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When the smoke clears, Nvidia’s GeForce GT 640 DDR3 does battle with AMD’s Radeon HD 6670 GDDR5. Normally, we recommend the slower DDR3-equipped version of that AMD card in our monthly Best Graphics Cards For The Money column. Two things have to happen before Nvidia displaces that entrenched incumbent, though. First, GeForce GT 640 has to be made available in the channel (something we’ve seen Nvidia avoid with certain mainstream cards in the past), and its price has to drop from ~$100 to $85 or less.
At its current SRP, this DDR3-equipped board is too expensive compared to the competition. This segment is riddled with strong competitors, (particularly the Radeon HD 7750, which blows GeForce GT 640 out of the water and sells for as low as $110). Of course, many budget-minded offerings start out in this price range and drop soon after release: the Radeon HD 5670, 6670 GDDR5, and GeForce GT 240 all landed in our lab accompanied by $100 price targets. The real question is whether or not Nvidia is willing to get scrappy on pricing, and whether it’s able to manufacture enough of them to make the GeForce GT 640 relevant.
What about a GDDR5-equipped GeForce GT 640? The specs we’ve seen from Nvidia don’t mention a retail model with the more modern memory technology, but the company does offer an OEM option. We think a GK107-equipped card with more bandwidth might make sense, especially if it comes close to Radeon HD 7750 and is priced appropriately. In addition, there's a notable gap between the GeForce GT 640 DDR3 and the GeForce GT 440, and we're told that Nvidia may consider another product for this segment in Q4 2012.
Though the Radeon HD 7750 appears to hold its own in its current form, AMD reached out to us a few days ago to let us know that the company plans to refresh its Radeon HD 7750 and 7770, each running 100 MHz faster than the previous reference design. Things get a little muddy, though, because the new specifications call for slightly higher voltages, almost certainly impacting power consumption in a negative way. Moreover, the channel is still loaded with the “first-generation” version, meaning old and new will coexist for some time. As of this time, we can only find one Radeon HD 7750 with a 900 MHz core available on Newegg, and that sells for $129. Gigabyte has its own 7750 with an 880 MHz core going for $110, too. AMD also wanted us to know that Codemasters’ new DiRT Showdown racing game is bundled with Radeon HD 7750 and 7770 hardware. Only time will tell if 900 MHz Radeon HD 7750s become commonplace at $110, or if this announcement turns out to be little more than a distraction tactic to undermine the GeForce GT 640 launch. In any case, the Radeon HD 7750 staves off the GeForce GT 640 unpressured, which is why the Radeon HD 6670 GDDR5 and GeForce GT 640 need sub-$90 price tags. We're looking for a large enough spread to correspond with the gap in performance.
It's no Radeon HD 6670-killer; however, GeForce GT 640 gives Nvidia something it hasn’t had in a long time: a potentially potent budget contender. And let’s not forget the card’s other attributes, such as low-enough power consumption to eschew auxiliary connectors, a fairly compact form factor, and support for four displays. We’re particularly happy to see Nvidia counter AMD’s Eyefinity technology, which previously was the only way to go for productivity-oriented power users using more than two screens. Even better, you aren’t required to use DisplayPort-capable monitors or adapters.
We just hope the company is ready to push this one into the channel, upping the ante for budget-oriented builders. That hasn’t happened since AMD’s Radeon HD 5670 was dropped to $70 oh so long ago. The 5670 is ancient history, unfortunately, and we could really use another tight contest between compelling entry-level graphics cards.