Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of our Athlon Buyer's Guide and keep a lookout for Part 4 in the coming weeks

In the last two parts of our Athlon Buyer’s Guide, we talked about what motherboard to buy and your possible options for overclocking the Athlon, but, for the gamer, the most important question is which video card is the best for your new Athlon system. In an ideal world we’d be able to simply recommend the fastest video card and be done with it. Unfortunately, oftentimes the fastest video card is also the most expensive, thus introducing a very realistic limitation to your decision.

In this guide we will be focusing on the major players in the video card market right now, NVIDIA’s TNT2, TNT2 Ultra, and GeForce, 3dfx’s Voodoo3 line, and Matrox’s G400 and G400MAX.

Choosing a Video Card

For an Athlon system, choosing a video card should be no different than with any other system, right? It would be very unfair if, by purchasing an Athlon, you were suddenly limited to only a few choices for video cards.

From a compatibility perspective, all of the video cards are "compatible" with the Athlon platform and the AMD 750 chipset. There are no inherent problems in either that could possibly prevent one of the aforementioned video cards from being incompatible with the Athlon platform. This is very refreshing news because it is one of the things we were quite afraid of when we originally recommended the Athlon back in August. We were left with a very sour taste in our mouths after the initial Super7 video card incompatibility problems, but, luckily, the same does not hold true for the Athlon.

Unfortunately, there have been reports of problems with certain combinations of components and video cards resulting in random crashes, lockups, etc… As far as the TNT2 goes, all of the currently available TNT2 cards work perfectly fine with the Athlon (including the now discontinued Hercules Dynamite TNT2 Ultra clocked at 175/200MHz) on all of the motherboards we have taken a look at thus far (those included in Part 1 of our Athlon Buyer’s Guide). So why is it that some users are experiencing random crashes and lockups with their TNT2 based Athlon systems?

Chances are that the culprit in this situation would be a power supply that is unable to deliver enough current to the system. But why would the power supply work perfectly fine in a Pentium III based system with the same video card? The fact of the matter is that the Athlon draws significantly more current than the fastest Pentium III, and thus its power supply requirements are much stricter than those of other systems. We will focus closely on power supplies in Part 4 of our Athlon Buyer’s Guide, but, for now, you’re probably best off looking at AMD’s Recommended Power Supplies page if you think this may be the problem.

How do you tell whether your lockups are related to your video card not receiving enough current? The easiest way to determine whether or not the AGP slot is receiving enough current for normal operation is to underclock the core frequency of the chip and see if that solves your stability problems. If it does, then the AGP slot is not receiving enough current to run the card at the higher core clock speed. For example, if you had a TNT2 Ultra clocked at 150/183MHz (core/mem frequency), you could underclock the core from 150MHz down to 125MHz and see if that solves your stability problems. If it does not, then the problem could lie elsewhere, possibly in a software/driver configuration problem or possible hardware failure/conflict.

This problem of under-delivering current seems to be most present with the TNT2 Ultra; however, we have seen cases where a G400MAX exhibited similar behavior in a system. The Voodoo3 seems to draw the least amount of current out of the cards we took a look at and had the least amount of problems with running reliably on systems with non-AMD recommended power supplies.

There have been recent discussions about problems with Athlon systems using the GeForce. We have been working on reproducing the problems in lab, but we were able to complete all of the GeForce tests without any problems on our test beds.

2D Image Quality & the Test
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