High-End Power For The Masses
The most powerful and most advanced graphics cards in the PC world will always be prohibitively expensive for a great majority of enthusiasts, unfortunately. Of course, the best and newest hardware costs a lot of money to research and develop, so manufacturers recuperate a lot of these costs with high-priced premium models for the early adopters. There will always be the gamers out there who will pay for those pricey toys regardless of the cost. The rest of us wait until the second- or third-tier models arrive, with not quite as much performance, but a much lower price tag. But these second- and third-tier models didn’t always exist.
In the early years of 3D accelerators, graphics card manufacturers had very few card models in their lineups. Each vendor tended to sell only one 3D processor flavor, and they usually charged a very high price for it. To game on the PC, you had to be willing to spend some serious money on a 3D accelerator or you didn’t get to play demanding games at all.
Nvidia was the first company to really change the game by taking its top-end GPU, crippling it just a little, and charging a fraction of the price it demanded for its top model. Nvidia began this strategy with the launch of the GeForce 2 MX, which could offer a similar feature set as the high-end GeForce 2 and deliver reasonable performance without costing an arm and a leg. Suddenly, regular gamers had access to affordable 3D gaming on the PC. And they sold like hotcakes.
This began a great tradition of affordable and powerful cards that perform similarly to their top-tier brethren. These cards include the GeForce 4 Ti 4200, the Radeon 9500 Pro, the GeForce 6600 GT, the GeForce 7600 GT, the Radeon X1900 Pro, the GeForce 8800 GT, and the Radeon 4850.
A Little More History
Let’s have a closer look at the GeForce 8800 GT. Released in October of 2007, this card introduced GeForce 8800 GTX-class performance for half of the price, and it continues to remain a very powerful option over a year after its introduction. The GeForce 8800 GT is so successful, in fact, that instead of introducing a new value proposition based on its newest architecture, Nvidia has kept it alive by adding its HybridPower support and re-branding the card as the GeForce 9800 GT. (Ed. --It's a shame, then, that after seeing success with its GeForce GTX 260 and 280 as low-power idlers, the company seems to be stepping away from HybridPower starting with the GeForce 9300 chipset) . For more than a year now, the 8800 GT/9800 GT has ruled its price point. At $120, it’s still the cheapest card you can get for serious high-resolution gaming.
But nothing lasts forever. AMD has grown weary of the status quo and would very much like to offer some competition for the 9800 GT, so it took the highly-successful RV770 graphics processor found in its flagship Radeon 4870 card, crippled it just a little, and priced the thing at a third of what its high-end offering costs. This new card is called the Radeon 4830, but does it have what it takes to steal the thunder of the tried-and-true 9800 GT?