VGA Card Buyer's Guide 07/2003

Other Chip Companies

Right now, there are only few alternatives to ATi and NVIDIA. Although both Trident and S3 have announced new products and demonstrated prototypes, cards with their new chips are not yet available. Only SIS has had a moderate amount of success with its affordable Xabre 400 and Xabre 600 boards. Driver problems and bad texture quality have thus far hampered widespread adoption of these chips, though.

General Notes

Now that we've covered ATi's and NVIDIA's chips, we can move on to the individual cards. NVIDIA does not manufacture or sell its own cards and only produces its own boards (the reference cards) when a new chip is introduced. These are never sold in the retail channels, though.

NVIDIA leaves the sale of complete cards up to the graphics card companies, which it calls its board partners. These partners produce their own cards based on the reference design, or have third parties (or larger companies) produce their cards for them.

ATi, on the other hand, produces and sells its own cards, albeit only in North America and Canada. It leaves the Asian and European markets to its board partners, though. Its closest partner in the Asian market is Sapphire, a company that has been producing its own boards as well as ATi's for years. Even today, most of the "Built by ATi" boards hail from Sapphire's factories.

Image Quality

Aside from the 3D performance, this is indubitably one of the most important factors in choosing a graphics card. Judging image quality is far from easy, though, as newer driver releases can improve image quality - or worsen it. While FSAA performance remains largely unaffected by newer releases, this does not apply to anisotropic filtering. NVIDIA and ATi are continually working to achieve the best mixture of speed and image quality, often on a per-game basis.

To get an overview of the cards and their respective strengths and weaknesses, take a look at some of our more recent tests:

Anisotropic Quality:


Strike Force: The new ATI Radeon 9800, 9600 and 9200 Series