Modern Games and Modern GPUs: The Grand Clash

The Holiday season is approaching and a lot of people will be playing the latest games during their spare time. X-bit labs has decided to help you choosing a graphics card in the range from below $99 and up to $649 for the latest and most demanding games that are available today.

by Anton Shilov , Yaroslav Lyssenko
12/08/2005 | 11:07 AM

Since quite a lot of you are looking forward a new graphics card to play the recently released games that require tremendous graphics power, we decided to help you with your choice by carefully examining performance of the contemporary offerings in the latest games. We have already performed testing of modern platforms in our articles titled “Contemporary CPUs and New Games: No Way to Delusions!” and “Games against CPUs. Part II.” and found out that modern games are generally not really dependent on the microprocessor, unless it is totally outdated, but do require more than 1GB of memory and a speedy graphics card.

 

This article is dedicated to the graphics cards that are relevant to the current situation and the latest games, which is why we do not test relatively outdated titles like Doom III or Far Cry and also do not touch upon multi-GPU setups, as it is obvious that due to lack of competition multi-GPU NVIDIA GeForce-based solutions are the fastest and the most expensive today. However, our “mega-review” that covers loads of games and graphics boards is on track to be released early next year and it will include not only currently unrivalled NVIDIA’s SLI platform, but also ATI’s CrossFire platform featuring a brand-new ATI GPU that is supposed to be released massively in mid- or late-January, 2006.

Traditionally, we cover “pure performance” – the highest possible graphics settings in every game, but without anisotropic filtering (AF) and full-scene antialiasing (FSAA) enabled as well as “eye candy” performance – the highest quality settings in the game along with 16x aniso and 4x FSAA. Given that entry-level graphics cards do not typically show playable results with eye candy activated in resolutions higher than 1024x768, we do not include scores obtained on 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 for such products.

Testbed and Methods

We used our traditional testbed that we have been using for some time now, the only difference is that now we use a new mainboard based on NVIDIA nForce4 SLI 16x core-logic:

We set up the ATI and NVIDIA drivers in the following way:

ATI CATALYST 5.12:

NVIDIA ForceWare 81.89 (please bear in mind that according to NVIDIA the 81.89 driver only differs from WHQL-passed 81.85 driver with a new .inf file):

We select the highest graphics quality settings in each game, identical for graphics cards from ATI and NVIDIA. If possible, we use the games’ integrated benchmarking tools (to record and reproduce a demo and then measure the reproduction speed in frames per second). Otherwise we measure the frame rate with the FRAPS utility. If it is possible, we measure minimal as well as average fps rates to give you a fuller picture.

We turn on 4x full-screen antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering in the “eye candy” test mode from the game’s own menu if possible. Otherwise we force the necessary mode from the driver. We don’t test the “eye candy” mode if the game engine doesn’t support FSAA.

We have tested the following graphics cards.

High-End:

Performance-Mainstream:

Mainstream and Entry-Level:

The following games were used:

Age of Empires 3

The Age of Empires 3 is a new real-time strategy game about medieval world, economy, battles and territorial expansion. Just like all the modern titles today, this one is full of pixel shaders. In order to optimize performance in case of complex shading effects, developers decided to use long pixel shaders 3.0 in order to get some gain on the latest hardware.

We use a cut-scene from the beginning of the game along with Fraps application. The scene does contain a lot of pixel shaders, e.g., water shader with reflections and refractions.


Shader model 2.0


Shader model 3.0

Please note that former-generation ATI RADEON hardware, such as RADEON X800 and X700, uses Shader Model 2.0 render path, whereas the rest boards utilize Shader Model 3.0 code path, which provides additional effects.

High-End Graphics Cards

In order to play strategy games comfortably you need to have framerate per second (FPS) of about 25-35 fps, which means that any high-end graphics board will allow you to play this title pretty comfortably.

Nevertheless, we should note that products based on ATI RADEON chips perform much slower in this game compared to NVIDIA GeForce-based graphics cards, possibly due to the lack of special optimizations in the driver, or, more likely because the RADEON X1800-series does not typically outperform the GeForce 7800 family in cases where many pixel shaders are used at once.

You are also likely to enjoy the gorgeousness of the virtual medieval world of Age of Empires 3 on any high-end graphics card at any resolution even with anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing enabled, save for the RADEON X1800 XL which minimum FPS is below 15.

The fastest performer in the Age of Empires 3 is, without any compromises, the GeForce 7800 GTX 512, which is up to 100% faster compared to the rival.

Performance Mainstream Graphics Cards

All the graphics cards demonstrate sufficient performance results in this game, except of the RADEON X1600 XT 256MB that allows to play without lags only in 1024x768, as minimal framerate by this board is below comfortable level. We would recommend its owners to use Shader Model 2.0 code-path to improve performance.

While comparable GeForce 6800 and RADEON X800 offer approximately the same performance, the former produce better image quality due to higher amount of effects.

Unpredictably, the RADEON X1600 XT 256MB managed to leave behind such strong competitors as the GeForce 6800 GT and GS, being able to provide quite nice results even in 1280x1024. Still, only the RADEON X800 XL actually delivers really satisfactory framerate in this case.

Unfortunately, unless you pull back to shaders 2.0, you won’t be able to enjoy Age of Empires 3 with AF and FSAA activated on a mid-range graphics board. In case you can keep up with the lack of some effects, then you should keep your eye on the performance of the RADEON X800 XL, a year-old product that still provides excellent speed.

Mainstream and Entry-Level Graphics Cards

The GeForce 6600 GT as well as the RADEON X800 GT perform quite fine in 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions. Still, we would not recommend owners of entry-level and mainstream graphics cards to play the Age of Empires 3 with maximum quality due to generally insufficient performance.

With anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing turned on, even the GeForce 6600 GT cannot grant satisfactory framerate per second with all effects, whereas the RADEON X800 GT gives you higher speed, but at the cost of additional quality enhancements.

Battlefield 2

Battlefield 2 game was written with Shader Model 2.0 hardware in mind, it features per-pixel lighting, normal mapping, bloom, a plethora of post-processing effects and also offering very realistic physical model. However, the most important thing in this case is the extreme scalability of the scenes, which has definitely affected the requirements to the graphics memory subsystem taking into account the high image quality we are aiming at.

High-End Graphics Cards

The minimal playable framerate for first-person shooter games is about 60 frames per second and, as you see, the high-end graphics cards can deliver really comfortable speed across all resolutions. While the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB used to be the king of the hill here, currently it is substantially outperformed by the GeForce 7800 GTX 512. Both cards face microprocessor bottleneck in 1024x768 resolution.

With the eye candy activated, all the graphics cards continue to perform fine in all resolutions. The exceptions are the RADEON X850 XT PE and the GeForce 7800 GT, which cannot achieve average 60fps with anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing in 1600x1200 resolution.

The GeForce 7800 GTX 512 is still the fastest: the margin between it and the RADEON X1800 XT is noticeable. Nevertheless, in 1600x1200 the boards demonstrate nearly equal results. So, while generally among the top-of-the-range boards NVIDIA’s flagship product is the highest performer in Battlefield 2, speed provided by the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB is definitely not significantly lower.

Performance Mainstream Graphics Cards

The GeForce 6800 GS and GT are definite winners in the Battlefield 2 performance-mainstream championship with nice results even in 1600x1200 resolution among. While the RADEON X800 XL, X800 GTO and the X1600 XT 256MB are generally pretty fast too, their performance is enough for those who do not use resolutions higher than 1280x1024. The GeForce 6800 is a clear outsider with framerate below 60 even in 1024x768.

The situation looks a bit different with the eye candy mode on: the RADEON X800 XL is faster compared to the rivals, but not considerably. All graphics cards mentioned here, except the GeForce 6800, are capable of playing Battlefield 2 with all the bells and whistles activated in 1024x768, but all of them are not able to score high FPS in 1600x1200.

If you are choosing a performance mainstream board for playing Battlefield 2, pay attention on the GeForce 6800 GS or the RADEON X800 XL: the former performs better without antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, whereas the latter offers great speed in eye candy mode.

Mainstream and Entry-Level Graphics Cards

Since ATI’s RADEON X800 hardware generally performs faster than the competition in environments full of shaders, there is no surprise that the RADEON X800 GT along with the RADEON X700-series is faster compared to the GeForce 6600-series products.

While it is obvious that none of the mainstream boards can actually play Battlefield 2 with sufficient speed in 1280x1024, we find it pretty alarming that the RADEON X1300 PRO, which costs more than the RADEON X700, demonstrates similar performance results.

The RADEON X800 GT seems to be the fastest among graphics cards which price does not exceed about $150, but even it does not allow playing Battlefield 2 comfortably with anisotropic filtering and FSAA activated.

Call of Duty 2

The original Call of Duty game was known for its very realistic representation of the chaos of war along with fierce battles. The Call of Duty 2 continues this tradition and brings more graphics effects and better image quality in general. The new incarnation of the game also does not use the good-old Quake III engine, but utilizes the DirectX 9 engine developed by Infinity Ward in-house. The new technology features real-time lighting and shadows, advanced smoke effects, normal mapping, specular lighting and even subtler effects, such as heat shimmer and so on.

High-End Graphics Cards

The new engine from Infinity Ward seems to be a demanding one: none of the high-end graphics boards left 60 frames per second barrier behind in the Call of Duty 2 game in 1600x1200 resolution. Moreover, only the two fastest graphics cards currently available – the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 and the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB – managed to surpass the 60fps landmark even in 1280x1024!

The eye candy mode does not bring any surprises: only the most expensive GeForce 7800 and the RADEON X1800 attain respectable results and no board is capable of conquering 60fps in 1600x1200 with highest quality settings along with FSAA and AF.

Please note significant performance drops of ATI RADEON-based graphics cards with 256MB of memory when the FSAA and AF re enabled. We did not experience this with NVIDIA GeForce 7800-series and believe that there is a memory management flaw in ATI’s Catalyst driver that limits performance in the Call of Duty 2 game and may affect some other titles.

Top-of-the-line products from ATI and NVIDIA show virtually equal performance in Call of Duty 2.

Performance Mainstream Graphics Cards

Having seen the results of the high-end graphics cards with the best image quality settings possible in the game, we were not surprised to see that no performance-mainstream graphics cards, except of the RADEON X800 XL, could even come close to 60fps even in 1024x768. Therefore, those who would like to play Call of Duty 2 should either get an expensive accelerator, or decrease quality settings.

The results above are interested from competition point of view: no one will actually play using these settings on these cards at these frames per second.

It is remarkable to note that while there was almost no performance gap between the RADEON X800 XL and the GeForce 6800 GS/GT in pure mode, this time the former couple is largely ahead in terms of speed.

Mainstream and Entry-Level Graphics Cards

We don’t think it is a good idea to play the Call of Duty 2 with the highest quality settings using mainstream hardware, but if you are looking for the fastest board among inexpensive to enjoy this title, the RADEON X800 GT seems to be the most balanced solution.

F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. is one of the best selling games today and needless to say that it is also based on a DirectX 9.0 engine with very broad usage of per pixel lighting, smoke effects and so on. The game is truly flooded with pixel shaders and is currently among the most demanding titles. F.E.A.R. can take advantage of pixel shaders 3.0, but does not produce any better image with their help. While soft-shadows are supported, we do not enable them for any graphics cards.

High-End Graphics Cards

All the high-end graphics cards bring in pretty standard performance results in 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions, but only the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 manages to surpass the 60fps in 1600x1200.

Performance numbers in F.E.A.R. game with no full-scene antialiasing and AF represent another triumph for NVIDIA’s high-end GeForce 7800-series lineup that is generally faster compared to competing ATI’s RADEON X1800 family, even though the gap shrinks as the resolution goes up.

Unfortunately for gamers, F.E.A.R. title is so demanding that with anisotropic filtering and FSAA turned on in addition to maximal in-game graphics settings, the resolution 1280x1024 becomes unplayable. Either you should decrease quality settings, or buy a multi-GPU setup.

There is a draw between the highest-speed offerings from ATI and NVIDIA in this game: the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 generally leads in pure mode, whereas the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB can outpace the competitor a bit in eye candy mode.

Performance Mainstream Graphics Cards

Quite surprisingly, but it seems that the RADEON X800 XL along with the GeForce 6800 GS and GT boards is capable of providing 60fps in 1024x768 resolution, which means that even if you don’t want to spend from $300 per graphics card, you will still be able to enjoy F.E.A.R. in all its glory.

The RADEON X1600 XT, which is supposed to be inline with more advanced offerings, online manages to keep up only with the RADEON X800 GTO leaving the GeForce 6800 behind.

While the RADEON X800 XL is faster than the rest in this eye candy case, its performance is still not enough to play with antialiasing and anisotropy, which means that you will have to tweak your settings.

It is definitely interesting to note that the GeForce 6800 GS demonstrates higher minimum framerate than the model 6800 GT in a lot of cases. It is also notable that the RADEON X1600 XT can keep up with the competitors from the GeForce 6800 camp, but its speed is so low that you are unlikely to be able to play comfortably.

So, if you are looking for a performance-mainstream graphics card to play F.E.A.R. you should look at the RADEON X800 XL, which is faster than competing products in eye candy mode.

Mainstream and Entry-Level Graphics Cards

There is no news that F.E.A.R. with all the bells and whistles engaged is not meant to be played on graphics cards worth about $150. No graphics card achieves 60fps in this particular case.

The winners here are the RADEON X800 GT and the GeForce 6600 GT, which are the fastest here. The main disappointment is the RADEON X1300 PRO, which neither can keep up with the GeForce 6600 GDDR2, nor outperform the RADEON X700.

Quake 4

Quake 4 is a follow-up for the Quake II based on the Doom III engine. There are a number of differences between the Quake 4 and the Doom III, though: the former has more realistic design thanks to more complex geometry and more lighting effects in addition to some other improvements. Generally, the Quake 4 looks much better than the Doom III, but it still has some headroom for evolution.

High-End Graphics Cards

While the Quake 4 game is graphically intensive, all expensive graphics cards today manage to deliver awesome framerate here. In fact, in 1024x768 resolution the system itself appears to be a limiting factor as the speed is in the range of 115fps across all cards.

Even with eye candy enabled, all the graphics boards among the high-end camp succeed in delivering enough speed with full-scene antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled. It is interesting to note that thanks to more complex geometry and higher amount of pixel shaders among comparable graphics cards from ATI and NVIDIA products from the former manage to leave the GeForces behind. The exception is the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 that is faster compared to the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB.

In brief, of you are looking for the fastest Quake 4 solution possible, pay attention to the GeForce 7800 GTX 512.

Performance Mainstream Graphics Cards

ATI RADEON X800-series along with the GeForce 6800-series graphics cards show outstanding performance in 1024x768 and 1280x1024 resolutions providing absolutely comfortable speed. The GeForce 6800 and the RADEON X800 GTO do not achieve 60fps in 1600x1200, but the latter comes really close to that magic number.

The results of the RADEON X1600 XT are generally disappointing: it cannot attain 60fps mark even in 1280x1024 without FSAA and AF. What is very alarming is that the model X800 XL may be up to 75% faster than the newcomer, which still has to reach the market broadly.

The leaders from the previous round – the RADEON X800 XL, X800 GTO as well as the GeForce 6800 GT and 6800 GS manage to demonstrate awesome results in up to 1280x1024 with anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing in the Quake 4 game. The shiny new RADEON X1600 XT shows results inline with the GeForce 6800, which is soon to leave the scene.

The RADEON X800 XL proves to be the highest-performing graphics card among the performance-mainstream boards in the Quake 4 game.

Mainstream and Entry-Level Graphics Cards

Even entry level graphics cards achieve sufficient performance numbers in the 1024x768 resolutions, which is something that developers deserve a credit for. In 1280x1024 only two graphics cards manage to surpass the barrier: the GeForce 6600 GT and the RADEON X800 GT.

Quite naturally, the highest performing graphics cards lead with eye candy enabled. The RADEON X800 GT is noticeably faster than the GeForce 6600 GT due to 256-bit memory bus. The rest of the competitors hit about 45 – 47fps only.

To sum it up, if you are looking for a very affordable graphics card to play the Quake 4 game, you should look forward the RADEON X800 GT.

Serious Sam 2

The Serious Sam II follows the best traditions of the first two titles in the series, giving you a simple plot, crowds of enemies that totally lack any intellect, and a lot of various weapons. The new graphics engine is pretty demanding for performance once the best image quality is enabled, as it features advanced shader effects, like per-pixel lighting with normal-map bump-mapping, parallax mapping as well as a lot of reflections and refractions. Additionally, the game acquired HDR, which we do not enable during testing because it demonstrates artifacts in some cases, as well as capable of using Shader Model 3.0, but to optimize performance, not to improve quality of graphics.

High-End Graphics Cards

A flaw in the driver that already affected results in Call of Duty 2 seems to have influenced results in this case too: 256MB graphics cards based on the RADEON processors show very low results that hardly allow to play comfortably.

The GeForce 7800 family, by contrast, performs very well, even though the Serious Sam 2 game appears to be so graphics processing hungry that even the GeForce 7800 GTX falls on its knees in case of the 1600x1200 resolution.

When it comes to eye candy, the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB manages to outperform the original GeForce 7800 GTX, however, can surpass neither the 60fps limit, nor the GeForce 7800 GTX 512. In fact, in resolutions higher than 1280x1024 in the current case none of today’s graphics cards can attain 60 frames per second once FSAA and AF are activated and graphics settings are set to the highest possible.

The GeForce 7800 GTX 512 is the fastest performer for the Serious Sam 2 money can buy.

Performance Mainstream Graphics Cards

Unluckily, contemporary mainstream graphics cards cannot provide sufficient performance for playing Serious Sam 2 with the highest quality settings. Fortunately, the engine designed by Croteam is so flexible that it allows to tweak almost any graphics card and to squeeze all the juices out of it.

Regrettably, but the aforementioned memory management flaw in the Catalyst driver that was there back in the version 5.9 remained in the 5.12 as well.

The fastest graphics card in the performance-mainstream camp is the GeForce 6800 GS, hence, if you don’t want to invest more than $249 into a board, but are fond of the Serious Sam titles, then this may be your choice.

Mainstream and Entry-Level Graphics Cards

The best graphics card for Serious Sam 2 among the affordable series is the GeForce 6600 GT that beats the RADEON X800 GT by up to 30% in this game. Nevertheless, even the model 6600 GT does not offer smooth framerate with the highest quality settings.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is a yet another title from the well-known sequel. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory uses Shader Model 3.0 for graphics cards that support it and Shader Model 2.0 for those that do not. Usage of long pixel shaders allowed game developers to create just slightly better image quality on the SM 3.0 hardware in a few cases of the game, hence, it we believe it is reasonable to compare the SM 2.0 graphics cards in terms of performance to the SM 3.0-supporting boards.

While Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is a third-person shooter and for this type of titles high framerate is not compulsory, e.g., 35fps – 45fps may be sufficient speed, in the case of this particular game we believe that 60fps is adequate rate, as there are a lot of cases, for instance, when using a sniper rifle, where graphics performance and the lack of lags are crucially important.

High-End Graphics Cards

Only the highest-performing graphics cards today, such as ATI RADEON X1800 XT 512MB, NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX or the 7800 GTX 512, were able to render more or about 60 frames per second in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory across all resolutions. Other graphics cards deliver enough speed at resolutions up to 1280x1024.

Obviously, anisotropic filtering and full-scene antialiasing decrease performance, as a result, only the strongest can keep up with the load.

In case you are fond of the Splinter Cell sequel, then the GeForce 7800 GTX 512 and the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB will be equally good for you.

Performance Mainstream Graphics Cards

Only the RADEON X800 XL, the GeForce 6800 GS and the GeForce 6800 GT hit 60fps in 1024x768 resolution, whereas less powerful brethren could not achieve truly good results. The RADEON X1600 XT 256MB is not as fast as the RADEON X800 GTO and competes against the GeForce 6800, which is more than one year old.

With eye candy enabled none of the tested boards was able to comply to the 60fps requirement.

Perhaps, RADEON X800 XL is morally outdated and does not support some modern features, but it provides the highest speed in the Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory among the performance-mainstream graphics cards.

Mainstream and Entry-Level Graphics Cards

Since Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is a truly graphics intensive title, it does require a rapid graphics card to be played in all of its glory. Neither of the boards attains 60 fps in average and starting from 1280x1024 resolution in pure mode some even do not render even 25 frames per second, the absolute minimum for watching smooth movements.

The fastest graphics card for this title among the inexpensive is the RADEON X800 GT.

Conclusion

Since the fresh breed of games are very hungry for processing power of graphics chips, even 1280x1024 resolution seems to be adequate for comparison. Given that majority of gamers with cathode ray tube (CRT) and liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors are likely to use just that resolution, we base our conclusions on performance of graphics cards in 1280x1024 resolution with anisotropic filtering 16x and full-scene antialiasing 4x in all cases except entry-level and mainstream components where we consider 1280x1024 without FSAA and AF along with 1024x768 with eye candy activated as standard settings.

Please note that in the conclusion section we only compare results obtained without considering whether the settings are actually playable or not. For comments regarding playability please refer to comments specific for particular game.

Premium Graphics Cards

There is no news that for more than a year designers of graphics chips and makers of graphics cards have been putting tremendous efforts into offering the absolutely fastest graphics card on the planet. Such a trend created premium class of graphics cards that include flagship offerings from ATI and NVIDIA – such as Platinum Edition or Ultra Extreme – along with overclocked boards from partners.

At this time, the absolutely fastest graphics card officially unveiled is NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX 512 that is also available in overclocked flavours from partners like EVGA, Gainward and XFX. Some manufacturers have also recently launched turbo-charged versions of the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB, but those yet have to reach the market and it is highly unlikely that those boards will dethrone the GeForce 7800 GTX 512.

What you should definitely remember when acquiring a premium class graphics card is that this is khalif for an hour – the competition between ATI and NVIDIA is so fierce that the makers are likely to grab leadership one from another every quarter or so.

High-End Graphics Cards

In the high-end segment the RADEON X1800 XT 512MB seems to be the fastest and the most expensive. While it is significantly faster compared to the GeForce 7800 GTX, it is also more expensive, but still not as costly as the GeForce 7800 GTX 512. Given that 256MB flavour of the RADEON X1800 XT yet has to emerge, we do not think that we should keep it in mind just yet when comparing to the GeForce 7800 GTX.

So, when it comes to the fastest graphics cards, their performance is stacked up according to the price, which should probably ease choosing the suitable one for customers.

In case of the GeForce 7800 GT and the RADEON X1800 XL, we would say that there is a draw between them in terms of speed: the former wins in Age of Empires 3, Call of Duty 2 and Serious Sam 2, while the later tops in F.E.A.R., Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Quake 4; the results in Battlefield 2 are similar. Unfortunately, the RADEON X1800 XL has a driver flaw that limits its performance in Battlefield 2, Call of Duty 2 and Serious Sam 2. While the error may be corrected one day, at this point it does exist and you should consider it when purchasing.

While the RADEON X850 XT-series still has some huge power, it is behind the today’s leaders and we would recommend to purchase it only at the price significantly below that of the RADEON X1800 XL and the GeForce 7800 GT, as the year-old GPU does not support an array of modern features that may be useful in the coming year.

Performance-Mainstream Graphics Cards

The sensation revealed when testing contemporary performance-mainstream graphics cards in the latest games is strange, but real: after being a year on the market, ATI RADEON X800 XL seems to be the most balanced performance-mainstream graphics card in terms of performance!

NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GS wins in Call of Duty 2 and the Serious Sam 2 benchmarks when compared to the RADEON X800 XL, but loses in Age of Empires 3 , F.E.A.R. , Quake 4 and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory . Battlefield 2 scores of the two boards are nearly equal.

ATI’s recently formally launched RADEON X1600 XT 256MB is a pretty strange product: it competes very well against the GeForce 6800, but at its price point of $249 it does not seem to be an appealing product, as for that amount of money customers can get a RADEON X800 XL or a GeForce 6800 GS. But if the price is right - $179 or $199 – it may become a very fine mainstream graphics card.

Mainstream Graphics Cards

Unfortunately, designers of graphics cards do tend to change official retail price recommendations for mainstream and entry-level offerings quite often without announcing it. Thus, it is not easy to determine “official” competitors with equal recommended pricing.

The most indicative example of that is the RADEON X1300 PRO, which officially costs $149, but which sells for any price starting from approximately $100, which makes it a graphics card which demand totally depends on its cost. This is why we compare it across all segments that we cover – about $150, about $120 and about $100. You should check pricing in a store near you to determine whether the board is a competitive offering or not.

When we talking about mainstream graphics cards at about $150 or so, then the RADEON X800 GT seems to be the preferable choice: it is faster in Age of Empires 3 , Battlefield 2 , F.E.A.R. , Quake 4 and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory thanks to its highly-efficient architecture and 256-bit memory bus. The only game where the GeForce 6600 GT is superior is Serious Sam 2. The RADEON X1300 PRO does not seem to be competitive in this segment.

You should probably choose a $120 graphics card according to game preferences. Generally, ATI’s RADEON X700 PRO better handles full-scene antialiasing with anisotropic filtering and is faster in such games as Battlefield 2 and F.E.A.R. , whereas the GeForce 6600 GDDR2 is faster in the Serious Sam 2 game. While the RADEON X1300 PRO seems to be a better competitor here: it wins in some cases, it still cannot claim clear lead.

Entry-Level Graphics Cards

In case you are choosing a graphics card for about $100, then the RADEON X700 will probably be the strongest choice: it is faster compared to the GeForce 6600. The RADEON X1300 PRO seems to be better than the GeForce 6600 as well and sometimes even outperforms the RADEON X700.