ATI Buyer's Guide, Part III: All Graphics Cards!

Conclusions And Summary

Starting with the Radeon X1300 and X1300 Pro, ATI-based cards have supported Pixel Shader 3 effects and HDR rendering with simultaneous anti-aliasing. However, the chip doesn't possess the power to render all of these effects together in current 3D games. The only game in which cards based on these chips were able to sustain playable framerates was Quake 4. Thus, the X1300 is better suited to an office or VDR/HTPC system, especially considering that it is also available with a passive cooling solution. The X1300 Pro costs almost as much as a Radeon X1600, and here potential buyers would be well advised to spend the extra $20.

Performance-wise, the Radeon X1600 XT is just powerful enough for current 3D games. Since it is aimed at gamers on a budget, it offers quite good value for money. Meanwhile, Nvidia is tidying up its product line - the GeForce 6800 GS with 512 MB is superseding the GeForce 6800 Ultra and GT parts. In the same class, we also find ATI's slightly faster X1800 XL, which in turn is also in the process of being phased out in favor of the marginally slower X1800 GTO.

The GeForce 7600 GT is about as fast as the Radeon X1800 GTO. However, the new Nvidia chip is cheaper and also runs cooler than its ATI counterpart. Even with only 256 MB of video memory, the 7600 GT is easily able to replace the entire GeForce 6 line of cards, while costing only slightly more. Things will get really interesting once Nvidia or one of its partners releases an upgraded 7600 with 512 MB of video RAM - this should give the card a very tangible performance boost.

The GeForce 7800 GT and GTX have a very strong and fast competitor in the Radeon X1800 XT; cards based on those two Nvidia chips are starting to become increasingly rare. This shift is easily explained just by looking at the 7900 GT - with only 256 MB, that card is close on the heels of the 7800 GT with 512 MB. Since cards based on the 7900 are available, it is obvious that it will replace the 7800. The 7900 GT's performance would also benefit from an upgrade to 512 MB, but so far, GT models remain limited to 256 MB.

At the high end, we have the flagship cards: the Radeon X1900 XTX and the GeForce 7900 GTX. While the Radeon X1900 XTX performs about 4.5 percent faster, the 7900 GTX has the quieter cooling solution. Only future games will allow us to tell how much of an impact will be made by the large number of pixel shader units on ATI's X1900 XTX. At any rate, Spellforce 2, Oblivion, Tomb Raider : Legends, and F.E.A.R. offer a taste of what visual treats are possible when a game makes massive use of shader effects.

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