Palit Microsystems uses the highest base clocks to top all of our performance charts, yet doesn’t appear to charge for all of that extra performance (or the risk of GPU failure accompanying it). How can a company overclock so far without increasing price? Two words that come to mind are “warranty coverage.” Palit recently extended its warranty to two years, which is two-thirds the length of most competitors. As a user who’s had several GPU cooling fans fail only months before the warranty expired, I can understand the expense Palit’s competitors must bear to provide a warranty that lasts throughout the realistic usefulness of the card. Think of this like Nissan's GT-R. Buy the souped up ride with the shorter coverage period if you can take the heartache of a failure down the road.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the warranty scale, EVGA offers something akin to BMW's factory-recommended maintenance program (only better, since EVGA extends lifetime protection). Higher-priced graphics cards like the one tested today carry this guarantee. EVGA also has a legendary support structure that makes it very easy to process any cards that have problems, and the company even gives its buyers 90-days to decide whether they want to keep the card or use its full value towards the purchase of a faster model. Of course, we've now all seen what happens to these great warranties when a company like BFG goes belly-up, so don't base your entire purchasing decision on that, either.
Sparkle and Zotac follow EVGA’s lead by offering lifetime warranties, but neither of these companies has yet earned EVGA’s reputation for responsive support (admittedly a quality that takes time to build up and spread the word about). If we were to choose between the Sparkle or Zotac cards, we’d risk being forced to jump through a few hoops, should warranty service be required. The only card in today’s comparison to offer a DisplayPort connection, Zotac makes an equally strong argument for picking its card by including a free game. Meanwhile, Sparkle adds a modest overclock and a 6’ HDMI cable to its package.
Yet, a lifetime warranty isn’t very valuable once technology improvements make an old card worthless. While cards more than three years old are often in line to be replaced, the few that remain in use add significant support cost to manufacturers who offer longer coverage periods. Asus, ECS, Gigabyte, and MSI try to balance their cost against the needs of most buyers by providing a warranty that’s exactly three years long. Among these manufacturers, Asus has the greatest peak cooling capability and clock speed, Gigabyte has the lowest price, and MSI falls in the middle with a huge cooler and moderate price.
Because every card in today’s comparison is a compromise of features, performance, warranty, and price, individual buyers must carefully consider their specific needs before choosing a favorite.