So which card is the best sub-$200 deal for the 3D gaming enthusiast? Let's examine the cards in light of how each performed.
I've seen the X850 XT online for as little as $155, and at that price, it's hard to fault. It shows its strength in some games and can surpass both the X1800 GTO and 7600 GT in those titles. Our sample had great overclockability, and it's the only card with a dual-slot cooling solution, which may be important for those of you who wish to keep the inside of your case cool. Its only real downside is the lack of Shader Model 3.0 support, and unless you're really into HDR that's a minor issue at this point.
The 7600 GT remains a very strong contender, even in the face of this newer competition. It traded blows with its Radeon opponents at every turn, and costs barely more than the X850 XT. It's also the smallest card of the three, and the least power hungry, not requiring a discrete power cable. With its combination of low price, Shader Model 3.0 support, and consistent performance, the 7600 GT might be the best choice for the money.
Finally, there's the X1800 GTO. It's also a very strong contender and competed well with the 7600 GT, but at a cost of $20 to $40 more. The X1800 GTO is hard to recommend until you consider its inherent moddability. Its 256 bit memory interface makes memory overclocking twice as effective per MHz as it is on the 7600 GT. The X1800 core is also clearly capable of more than 500 MHz, as it was designed for use in the X1800 XT series, cards that come stock at 625 MHz and have been known to clock much higher. It can also be voltage-modified without solder or physically modifying the card. Finally, there is a chance that it may be successfully unlocked to use 16 pipelines. With all this in mind, it may well be worth the premium over a 7600 GT or X850 XT, at least to the right person.
So which card is best? All of them. Honestly, I can't envision a scenario where anyone would lament the purchase of any one of these cards. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but none of them is a loser. My best advice to a potential buyer is to examine the benchmarks closely and buy with your personal goals in mind. Consider the games you play, the modifications you're willing to make, and the price you're willing to pay.
HDR is a beautiful thing. If you've ever spent time playing Oblivion, for me that's a deal breaker when it comes to the X850 XT. I've heard the 7600 GT is an amazing overclocker when voltage modified, but any time I pay over a hundred bucks for something, I'm not confident enough in my personal soldering abilities to mess with it. I think the Radeon X1800 GTO is well worth the extra money if you're into overclocking and aren't comfortable with a soldering gun.