Graphics Cards (Buyer's Guide)

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2007
Graphics Cards (Buyer's Guide)

They’re faster, cheaper, and an entry point to the world of virtual realism… Welcome!

raphics cards! This probably gets you thinking about 3D games, pixel shaders and so on. Well, graphics cards today aren’t necessarily only for gaming. In fact one of the biggest myths is that graphics cards benefit only games and do nothing when you’re surfing the Internet or playing some music (for example). The fact is just having a discrete graphics solution speeds up all PCs/notebooks/ PDAs by a significant margin by reducing processor overheads for working with 3D images and rendering.
This is perhaps the most volatile product category, where we have something new every six months or so. If we look at the number of generations of graphics cards (let alone the number of models) that both vendors NVIDIA and ATI have spewed out over the last five years, you’d be shocked to learn that four generations spanning some 50 odd graphics processors have passed by.

Perhaps the biggest reason to buy a graphics card this year is the sharp decline in prices. The latest DX10 parts from both NVIDIA and ATI are stunningly affordable—would you consider a price point of under 4,000 rupees costly for a 256 MB, DX 10 ready graphics card expensive?

Of course it doesn’t hurt that you can do more to enjoy the goodness of your new graphics card—especially since today’s multimedia content like HD movies and even the hottest 3D games do bring you a lot of immersive realism if you’ve gifted your PC with a graphics card!

Enthusiast Options

If you’re a hardcore gamer looking to splurge on the fastest DX10 card out there, we suggest you hold your horses:

In fact the 8800GT outperforms the 8800GTS 640 MB in many situations, not to mention it’s a much cooler 80nm based GPU!
DX 10 titles are slaughtering even 8800 Ultras and HD2900XTs! Both vendors have promised faster DX10 parts soon—while this is subject to the demand for DX10 titles, we expect NVIDIA’s 9xxx series and ATI’s HD3xxx series by mid-2008. Please wait…it’ll be worth it!

If you really need a mid-range to high-end DX10 part right now, we’d recommend a card based on NVIDIA’s just released 8800GT chipset—at a price of about Rs 15,000, cards based on this solution redefine affordable horsepower. For those looking at higher options, NVIDIA’s older 8800GTX/Ultra chipset based cards are available, but the law of diminishing returns applies—and these cards will cost you in the region of Rs 30,000.

Mid-range Options

As of now, the mid-range is where all the meat is—the best value for money, and extreme value. If you’re looking to spend Rs 8,000 to 10,000 bucks on a mid-range solution, think again! You can actually spend Rs 6,000 and get the same bang: thanks to tremendous price cuts from both vendors, the new mid-range cards now cost a couple of thousand rupees less!

For a graphics card that can do it all, look for solutions based on NVIDIA GeForce 8600GT cores. These cards make for decent gaming solutions for all the current DX9 games, and add headroom for DX10 (even though their performance on initial DX10 titles is poor). Just bear in mind you can’t go insane with the in-game detail and resolution settings! Such cards also make powerful additions to an HTPC, and do take a lot of load of the CPU when it comes to frame buffering of HD content, particularly at 1080p resolutions (1920 x 1080 progressive scanned).

The NVIDIA GeForce 8500GT and ATI’s HD2600 also make very good mid-range options—in fact if you don’t plan on gaming much then choose the 8500GT over the 8600GT and HD2600 cards as this one is cheaper and performs identically as far as HTPC usage goes

Entry-level Options

Entry-level solutions have been caught between the proverbial rock and hard place as far as pricing goes. Who would spend on a 2,500-rupee graphics card when you can get 2.5x the performance by spending a meagre 1,500 rupees more? The two graphics cores bringing up the entry level are NVIDIA’s GeForce 8400GS and ATI’s HD2300 series. These cards make ideal purchases for those looking for a good multimedia PC on a shoestring budget. If you’re not into gaming, then save some money for more RAM (or just save) and opt for a card based on these chipsets—you can’t get better value for money!

Agent Tips
If you want HDMI connectivity, look for an HDMI port on the card. Many vendors will be vague with terms like “HD ready,” or “HDMI compatible.” Please don’t be fooled… use your eyes!

The latest thing is HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface), and all LCD/Plasma displays support this new interface. If you want a true HTPC, look for a graphics card that has an HDMI port (all major brands should have a model that does). DVI-out is essential, too. Most cards today come with digital connects and this is the way to go… avoid analogue connects like the plague when looking for a card to go with a large screen.

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