The Best Gaming Graphics Cards for the Money: February 2008

PCI-Express Interface

Radeon 2600 PRO
Codename RV630
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 128
Texture Units: 8
ROPs: 4
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 600
Memory Speed MHz: 500 (1000 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

The 2600 PRO is one of those cards that receives very little press, but offers some decent gaming potential for its price. 2600 PRO cards can be found as low as $70 at online retailers; for that, you're essentially getting an underclocked 2600 XT that is a solid baseline gaming card. If you do light gaming, or you can't afford any better, the 2600 PRO is a good choice.

This card's biggest competitor would be the better-performing 7600 GT. The 7600 GT is a good buy at the $85 price point, but that's so close to the $95 Radeon 2600 XT and Geforce 8600 GT that I find it difficult to recommend over these newer cards, which offer excellent HD video acceleration in addition to good gaming power.

A word of caution: avoid the crippled 64-bit version of this card! The 2600 PRO can only deliver passable performance with a 128-bit memory bus.

Best PCI-E Card For ~$100: Tie

Radeon HD 2600 XT
Codename: RV630
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 128
Texture Units: 8
ROPs: 4
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 700 (1400 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

The performance of the 2600 XT is very close to that of the GeForce 8600 GT, but the 2600 XT has a performance edge when antialiasing is disabled. Although the GeForce seems to have the edge when antialiasing is turned on, it's not much of a real-world advantage, since neither card can effectively use 4x AA beyond 1024x768.

GeForce 8600 GT
Codename: G84
Process: 80nm
Universal Shaders: 32
Texture Units: 16
ROPs: 8
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 540
Memory Speed MHz: 700 (1400 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

The 8600 GT was a terrible buy at $150, but now at the $100 price point it's much more attractive. The 8600 GT will slightly beat the old 7600 GT and X1650 XT in raw performance in the $100 price category. In addition to speed, the 8600 GT has the added bonus of being DirectX 10 compatible, as well as being a good overclocker.

NOTE: Avoid the DDR2 versions of the 8600 GT! The GDDR3 versions are the recommended cards; DDR2 equipped 8600 GTs will be noticeably slower.

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