Agent goes on some serious graphic card shopping…
For me, an avid gamer, one of the biggest hoaxes has been the supposed deliverance that the DX10 was to bring about. For the first time, the industry saw hardware that was ahead of its time with a badly lagging software component. With rumours of DX10.1 and even DX11, it’s hard to sort out what’s fact and what’s fiction. With gaming hardware, it’s a lot easier—both NVIDIA and ATI have behaved themselves and wooed us consumers with some very good offerings. As always, the horizon looks greener still, with the likes of NVIDIA’s unborn G100 and GT200 GPUs and ATIs RV770, which will sport next generation architectures. NVIDIA has two new launches that aren’t available in the market at the time of writing this—the GeForce 9800GTX and the 9800GX2 the latter being a dual-PCB solution similar to the 7900GX2. From reports on the Web, the 9800GTX isn’t the new high-end king by much, and its 256-bit memory interface seems a detraction from the 384-bit interface on the 8800GTX / Ultra. The only saving grace seems to be the 65 nm core running at 675 MHz; an overclocked 8800GT comes close to shaming it.
I was looking for three very different graphics card solutions—a budget solution, a good gaming solution and a dual GPU (SLI / Crossfire) solution. The dual-GPU solution was for our office—we needed something fast for benchmarking. With no new releases expected from either vendor (NVIDIA and ATI) over the next few months and newer architectures expected after another six months, this is prime time for anyone looking for a good graphics solution. Waiting for newer stuff may seem sensible, but there’s always going to be better hardware available in the future, so it’s futile, really.
I needed a decent card for an HTPC. My budget for this card was Rs 4,000. My options were very limited—ATI’s HD2400 Pro and NVIDIA’s 8400GS seemed like the only two options for the price, both cards are available from a variety of brands. The prices are similar and range from Rs 2,700 to Rs 4,500. Also on offer was the GeForce 8500GT chipset based cards. ATI doesn’t have any competing offering as its HD2600 Pro / XT is costlier, and competes with the GeForce 8600GT, both of these options exceed my budget. I decided on the 8400GS chipset, and the brand options were XFX, ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, Sparkle, Leadtek, Galaxy and Palit. I ended up with a 256-MB version of Sparkle’s 8400GS for just Rs 2,950 after haggling over the dealer-quoted price of Rs 3,050. Such a card takes a huge load off your CPU and system RAM while tackling video and HD video playback, and is worth the money considering that onboard solutions hog system memory.
For a single-card gaming solution, everyone seems to point towards the GeForce 8800GT or 9600GT. ATI’s equivalent Radeon HD3870 is a little costly (Rs 12,000 at least) for the performance it gives, and the 8800GT is priced better and outperforms it. NVIDIA’s 9600GT seems a real winner—it’s twice as fast as the 8600GT with 64 shader units, and is priced in the range of Rs 9,000 to 10,000. It even outperforms the 8800GT (112 shader units) in some games at lower resolutions. The older 8800GTX / Ultra and HD2900XT aren’t good buys, especially since the 8800GT comes within 15 per cent of their performance (at worst) at less than half the price. ATI’s HD 3850-based offerings are all priced around the Rs 10,000 mark, making the 8800GT seem even better since it’s priced at only Rs 3,000 to 5,000 more. From amongst the other brands Gigabyte’s 8800GT OC Edition caught my attention from amongst the crowd. This card features a copper heatpipe Zalman cooler that cools the core by an incredible 12 to 15 degrees Celsius below the stock cooler. With a core factory overclocked to 700 MHz (default being 600 MHz) and a price tag of Rs 12,000 only (my haggling skills failed miserably here), I’d have been a fool to look elsewhere.
For my dual-GPU solution, I was confused. SLI and CrossFire are restricting in the choice of motherboard. SLI seems better with a great core like an 8800GT to build on, but CrossFire has the advantage of greater efficiency for the second card, and two Radeon HD3870 cards in CF offer nearly 100 per cent more performance than a single card. But I didn’t want to restrict myself to using only an SLI or CF board. Then I came across the 3870 X2 card (basically two HD3870 GPUs on a single PCB) and my wish was answered. A basic check showed this card to be faster than a GeForce 8800 Ultra by some 20 to 30 per cent. It’s a power hungry monster too, and consumes nearly 240 watts on load. It’s the most hassle free dual-GPU solution you’ll find out there. There were only three brands available—ASUS, Sapphire and GeCube, and although MSI, Gigabyte and Powercolor also do ATI based cards they didn’t have any of these mighty solutions. I picked up the Sapphire HD3870 X2 for 28,000 bucks and had the distinct pleasure of watching everyone staring agape at the big spender…office money, but then that’s our secret…