ATI Radeon HD 2400 with passive cooling. A good option for an HTPC system
The long delay from ATI allowed Nvidia to dictate what it wanted to sell, and capitalize on where the bar would be set. ATI was playing catch up and was in no position to fight back in this offering. It needed parts on the market and followed competitive trends instead of forging new ground. In essence, there isn't a real middle ground, only enthusiast high end, value and entry level product.
That being said, are these cards terrible? No, and anyone who says they are is looking at them from a specific perspective. Are the HD 2400, 8500 and 8400 series cards good for gaming? No, but for an HTPC they would be good. Looking at the video playback CPU utilization as well as the fact they all have DX10 hardware means that they would be good for the home or office situation where an inexpensive dual monitor Vista experience is desired.
When looking at the gaming results and the video playback figures, the HD 2600 and 8600 series are indeed a value proposition. Both the ATI and Nvidia offerings deliver what they say, including H.264 hardware acceleration, and ATI offers additional VC-1 acceleration. They can play some existing games and will be able to play simple DX10 games in the future. We thought there would be more DX10 content available at this point of the year but this is not so. All games going forward next year will most likely be DX10, so these should be able to play games like the next The Sims or children's educational programs, but in no way will they be able to handle graphically intense titles.
Are you looking to upgrade from a system you bought or built over three years ago? If you are like most people, these would make a great upgrade path. Enthusiasts and hard core gamers will be left wanting more, though, and will most likely be disappointed when the games they have been waiting for hit the market. We foresee that there will be a major disparity between the value and enthusiast class products, and as the titles keep coming, this gap will only widen.
To close, where are the mid-range cards? If you are limited on funds then the HD 2600 XT or 8600 GTS and their overclocked variants should tide you over until you are ready to upgrade again in a year. However, if you have been keeping up with rumors, they are around the corner. The traditional product launch cycle has been out of sorts for the past year and a half; we are just feeling the effects of a lack of real competition between ATI and Nvidia. The R700 is on its way, as well as Nvidia's refresh of the G80. For those looking for the next greatest thing, there will never be an end to development. As for those of you who are still in a holding pattern: you need to dive in soon.