GFX Card Brands: Is a spade a spade?

So I'm getting ready to upgrade my video card, and I'm reading over some articles, forums, etc, and see a bunch of different manufacturers of the same chipset of cards.

Example, the latest Tom's article on upgrading an old system notes a Zotac 8800GTS... Who the hell are these guys?

I've seen PNY, EVGA, BFG, Ledtek, XFX, MSI, ASUS, etc, etc all making the same cards. I'm aware that some have step up programs, lifetime warranties, and the like, but in the end, does that make really much difference on card reliability?

I've had Leadtek cards (my great old Geforce 2), then cheap cards, BFG, and currently an EVGA 7800GT, all have for the most part been great, yielding decently long life and good performance, so whats the main difference?

I know some are overclocked, and I'm looking towards an 8800 (probably GTS), but outside of sheer clock/mem speeds, whats the difference? Stick with a more reputable company with better support records, or go for the bottom line price? Will there be any performance differences? Are there any particularly heinous manufacturers to stay away from in the days where all cards stick pretty closely to Nvidia/ATI's chipset specs?
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  1. AFAIK, the difference is support and bundles. Nvidia makes the card, and specs it. This first card is called the reference design. Most people to make the cards stick to this. The cheapest cards offer little to no warranty, and usually only a driver disk if you're lucky. Move up the price ladder, and warranties get better, along with more cables and other goodies in the box. (or better coolers/higher clocks.) This continues until you get to the top, which has every goody you could want, along with a double lifetime warranty.

    As you've noticed, they are all pretty much the same/as good as each other. If you like the idea of a lifetime warranty, then buy one that has one. If you like cooler cards, or one that doesn't have a fan for silent operation, then get one of those.

    The only company that I know of that is semi shady is Sapphire, which doesn't even make Nvidia cards. Years ago they made a 9800pro that had only a 128bit memory bus instead of the required 256. This made the cards quite a bit slower, and got them in trouble with ATI. (you can't call it a 9800pro if it has a 128bit bus. You have to call it something else.) When the talk of lawsuit was started, they came clean about it, and has since stopped that practice. (I've never seen them do anything like that again.)
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