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How much Graphics Power Does a PC Really Need?

Conclusion: Large Gap Between 2D And 3D Requirements

ATI's and NVIDIA's common ambition, namely to reach ever higher performance levels, has caused graphics cards prices to reach dizzying heights, and there is no indication of this slowing down anytime soon. Of course, PC enthusiasts and gamers are quite happy with such a rapid pace of development, which results in continually improving speed and image quality. However, the majority of users use their PC for office work and to surf the Internet, and they reap no benefits from the innovative new 3D features of today's expensive graphics cards. Indeed, they can basically get Intel's GMA 900 for free when they buy a motherboard, a solution that offers them everything they require. For these folks, the only advantages ATI and NVIDIA have to offer over integrated products are better video features, more driver options and more features, such as TV-in or out.

ATI and NVIDIA won't be able to stand up to Intel for long in this entry-level market if the companies rely only on their add-in graphics solutions. What they need are integrated graphics solutions as well as add-in cards with simple and cheap designs. These cards could be future-proofed for the next Windows version, Longhorn, by including minimal DirectX 9 capabilities, just as Intel has done. No more, no less is needed.

In theory, NVIDIA would seem to have the best chance of succeeding with such a solution, as the company has built a good reputation thanks to its nForce chipsets for AMD platforms. Although the XPRESS 200 puts ATI a step ahead of NVIDIA, the chip suffers from the fact that ATI is relatively unproven as a developer of motherboard core logic chipsets. The latest "low" cost models from ATI (X300 HyperMemory) and NVIDIA (6200 TurboCache) are not an answer to this market. They are too expensive for pure office & Internet users but are too slow for modern PC games at common display resolutions.

There is also room for improvement as far as interaction with customers is concerned, as was proven by our look at the companies' websites. What's missing here is a clear definition of the target audience for a given product. For example, it is incomprehensible as to why ATI would position its most expensive gaming card, the Radeon X850, at the top of a list displayed on their Home/Office page while praising it as the "most advanced gaming card technology ever created by ATI". What additional benefit does a Home/Office user get from the X850, compared to an X700, or even an X300? The same applies to NVIDIA as well: the company presents the entire GeForce 6 series to gamers and "mainstream" users alike; the link leads to the same page. Neither company has websites really tailored to the different target groups; they rely heavily on their customers possessing prior knowledge of the products they are interested in, which is often not the case.

If you need good and fast 3D features and speed, there's no getting around products from ATI and NVIDIA (and even XGI and VIA, with some limitations). Both companies offer a wide selection of graphics cards for gamers from all walks of life (and varying budgets) from the entry-level card to the high-powered flagship. With this selection, ATI and NVIDIA serve a consumer base of about 40 million users, which is only about 20% of the entire, world-wide market, according to our numbers. If you're still laughing at the low-cost solution GMA 900 despite this insight, then you probably belong to those 20%. The other 80% have no reason to invest their money in a modern and expensive 3D graphics card.