Nvidia is due for some good news. Does the new GeForce GT 240 provide that? I think that it does.
While the sub-$100 graphics card segment doesn't generate the same excitement as the top-end models, it remains a key market for selling in volume. AMD left a gap in the $70-$110 price range when it axed its Radeon HD 4830. Nvidia has not been able to take full advantage of this due to the relatively high cost of manufacturing its GeForce 9600 GSO and GeForce 9600 GT.
The GeForce GT 240 serves up just what the doctor ordered. The cost-effective 40nm process, combined with a 128-bit memory interface, helps keep production costs down, while 96 stream processors and fast GDDR5 memory keep performance in the ballpark of the venerable GeForce 9600 GT. Pairing the new card with cheaper DDR3 memory will allow the price to drop even further, replacing the GeForce 9600 GSO as strong competition for ATI's Radeon HD 4670.
Along with these important fundamentals, the new GeForce GT 240 provides DirectX 10.1 compatibility, an eight-channel LPCM audio controller, CUDA, PhysX, and GeForce 3D Vision compatibility. Equally important in our eyes, it doesn't require a separate PCIe power connector, which opens it up as an upgrade for folks who don't want to invest the money for a power supply upgrade. And let's not forget the HTPC market: a low-cost, low-power, high-performance card capable of eight channel LPCM over HDMI is sure to be an attractive item.
But the elephant in the room is, as mentioned previously, imminent competition from ATI. The lack of DirectX 11 compatibility might not be an issue in this price segment right now, but in the first quarter of next year, ATI will be releasing the lower-end Redwood and Cedar parts from its Evergreen lineup. Another bothersome tidbit is that Nvidia's new model demonstrates a notable anti-aliasing performance deficit when compared to the GeForce 9600 GT it is replacing. And it is especially difficult to forget the GeForce GT 240's lack of SLI support, something both the GeForce 9600 GSO and GT have always had.
But none of these issues are show-stoppers today. The point is that Nvidia now has a cost-effective part that it can leverage to not only compete with the existing Radeon HD 4670 when paired up to DDR3, but replace the GeForce 9600 GT when it's armed with GDDR5. Though at-launch pricing is usually high, Nvidia will finally have the flexibility to compete at the entry-level once production has ramped up, and we will undoubtedly see that happen with the GeForce GT 240.
This is good news for the consumer, to be sure. Let's face it. Not everybody can afford a $300 graphics card. Low-cost performers like the Radeon HD 4670, GeForce 9600 GSO, and GeForce 9600 GT have been providing an excellent gaming experience for folks without big dollars to spend, and more solid competition to drive prices down in this space can only benefit us all in the long run.
The Palit GeForce GT 240 Sonic Edition
Palit has the distinction of selling the only launch-ready GeForce GT 240 with a full gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, with factory-overclocked GPU, shader, and memory clocks to boot. While the performance advantage of the extra RAM isn't always significant, there will be folks interested in the long-term prospects of having the extra memory on-board (some game settings simply require the extra memory). For these buyers, Palit's Sonic Edition is a favorable GeForce GT 240 option right now.
The Zotac GeForce GT 240 AMP! Edition
Zotac provides some respectably-high factory overclocks on its AMP! Edition cards, and the company's GeForce GT 240 is no exception. Despite its elevated clock rates, this card used slightly less power than our old favorite, ATI's Radeon HD 4670 (all in a small single-slot package, too). If the GeForce GT 240 appeals to you, Zotac's AMP! Edition is definitely worth considering.