In another month or so, I will be building a PC for my fiancee. Her primary uses are web browsing, office-type tasks, and a little photo editing, but no gaming (beyond casual titles like Bejeweled and Big Kahuna Reef) YET. She will also watch movies on it, so I'll probably choose a widescreen LCD for her. I am considering two GPU options. The one I'm favoring is to give her my 7600 GT because it has a nice quiet Zalman vf700-Cu on it, and should I ever get her interested in gaming, that card should be sufficient. I would get myself a 7900GS, probably this one:
...and keep my 7600GT. That's a lot less expensive.
My concern with the cheaper option is that if I get a 1680 x 1050 widescreen, the 7600GT will start to choke, even though the most strenuous game I play is Guild Wars. FPS now dips into the 30s sometimes, and I don't think I want it any lower. I'd like to keep the budget for this at <$250, considering I'll be buying the rest of the parts for another PC, plus the monitors. Noise is a concern, so if there's something out there that obviously smacks the 7600GT but sounds like a hair dryer, I'd need to get a 3rd party cooler. I've reviewed Cleeve's posts, of course, but I'm not sure I see a clearly better option.
My advice would be to get your fiance this X800GTO. It's the fastest sub-$100 card out there right now (I think).
Keep your 7600GT. Upgrading it to a 7900GS will give you a performance boost, but not enough to justify spending $175+ on an new card. Just suck it up for a few months and buy a nex-gen mid-range card, OR you can take the money you saved by going for the X800GTO instead of the X1600Pro, and get this X1950Pro. That would give you a big boost in performance, unlike 7600GT->7900GS.
The X800GTO option for my fiancee may work; reviewers seem to say that card is not too loud. The X1950 Pro you listed is described as hot and loud though. Maybe I'll get that X800GTO and try a modest oc on my 7600GT (on top of the existing factory oc).
Thank you both. I saw one like that, from Powercolor, and it looked reasonable. Reviews describing problems shouldn't apply in my "case." I have good airflow, and probably wouldn't need to oc it, especially if that turns the cooler into a shrieker.
Since you are not going to upgrade for another month, it might be best to wait. The R600 is due out in January and this might cause a lot of cards to come down in price.
If you were going to look into getting something right now, the X1900GT is $156 after shipping which makes it the best bang for the buck from the X19XX series cards and all of the 79XX series cards from Nvidia.
Now, there is a BFG 7600GT for 85 bucks after MIR. This is definitely the best bang for the buck for low end cards. Maybe pick up another 7600GT and wait for the mainstream DX10 cards to come out in March/April since the MIR is only good for purchases until Dec 31st.
I am going to follow Cleeve's advice, tempered by your observation that prices on the entire X1950 family may drop in another month. Hopefully then I'll be able to upgrade to the -XT and give my 7600GT to my fiancee.