Conclusion - MSI And Colorful Offer Integrated HDMI Output
Thanks to continually improving drivers, ATI's Radeon HD 2900 XT is finally closing the performance gap to the Geforce 8800 GTS 320 under Windows XP Compare Prices on HD Video Cards. The price gap is another matter, though, with the powerful ATI card still costing about $162 more. MSI compensates for the higher price by including a component output cable for HDTV, various adapters, ViVo functionality, and the game Half Life: Episode 2, which was only just released.
When running in a Crossfire configuration, the Radeon HD 2900 XT gains around 21.4% performance across our benchmark suite. A tandem of HD 2600 Pro cards can even achieve a 41.3% performance boost. With games that are specifically programmed to take advantage of multiple GPUs, a 40% to 85% performance increase should not be a problem, either. While the 2600 Pro Crossfire setup sells for a reasonable price of $240, the 2900 XT tandem is much too expensive for a gaming card, at $1013. For a little less money, you could just as well choose the quieter Geforce 8800 GTX, which is just as fast, or go for the faster 8800 Ultra.
The Radeon HD 2600 XT Zalman and the Radeon HD 2600 XT IceQ Turbo, both made by HIS, offer the same value for the money. If you overclocked the Zalman version to the same speeds as the IceQ card, it would theoretically win the price/performance comparison, but at the cost of voiding your warranty. The IceQ version is factory overclocked, meaning the higher speeds are guaranteed by the manufacturer and covered in the warranty. Since the IceQ version only costs $9 more at present, we recommend choosing this card. However, if you only have room for a single-slot solution, you should consider the Zalman model. Both cards sport relatively quiet fans with noise levels of 38 to 39 dB(A).
MSI's 8600 GTS comes with excellent equipment. The Diamond Plus version sports an integrated HDMI port and a large bundle; its powerful fan is loud, but the card's 3D performance is very good. Using MSI's driver and the DOT. overclocking feature it contains, you can increase the clock speeds, and thus performance, by an additional 2% to 10%. The second card to sport a "real" (i.e. integrated) HDMI port is made by Colorful; it also offers the best value for the money in this roundup.
For its good performance and quiet cooling solution, we recommend the HIS Radeon HD 2600 XT IceQ Turbo.
If you can live with the higher noise level of this card's fan, we recommend MSI's Geforce 8600 GTS Diamond Plus. The card sports an integrated HDMI interface, offers outstanding performance, and comes with a generous bundle.
Colorful's Geforce 8600 GT HD receives our budget recommendation, as it offers good 3D performance and an on-board HDMI interface for little money.