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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  • Gigahertz19 - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    I can't stand people who always have to correct every damn thing they read, who cares if the authors of these articles make little mistakes? As long as these articles are readable and understandable who gives a shit. I don't think anybody has the right to complain for something that is free for us to read...now if we were paying to read this material it would be a different story.

    I can understand correcting big mistakes like correcting the author when he uses the incorrect name for something or is wrong about a fact then that should be corrected but little grammatical errors and sentence structure should be left alone unless it's completely butchered. If you're so interested in these small mistakes go teach high school English.

    And yes I know some ass on here will find an error in my above comments and correct it, go for it :).
    Reply
  • yacoub - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Actually, the authors generally appreciate it and fix it, at least in my experience. It makes for a more professional site to have solid grammar in articles. As for "who gives a s#!t", generally adults do. Reply
  • Netopia - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    And to support his position, take a look at the sentence now... they fixed it!

    Joe
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 11, 2006 - link

    Yup.

    Derek was working on this late at night and so I went and made my typical corrections after the fact. There were plenty of other minor typos, and we do our best to correct them whether we spot them or someone else does. We certainly don't mind people pointing them out, as long as it's not the "OMFG you misspelled two words on the first page so I stopped reading - you guys are teh lamez0rz!?1!" type of comment. ;)
    Reply
  • CKDragon - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    I have my 7900GT voltmodded & overclocked to 640/820. I know you didn't show voltmod overclocked benchmarks, but seeing that just a core bump up to 580 brings it close to or better than the X1900XT at stock is a nice reference mark to have. Reply
  • Frackal - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    I doubt that considering a 7900GTX with higher core/memory clocks than that usually gets beaten by an X1900XT at stock. (Not to mention to make that fair they'd have to OC the x1900xt too)

    This review was relevantly incomplete IMO because it did not show the huge difference between an x1900xt and 7900gt with AA/AF on
    Reply
  • yacoub - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    Nor the huge difference in audible noise levels, for that matter. My 7900GT is practically silent except when in 3D games, and even then it's not a jet engine. Reply
  • yacoub - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    I recently upgraded from an X800XL to a 7900GT (eVGA N584 model - hsf is copper and covers the RAM chips). I run the 91.33 drivers.

    I am extremely pleased with this upgrade choice. The card is actually quieter than my Sapphire X800XL Ultra was (it had the Zalman hsf on it stock but the fan was ball-bearing and made a bit of noise).

    My rig:
    3200+ Venice
    1GB DDR RAM dual-channel
    A8N-SLI Premium

    Games:
    CS:Source
    Homeworld 2

    Haven't reinstalled other games yet but considering the great improvement I noticed in CS:S, I imagine FEAR, NFSMW, and the other games I own but don't currently have installed would also see a large jump in performance. Not only did I gain fps and eliminate the big dips I experienced in busy scenes with the X800XL, I'm also at max graphical settings (everything High) and anywhere from 2xAA and 4xAF up to 4xS AA and 8xAF, and this is at 1680x1050 (20" widescreen).

    Very satisfied with the purchase. This cost me less than the X800XL did nine months ago and performs probably 40-60% better, if not more considering the improved graphical settings on top of the fps gain.
    Reply
  • vailr - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    When are the DX 10.0 cards going to available?
    And, what new assortment of ATI or nVidia GPU's will be on the DX 10.0 cards?
    Will there be cheap [<$150] DX 10.0 cards?
    Reply
  • Warder45 - Thursday, August 10, 2006 - link

    I don't see the 7600GT OC 600/750 listed in the charts on the page talking about the 7600GT OC. Lots of 7900GT models though. Reply

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