if we worked any longer on it we'd have to deal with another price cut before it got published :-) Reply
  • Josh7289 - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    I have a question. When looking at performance for games at 1600x1200 no AA, could I compare that to what I would get with 1280x1024 with AA on? Thanks. Reply
  • Gigahertz19 - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    You overclock the 7900 GT and it gets a great boost in performance. I would like to know how well the X1900 XT overclocks?

    I think you should have overclocked the Top Midrange ATI X1900 XT and see how well it could outperfrom an overclocked 7900GT or a stock 7900 GTX....

    or maybe compared an overclocked 7900 GT to a stock clock 7900 GTX then compare an overclocked ATI X1900 XT to a stock clock ATI X1900 XTX.

    Nice article by the way, this comes at a perfect time when I'm about to build a new computer in a few weeks. Going to wait until September until Nvidia 590 chipsets for Conroe and see what else comes out by that time then buy :)
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    There are no factory overclocked X1900 XT cards for sale. The clock speed difference between the X1900 XT and the X1900 XTX essentially means that an overclocked X1900 XT would *be* an X1900 XTX.

    We tested the NVIDIA cards at higher clock speeds because they are sold at higher clock speeds. We weren't trying to snub ATI; it's just that people can actually get this performance out of the box.
  • yacoub - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Top of the Final Words page, first sentence:

    While this has been quite a lot of information to absorb, but we will do our best to sort it all out.

    Remove the "While" and capitalize the 't' in "this", or remove "but". =)

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