In our last update of Tom's Hardware Guide VGA Charts , we covered the AGP models that are currently available. However, now that PCI Express graphics cards are gaining in both market share and importance, it is time to take a look at the hardware in this category as well.
Over the past several months, both ATi and NVIDIA have launched a number of new graphics processors designed as native PCI Express parts. Additionally, there are also NVIDIA's GeForce PCX models as well as the GeForce 6800 Ultra and GT, which use an AGP processor connected to the PCI Express bus through NVIDIA's HSI Bridge chip. Add them all together and you have quite a multitude of PCIe products.
Although many of these models were officially presented months ago, many are still not readily available in the retail market, at least not in the higher speed grades. Things look brighter in the lower mainstream and low-budget segment, where availability does not seem to be an issue at all. Now that the market is showing definite signs of making the transition to PCI Express, availability should become less and less of a problem even at the high end, with manufacturers continuing to increase their output to meet growing demand.
For the current iteration of the VGA Charts, we used the most recent WHQL-certified driver releases available at the time of testing. In the case of ATi, that would be the Catalyst driver suite 4.12, which was released just before we began our tests. For the NVIDIA cards, we used the latest official WHQL driver, which is the Forceware driver v66.93. Although NVIDIA has already made newer "Release 70" drivers (v71.20) available to the press, these do not support all cards. Also, as mentioned above, we prefer to use WHQL certified drivers for the VGA Charts whenever possible. The only exceptions to this rule are brand new cards which are not yet supported by official drivers, or where the unofficial driver offers remarkable new features.