Mainstream Graphics Cards
This price niche is currently split into two sectors. The top sector is occupied by products that represent cut-down configurations of more expensive graphics cards while the bottom one offers products with specially developed mainstream GPUs.
Products from the top-mainstream sector have good results in this test. For example, the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB allows playing comfortably even at 1920x1200, and the ATI Radeon HD 2900 Pro at 1600x1200. The gap is 19-21%, depending on resolution, in favor of the Nvidia card, but if the performance of the Radeon HD 2000 in Episode Two is limited by the driver, there is a chance the gap will shrink with the next update of the Catalyst driver.
The cards from the low-mainstream sector cannot boast high speeds notwithstanding the lack of FSAA. You can play at 1280x1024, but there’s not much playing comfort as you don’t have any reserve of speed. At the higher resolutions the average frame rate is below 30fps, which makes the game unplayable.
As we have already found out, the ATI Radeon HD 2900 loses more speed than the Nvidia GeForce 8800 after you turn FSAA on. Here, the ATI Radeon HD 2900 Pro allows playing at 1280x1024 without a safety margin, but you may want to disable FSAA until the performance of the Radeon HD 2000 series improves if it ever does.
The results of the ATI Radeon HD 2600 and G84-based cards imply that FSAA is not for such hardware as the best you can get is a frame rate below 30fps. Note that the Radeon HD 2600 XT GDDR4 is far slower than the GeForce 8600 GTS.
The leader in the mainstream category is quite clear. It is the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB that has the best result and allows playing at resolutions up to 1920x1200 inclusive. The ATI Radeon HD 2900 Pro is noteworthy, too, especially if you find it selling at an appropriate price. As for the graphics cards based on mainstream GPUs, they do not suit well for modern games if you play at highest graphics quality settings and at standard resolutions.