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ATI Graphics Card Buyer's Guide 2006, Part II

Introduction

For this latest graphics card buyer's guide, we reviewed 27 cards using either ATI Radeon or Nvidia GeForce chips. Of those, two are designed for the AGP interface, while the rest use the PCI Express (PCIe) bus. The guide is split into three installments covering nine cards each. To be eligible for inclusion, the candidates must reach our lab in their retail packages. This means that we expect the final hardware version of the card in its final shipping box, with the software bundle and all necessary cables. The highlights of this second article is a Radeon X1600 Pro Golden Edition running at raised clock speeds..

Software bundles vary greatly between the card makers; in particular, the version numbers of the applications can be as much as three generations apart. Also, some companies expect the user to enter unreasonably long product keys that are up to 48 characters long, and it doesn't help that these keys are printed in minuscule fonts on the installation CD. Honestly, we think that if someone was willing to invest any kind of criminal energy into pirating software, it is rather unlikely that this person would target custom-tailored OEM versions of applications. The complete counterpoint to this paranoia is manifested in the full retail version of Power Director 3 that ships with Sapphire's Radeon X1800 XT and XL cards. Inexplicably, this software requires no product key at all!

We were also struck by the dominance of Cyberlink's products in the software bundles. Be it the software DVD player, video editing suite or image editor, most of these programs are made by the same company. These application bundles ship on what is called the "DVD Solution". Cyberlink uses the DVD Solution startup screens as advertising space for the company's other products. This is all understandable, to a point. It gets annoying, however, when after having already been forced to look at these ads and entering the product key, the user is confronted with an additional registration screen. We would say that here, less would be more.

On the whole, all companies try to bundle at least a software DVD player and some games with their cards. Vivo cards also ship with extensive software bundles that enable the buyer to make good use of the card's video inputs and outputs. The resulting movies can be copied to DV or burned to DVD or CD with the help of the programs' burning modules or standalone authoring and burning tools.

In the case of expensive cards such as the Radeon X1900 XTX, we recommend taking a closer look at our feature table at the end of the article. It offers a direct, side-by-side comparison of all cards of the same class, including information about their software bundle. Since most cards barely deviate from the chipmaker's reference design, the software bundle can tip the scales in favor of a certain card when trying to decide on a model.

The field of 27 review samples is divided into three articles of nine cards each; this article represents the second installment of nine cards. Benchmark results and feature table from the first part are included in this article as well. When the third part of this guide goes live, you will be able to compare all 27 cards with one another. Here is the list of cards that we cover in part 1 and part 3 of the buyer's guide.

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