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Improvements in graphics processing have reached a breathtaking pace. Previously, the performance gains successive product cycles offered was only about 20% to 40%, numbers that didn't necessarily entice buyers rush out and buy the latest cards from the shelves. But with the latest crop of top-of-the-line cards, including the GeForce 6800 and the X800 from NVIDIA and ATi, respectively, we have seen significantly higher performance leaps. This has also helped to make graphics cards exciting again.
Depending on the game and the selected resolution, the GeForce 6800 and the X800 were able to improve on the framerates of the previous high-end models, the Radeon 9800XT and the GeForce FX 5950 Ultra, by more than 100%! Now this performance advantage is beginning to trickle down into the mid-range market. ATi and NVIDIA are now introducing new mainstream models based on these architectures.
However, in order to offer their cards within the $150 to $250 price range, which is normal for this class of cards, the processor makers are obviously forced to cut some corners here and there. Primarily, this means cutting down on transistors, as this results in a higher processor yield per wafer and, consequently, lower manufacturing cost. The cards' memory configurations also offer a lot of potential to cut down costs. Halving the memory width from 256 bits down to 128 bits also saves traces on the PCB, helping to make its production cheaper as well. Lastly, these pared-down processors are then clocked at lower frequencies and coupled with slower memory. Nonetheless, the manufacturers still try to squeeze as much performance as possible out of these more budget-conscious cards to make their products as attractive as possible. The obvious mantra for ATi's and NVIDIA's mid-range cards is thus about offering performance gains that approach as much as possible those of the high-end cards at an affordable price. This is the exact maxim that ATi followed with the new X700 processor with which the vendor hopes to secure its market share in the mid-range market.