OS____Windows XP Home SP2
CPU___AMD Athlon X2 3800+ / 2.4GHz
GPU___GeForce 7600GT, 256MB GDDR3
RAM___A-DATA Extreme, 2GB, DDR2 800 / 4-4-4-12, 2T
PSU___FSP Group 450W, 36A
HDD___Western Digital Caviar 250GB
Case__Antec Nine Hundred
I have only one 16x PCI-E slot available on this Mobo, but plenty of slots in the case open for use (that's what I meant by single-slot). Pretty soon I'm going to need a graphics upgrade as I'm a semi-serious PC gamer (but not so much that I'll spend the money for a 9800GX2 ). So let's assume that my max budget for a single video card is $250 - $300, but even so, try to keep the price low. This card should also run fairly quiet and I don't care about how hot it gets, just so long as it doesn't melt, get artifacts or crash or anything. Passive cooling would be best, I suppose. The monitor I use is fairly old, but runs at a native resolution of 1280x1024, but I do want to play at 1920x1200 with a newer monitor sometimes in the next 6 months. I can also overclock fairly well, but have no knowledge of anything too advanced, such as volt mods, water cooling or installing third party VGA coolers. I also occasionally run Linux and from what I hear Nvidia drivers are easier on it.
So, given all this, what would you say is my best option for an upgrade?
8800GT 512MB for $175...nothing can beat it in price : performance. 8800GT/GTS performance is about the same as anything that has double the price tag. If you want to spend about $225 or so get a 8800GTS 512 MB, but you won't see any real performance change, just runs a little cooler (basically a 8800GT + aftermaket cooler + 5-7% better performance on higher resolutions). Now if you want to spend about $350....get 8800GT SLI....2x8800GT is amazing performance for $350...beats anything that cost twice as much, just like the 8800GT.
Another vote for the 9600GT, would fit your bill perfectly with the resolution you are playing at now.
If you think you may get a new monitor, or maybe pick up a couple of new games in the next 6 months, then I would go the extra $$ and get the 8800GT. The GTS is starting to get too pricey for the performance gain over the GT. Not that big a difference unless you start upping the resolution pretty high. The GTS does have better cooling though.
For pure performance VS $$, almost everyone will tell you that a 8800GT is really powerful card for the money spent.