Blazing Angels

Published Date
01 - Oct - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Oct - 2006
 
Blazing Angels
The graphics card industry is one of the fastest evolving amongst all PC hardware segments. Spitting out new products and allied technologies every six months or so, no other component has so short a life cycle as a graphics card.

Just think about it-Pentium 4 CPUs have been around since 2001, and have only now been replaced by the Core 2 Duo series. In contrast, NVIDIA's Geforce FX series of graphics cards were introduced in 2003, and were already outdated in late 2004, being replaced by the 6xxx series-just one example of how quickly things change in the world of the Graphics Processing Unit.

The reason for this fast turnover is, in part, the game developers, who are constantly pushing the envelopes of realism in the drive for immersive 3D gaming. Games, as we all know, are amongst the most demanding applications, and developers seem to swear by the "Let me bring this card to its knees" slogan. Every six months we see some game title that beats the stuffing out of the fastest cards available, and forces manufacturers back to the drawing board!

This year was a record of sorts for us. We received 65 graphics cards for the test, and in stark contrast with previous years, there was an abundance of cards based on high-end chipsets. This reconfirms the fact that the gaming hardware industry in India is booming, and gamers are willing to splurge. We've also heard the ringing of the death-knell for the AGP standard, and the fact that all 65 cards were PCI Express-based is testament to that!

Let's not waste any more time and get to the testing.

High-End GPUs
The cards based around these graphics processors represent the cream of the bunch-the high flyers, the elite of the pixel-crunching monsters! And let's not forget the fact that they're also the most expensive!

The Elite
NVIDIA GeForce 7950GX2, 7900GTX
ATI X1950XTX, X1900XTX, X1900XT

Features
The five chipsets in this category represent the crème de la crème of graphics cards, and, currently, are the fastest GPUs on the planet. We received eight cards in this sub-category. Let's take a look at the architecture of these cards.

One look at the specifications alongside will tell you that the big boys aren't fooling around-mighty impressive! The 7950 GX2 is basically a dual-GPU solution, and actually has two interconnected PCBs (each with a GPU onboard). These PCBs are mated together by four hexahedral bolts, and interconnected via an x48 PCI Express link. The 7950 GX2 chipset is the highest of the high-end cards, and each core gets a dedicated 512 MB of GDDR3 memory!

Our first impression was that the cooling solution (NVIDIA's own reference design) on the GX2 cards was a little too small, compared to the massive heat-pipe-based solution that the 7900GTX sports. Even the ATI chipsets come with more robust-looking coolers. This was confirmed during the tests: the GX2s ran hotter than the other NVIDIA cards. A peculiar occurrence was the extreme heat around the rear part of the second PCB (the one whose GPU is concealed). Even the fan is tiny, and it's not very fast; we feel a better cooling solution should have been incorporated on such a card.

A notch below is the GeForce 7900GTX. Based around a single G71 core, the 7900GTX packs in some 278 million transistors on-die. All the vendors across the board used the stock, double-slot cooler with these cards (NVIDIA reference design). The cooler is designed to throw heat out the rear of the cabinet.

As far as stability goes, we had no problems with the MSI NX7900GTX and the Gigabyte 7950 GX2. The MSI card was actually quite a bit cooler than the other 7900GTX-based cards.

Leadtek's 7900GTX card was plagued with instability issues, and was not able to complete the tests. Another card that was excluded due to stability reasons was the XFX 7950 GX 2 XXX version. It seems the top-end chips are already tweaked to their maximum possible clock speeds, and any attempt by vendors to bump up speeds just causes stability issues-at least with stock coolers. Remember, this is not a chipset fault at all, and both these offerings (GX2 and GTX) are excellent options.

The PX7800GTX 512 from Leadtek was the only 7800GTX 512 chipset in the tests. This card is not to be mistaken with a regular 7800GTX, which ships with 256 MB of memory. The core and memory speeds have been bumped up insanely, and cooling is provided by the 7900GTX type double-slot cooler.

In the red corner, the heavyweights came from Sapphire and ASUS, both based around the powerful ATI Radeon X1900XT architecture. The ASUS card we received was a CrossFire edition. A peculiarity was that both these cards came with their cores running at a 500 MHz default speed (check the table on the previous page for the manufacturer-rated default clocks). The memory was running at 1200 MHz, also well below the defaults (these figures were taken from ATI's own Catalyst utility). We therefore ran our tests at these speeds. One thing is certain: these cards are hot, literally-and this is not a good thing! The cooling solution is a larger version of the older X850XT cards, and throws heat out the rear of the cabinet. These cards easily cross the 80 degree mark while gaming, though ATI does claim that the cores are rated at 110 degrees (so we're well within the danger zone). There is an "XTX" version, which has a 25 MHz bump up in GPU core speeds, and a 50 MHz bump in memory, but we didn't receive this part from any of the ATI vendors.

How We Tested
Test Rig
CPU: 2.93 GHz Core 2 Duo X6800; Motherboard: Gigabyte DQ6 P965; RAM: 1 GB (512 x 2 MB) Kingston DDR2 800 MHz (4-4-4-12); Hard Drive: Hitachi T7K 250 SATA-II
 
Test Software
We divided the applications into two categories: real-world applications (games) and synthetic applications and benchmarks.
The games were divided into two further categories on the basis of the API (Application Programming Interface) used-DirectX and OpenGL games.

DirectX Games
F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon): A stunner of a game from Monolith that brings even the latest (and greatest) cards to their knees, with frame rates you can count on your fingers! Atmospheric and dark is how we describe this game. The eye-candy is amazing, the graphics mind boggling, and any graphics card test isn't quite complete without the cards being hammered by this game.

Far Cry: Another game that utilises some spectacular effects; the water and landscape effects of Far Cry have to bee experienced to be believed. Although not as gritty and realistic as F.E.A.R, Far Cry is still one of the best-looking first person shooters around.

Chaos Theory: The third in the Splinter Cell series, this game is characterised by some great lighting (or lack of it), and very real and interactive environments. One of the very best tactical shooters available, in terms of gameplay and visual effects.

OpenGL Games
DOOM 3: No longer a new title, but still one of the most shadow intensive games out there, this one will thrill even as it chills. Moreover, DOOM 3 is very scalable-perfect to test the wide range of cards we received.

Prey: Based around a modified and enhanced version of the DOOM 3 engine, Prey manages to look as good as (if not better) than DOOM 3 and even Quake 4 (another DOOM 3 engine-based shooter).
We used the latest patches, if any, that were available at the time for the games.

Synthetic Software
We used the latest versions of 3D Mark 05 and 06, which are pretty standard gear for any graphics card benchmarking. They stress the pixel processing power of all cards, in particular 3D Mark 06, which, as you'll see, is very demanding even on the best of cards.
The Categories
This time around, we decided to divide the cards based on chipsets instead of by manufacturers. The cards were split into the regular three categories: High-End, Mid-Range, and Entry-Level. However, this distinction was made on the basis of what chipset was used, instead of by prices. We further divided the High-End cards into sub-categories on the basis of chipsets-the top-of-the-line (Elite Gamer) cards and other high-end (Enthusiast Gamer) cards.

The prices of the graphics cards also conveniently fell into place, since cards based on a particular chipset, from different manufacturers, have very marginal price differences.

We decided that the high-end chipsets would comprise NVIDIA's 7950GX2, 7900GTX/GT and 7800GTX/GT series, and ATI's X1900 XTX/XT/GT and X1800 XT/XL/GTO series.

The mid-range chipsets were ATI's X850/X800 and X1600 series, and NVIDIA's 6800 and 7600 series.

Entry-level cards ran on NVIDIA's 7300, 6600 and 6200 series of chipsets, and ATI's X1300 and X700/X600/X300 series.

XFX PV-T71U-ZDD9

Performance

The MSI NX7900GTX gave some of the best scores in F.E.A.R., which taxed most cards. The MSI was way ahead of the competition, and bested not only its chipset sibling from XFX, but also the mighty twin core GX2s in this particular benchmark: 127 fps with soft shadows enabled at a resolution of 1280 x 960… enough said! We cannot really tell why the GX2 lost out in the benchmark; it's possible that F.E.A.R. scales well according to GPU core and memory speeds. This is compounded by the fact that any CPU and system in general will seriously bottleneck a 7950 GX2-based graphics card, due to the enormous bandwidth that the twin G71 cores can utilise.

Besides this one hiccup, the GX2-based cards beat everything in sight at every other test-no surprise really. The scores in 3D Mark 06 are alarming; DOOM 3 saw 100 frames at 1600 x 1200 with 8x Anisotropic Filtering and Antialising enabled!

We were really surprised to see the X1900XT-based cards lagging behind. This may have been due to the core and memory clocks being reduced. Remember that the X1900XT is a mighty 48-pixel unit core, and that alone gives it awesome Shader performance, especially at higher resolutions as compared to the other Radeons.

We decided to bump up the speeds ourselves to the ATI-recommended values, just to see what would happen. We found that these cards are neck-and-neck with the 7900GTXs, but increased core temperatures by another 12 degrees! Since most users would not overclock cards themselves, we decided to log all scores using only what the manufacturers sent us.

ATI has also recently launched a new flagship model-the X1950XTX-which also marks the debut of GDDR4 memory in the mainstream graphics market. This memory is rated at 2000 MHz (1000 MHz DDR), and we're told that GDDR4 could scale all the way to 2.6 GHz, which would do wonders for today's (and tomorrow's) bandwidth-starved GPUs. Unfortunately, the X1950XTX was launched around the same time as this test, and we couldn't get our hands on a test sample in time. Look forward to it in Bazaar in the coming months though.

A Shade(r) Lighter
NVIDIA 7900GT, 7800GTX
ATI X1900GT, X1800XL, X1800GTO

These cards represent the next best thing from the cards in the previous category, though they're still high-end. What detracts from performance adds value for money. Thirteen cards fell in this category.

Features
NVIDIA's 7900GT and 7800GTX share the same 24-pixel pipe architecture, though the former is a newer product, and foregoes some of the latter's transistor count in favour of ramped-up clock speeds. The cooling solution on the 7900 is puny indeed, but it does the job reasonably well-all 7900GT based cards ran stably during our tests. The 7800GTX cards feature a single-slot cooler, but it's much more robust-which is needed because they heat up more as well. The Gigabyte 7900GT featured a Zalman cooler that looked… umm… cool! Part of the core was visible on this card, and the cooler was really light.

Another card that shipped with a custom cooler was the ASUS Extreme N7800GTX Top. Based around an overclocked 7800GTX core, with 256 MB of memory onboard, this card looked good with its airplane propeller-like cooling fan and massive heatsink. The heatsink-fan combo look a lot like a high performance Arctic NV Silencer-for those not in the know, Arctic makes some of the best VGA cooling solutions.

ATI also recommends a single-slot cooler for their cores under this category, as these cards don't run as hot. It's hard to ignore the ATI All-In-Wonder X1800XL when it comes to looks, performance, and features. ATI's TV-Tuners are some of the best around, and this card will game ferociously and record all your favourite shows with equal aplomb! Naturally, the card was accompanied with all the expected paraphernalia-including a feature-packed remote and an FM radio antenna.

Leadtek PC7950GX2
The Powercolor X1900GT, too, looked attractive, mainly because a large ATI Ruby adorns the metal fan-cum-heatsink cover. Incidentally, the GT version of the Radeon X1900 cards sport a single-slot cooler. That doesn't mean that the X1900GT heats up any less though-quite the contrary; we noted temperatures in the high seventies on the Powercolor card, which suggests that with prolonged gaming, temperatures could easily approach "XT" territory!

The bundle accompanying the ASUS Extreme N7800GTX TOP just deserves a quick word here-simply awesome: 11 discs with four full-version games. The Sapphire cards had very skimpy bundles as far as CD/DVDs go, but came with all the connectors you'll ever need!

JARGON BUSTER

Shaders (Pixel & Vertex): Pixel Shaders (also known as Fragment Shaders) and Vertex Shaders are, very simply, instructions that run on a graphics card. These instructions are executed once for every Pixel or Vertex in a 3D scene. The Pixel Shader is a visual refinement over the Vertex Shader, and owes its existence to the latter. Pixel Shaders operate on a per-pixel basis, unlike Vertex Shaders, which operate with much larger areas (dimension-wise). The Pixel Shader is responsible for that ambient and realistic feel to the surfaces and materials in a 3D scene. The leather texture of a car seat, the metallic look of a gun barrel, the wrinkles on a characters face, all are possible because of Pixel Shaders. Manipulation of light sources as well as the properties of objects in a scene (wood should have that grainy look, metal would possess a certain sheen) is how designers manipulate complex 3D scenes, all using Pixel Shaders.

Bump Mapping: Quite simply, Bump Mapping is a technique used to add detail to a 3D image without increasing the polygon count. In other words, Bump Mapping doesn't interfere with the geometry or positioning of a body in a 3D scene, but rather influences the lighting in such a way so as to apply a texture pattern on an object. Lighting effects (or the lack of light) can be manipulated to create very realistic surface effects. Earlier, EMBM (Environment Mapped Bump Mapping) was used a lot; these days, Displacement Mapping and Parallax Mapping are more used. Games like F.E.A.R. and Oblivion make heavy use of such techniques.

Filtering: There are three techniques used for filtering. The first technique is called "Bilinear Filtering," which gives the least hit in performance. Very simply, Bilinear Filtering aims to smooth out the overlapping edges in textures that occurs when the image as a whole (or the original pixels individually) are resized.

Trilinear Filtering is a visual improvement over Bilinear Filtering, but the trade-off is reduced frames. However, Trilinear Filtering can be activated on all modern cards without any noticeable loss in frames, and the difference in visual experience is well worth the frame drop.

Anisotropic Filtering (AF) is a relatively newer method of filtering; it is tasked with enhancing the quality of textures on distant objects in a scene. For example, a long road will probably look hazy with AF off. Enabling AF will add depth and realism the distant fringes of the road, replacing the normal textures with much higher-quality samples. AF is very resource-heavy, and most low-end cards will falter with AF set to insane levels. On a high-end system enabling AF will result in some sweet eye-candy.

Anti Aliasing: Removal of unwanted jagged edges that typically plague textures especially when a high resolution signal is displayed at a lower resolution is called Anti-Aliasing. In 3D textures, Aliasing is most visible when two textures with differing qualities overlap. For example, a wall and a door, or even a rock wall, with a lot of Bump Mapping. It gets worse as the viewing perspective changes, and the wall may even seem to be moving!

HDR (High Dynamic Range): Dynamic Range refers to the variation or contrast to the light and dark areas in a given scene. The purpose of High Dynamic Range lighting is to accurately represent the varying intensity of light accurately, from bright sunshine glinting off, say, a gun barrel or a window pane, to variations in intensity of shadows. The core objective behind HDR rendering techniques is, of course, visual realism. Enabling HDR requires a card that supports Shader Model 2 or 3, and the performance hit can be quite significant depending, of course, on the variation in lighting in the given 3D scene.

Soft Shadows: Soft Shadows are, as the name suggests, shadows that are created from multiple light sources of varying intensities. In games, shadows are typically just that-dark and gloomy. Soft Shadows introduces the concept of creating shadows that may be dark, or slightly greyish, or even lighter. This adds realism to a scene, making the environment seem much more gritty and believable. Soft Shadows, as of now, has yet to see proper implementation in games. F.E.A.R. is a title that has heavily utilised soft shadows-unfortunately, the visual effects are minimal in comparison to the colossal drop in frames rendered per second.

Performance
The factory-overclocked Gigabyte 7900GT performed well through all the tests in this category. It was closely dogged by another overclocked NVIDIA-based card-the 7800GTX "golden sample" from Gainward. "Golden Sample" here means that these cards are supposedly created from hand-picked components, and tweaked carefully to give best performance. While we cannot verify the statement in any way, this card was factory-overclocked, and did perform extremely well and stably throughout all our tests.

We expected a lot from the X1900GT chipset, which is a slightly chipped-down version of the formidable "XT" version, with 36 pixel shader units, but this wasn't to be. OpenGL has always been NVIDIA turf (NVIDIA cards perform better on nearly all OpenGL API-based games as compared to ATI), but this time the lead extends to DirectX territory, and the lesser of the high-end NVIDIA cores follow in the footsteps of the GX 2 and GTX based cards, with leading scores.

A surprise performer was the ATI 1800XL All-In-Wonder, simply because cards such as these usually concentrate on functionality rather than performance-the core wasn't underclocked, as we'd initially expected. We had a pleasant surprise seeing this card just a touch behind both the X1900GT cards from MSI and Powercolor, and it manages to sneak ahead in a few of the tests as well-not bad at all!

Our Conclusion

Our Gold and Silver Best Buy awards go to the 7950 GX2-based heavyweights from XFX and Leadtek respectively. These cards really floored the rest when it came to raw performance, and are the fastest things out there at the moment. If you are looking for an SLI setup or want to give the GX2s a wide berth, but still have the cash to burn, the MSI NX7900GTX will be a perfect companion for all your gaming needs. In fact, NVIDIA's 7900GTX remains the fastest single-core gaming solution we've tested. This card can be paired with a twin for screaming SLI performance that will easily surpass a 7950 GX2. The 7950 GX 2 can also be used for a Quad SLI setup, but we do not recommend sinking so much cash into such a gaming rig for two reasons: first, DirectX 10 is just round the corner, and second, Quad SLI is still in its infancy, and a lot of issues need to be ironed out.

If it's the perfect balance between price and performance that you want, look for cards based on the 7900GT chipset. At Rs 18,500, the XFX 7900GT makes a sweet deal. With higher prices and lower performance scores, we think it's time to bid the 7800GTX core-based cards goodbye.

For a gamer who wants something high-end, along with a lot of features, one of the best deals out there is the ATI X1800XL All-In-Wonder. For just Rs 14,500, you get a fast graphics card, along with a full-fledged, Windows Media Center-ready TV-Tuner with FM capabilities as well-an awesome deal!

Mid-Range GPUs
A densely-populated segment, this category consisted of 20 cards.

The Middlemen
NVIDIA 7600GT, 7600GS
ATI X1600XT, X1600Pro, X850XT, X800XL

XFX PV-T73G-UDL7
Features
NVIDIA's mid-range flagship is now the 7600GT a.k.a. the G73, which is a smaller brother (by half approximately) of the G71 (7900 series). With 12 pixel pipelines, the 7600GT demolishes the part it was built to replace-the bestselling 6600GT-as far as performance goes; in fact it beats the 6800GS chipset, which we feel was a feeble last attempt to prop up NVIDIA's 6xxx family of graphics cards. The 7600GS is identical to its GT counterpart, except for the lower clocks and the use of DDR2 memory (as opposed to DDR3 on the GT).  The 6800XT is strictly a mid-range to low-end product, and the scores will prove this fact.

Coming to ATI, the RV 530 (X1600) is another strong-on-paper card. The biggest advantage is the use of 12 pixel pipelines, previously unheard-of on a mid-range GPU, and ATI has added 256-bit memory support for the X1600XT-which was considered high-end not so long ago.

Forsa's 7600GT came with a huge coppery-looking cooler. The other card that had us visually hooked was the MSI 7600GT Diamond. The cooler looks something like the solution on the 7900GTX cards, complete with double-slot design, a full length heatsink and loads of fins-it even has a single heat-pipe! This card was the coolest (thermally as well as visually) in the mid-range group. The most massive heatsink was found bolted onto the ASUS 7600GT Silent. As you've doubtless guessed, no fan on this one-just heat-pipes and lots of fins to dissipate all that heat!
 
Performance
After firing up the first few cards, we realised two things: first, all the 7600GT cards performed rather similarly, except for the overclocked XFX 7600GT XXX version, which showed an inexplicable drop of frames in F.E.A.R. Second, all these cards were faster than the other players in the game (pardon the pun), and ATI's mid-range offerings were left out in the cold! The one exception was ATI's former top-end R480 core, better known as the X850XT Platinum edition. We received one card based on this core-a Powercolor. It performed well, and came close to dethroning the 7600s.

The 7600GT is a real beast in the mid-range segment. Built around a full 12 pixel pipeline design and combining fast GDDR3 memory, the 7600GT brings that "high-performance" feel, well within the range of the budget-oriented buyer.

Despite the high scores, we'd advise you to give the X850 a wide berth. Why? Take a peek at those 3D Mark 06 scores-this is a Shader Model 2 only card, and will not allow you to enjoy Shader Model 3 specific effects in the latest games. The 7600GS is also a worthy mid-range consideration for those on a budget-it offers around 60 per cent the performance of the GT based cards, but with a significant price difference-you do the math!

Our Conclusion
The XFX 7600GT ousted the Powercolor X850XT PE by a hairsbreadth to take our Best Buy Gold award. The Powercolor had to be content with the Best Buy Silver title. In terms of performance, the older X850XT chipset is still very competitive in the mid-range segment, but as mentioned earlier, it isn't a future-proof option because of the lack of SM 3 support.

The Forsa 7600GT is a worthy mention: it performed well, and is priced rather attractively. For those with a windowed cabinet, the two unique cards (looks-wise, and both 7600GT chipset based cards from ASUS and MSI) are ideal buys. The MSI 7600GT Diamond actually looks like a 7900GTX card-good flaunt value!

Entry-Level GPUs
The most-populated segment-24 cards-was dominated by NVIDIA's 7300GT-based cards and ATI's X1300 chipset. The bestselling 6600GT cards, once mid-range offerings, also find themselves relegated to this category.

Powercolor X850XT PE

Frugal Performers
NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT, 7300GS,
6600GT, 6200
ATI X1300XT, X1300Pro, X700, X300

Features
These cards are odd beasts-basically, highly stripped-down versions of their more powerful brethren, they have a particularly difficult audience to please. Such cards need to be powerful enough to warrant purchase in the first place, but also be affordable enough for most, especially since onboard chipsets are getting better and better by the week!

Among the NVIDIA cards, the 6600GTs were the only ones to feature GDDR3. ATI also made a solitary appearance here with the GeCube X1300XT. The additional bandwidth that DDR3 memory provides is pretty impressive, and considering that GDDR3 can scale up to 40 per cent faster clock speeds as compared to DDR2, these cards were bound to have quite an advantage.

Both NVIDIA and ATI cards feature some avatar of the "Shared Memory" technology that is prevalent among the lower-end cards. NVIDIA calls this "Turbocache", while ATI uses the handle "Hypermemory". Very simply, these cards come with less onboard memory (to make them economical), and to make up for this deficiency, they have the ability to utilise additional system memory, which is used as video memory for frame buffering. This process is dynamic, so if more system memory is required by the other components, the controller relinquishes the requisite amount.

Performance
The ATI cards pretty much lagged behind the NVIDIAs by a fair margin, except for the large-hearted X1300XT from GeCube, which came close in a few tests. We do not recommend anything less than a 256 MB card, and we take this opportunity to warn you to stay away from the Turbocache- or Hypermemory-based cards, simply because of the performance hit you'll get when playing some of the more recent game titles. There is just no substitute for onboard memory, and any sort of sharing solution is stop-gap at best, with severe performance compromises. Moreover, this sort of main memory sharing also comes with CPU overheads, which is never a good thing.

We awarded our Best Buy Gold award to the Gainward Geforce 6600GT 256, making it a clean sweep for NVIDIA. The Best Buy Silver goes to another 6600GT based card-the 256 MB Zebronics 6600GT, which actually beat the Gainward card in terms of performance scores, owing to a slightly higher core clock (510 MHz as opposed to the 500 MHz default).

Gainward 660GT
Cards based on the NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT chipset also perform decently, but lose out to the faster (both core- and clock-wise) 6600GTs. Note that the vanilla 6600 core is a much slower card, and we do not recommend it, simply because it isn't future-proof at all; it huffs and puffs through even relatively older games. For the most frugal of us, the Palit 7300GT makes a lot of sense: it costs just Rs 4,750, has 256 MB of DDR2 memory, and performs acceptably.

Summing It All Up
After the dust settled and temperatures dropped to normal around our test rig, we took some time to reflect on some interesting things we learnt from this test. For starters, games have evolved manifold. Whatever the genre-First Person Shooter and Real Time Strategy alike-the amount of detail and visuals that developers are building into the latest game engines is nothing short of spectacular. And virtual environments will only get prettier with upcoming game titles such as Crysis, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.

We realised that no amount of graphics processing power is ever going to be enough, and one thing's for certain-you cannot experience even half of what the developers wanted you to feel when playing with low-end cards. If you're even a little more than causally interested in gaming, make sure you set aside at least Rs 7,500 for this component alone-take our word for it: your eyes will appreciate the difference.

Zebronics PX6600GT 256 PCI-E
DirectX 10 (DX10) adds another dimension to this equation. None of these cards we've tested here are DX10 compatible, so as soon as Vista and DX10 come out, you're going to have to shell out again for a compatible card.

Going in for a super, high-end graphics card solution today is only worth it if you plan to wait till much after DX 10 cards become mainstream and affordable, before you upgrade again. Multi-GPU solutions (SLI and CrossFire) aren't recommended, simply because you'll end up wasting a lot of hard-earned cash on something that might end up being just average in less than a year!   




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