A follow-up to last year's video card guide, GameSpot's Video Card Roundup for 2007 will show you what cards are widely available in your price range and how they stack up against one another. We've divided the video cards by price into four categories: high-end, performance, mainstream, and budget. Our budget list includes all the current-generation video cards available for $100 or less. The mainstream group includes cards that retail for up to $200. Bump the price range up to $200-$400 to get to our performance cards. Finally, we have our extremely broad high-end category that includes everything over $400, which covers both single cards and dual-card setups. We've focused on current-generation GeForce 8 series and Radeon 2000 series video cards in this roundup. Check out last year's guide to see how the older cards perform. We start off with the high-end cards this week.
High-End Video Cards
High-end video card setups encompass the $400 and over category. These video cards will allow you to play games at very high resolutions and with maximum image quality settings. Feel free to keep antialiasing (which helps to smooth out jagged lines) and anisotropic filtering (keeps textures looking good at all distances and angles) settings enabled on just about every single game at resolutions as high as 2560x1600. You can easily get away with less expensive cards if you have a smaller monitor or don't need extremely high image quality settings.
You can find plenty of options in the high-end category, and with the advent of SLI and CrossFire, it's very easy to double the amount you pay. SLI and CrossFire refer to technologies, respectively created by Nvidia and ATI, that allow you to operate two matching video cards in the same computer. Dual-card setups will give you access to higher image quality settings, but you won't get double the performance due to the overhead involved in getting two cards to work together. A dual-card setup will also require a beefy power supply, a specialized SLI or CrossFire motherboard capable of running two video cards, and possibly even a new computer case.
There are only a few individual cards in the high-end category. Once we remove the SLI and CrossFire combinations, we're left with the GeForce 8800 Ultra, the GeForce 8800 GTX, the Radeon HD 2900 XT, and some versions of the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. The GeForce 8800 Ultra and GTX have the same number of shaders, but the Ultra has slightly faster clock speeds. The GeForce 8800 GTX originally debuted late last year before the launch of Windows Vista, and ruled the roost for many months before being displaced by the Ultra. Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB product comes with three-fourths as many shaders as the GTX, and has less memory and slower clock speeds. The GTS is currently available for as low as $380 online, but we included it in the high-end category because many variants of the card come very close to the $400 mark and we needed to give the Radeon HD 2900 XT some fair competition.
The Radeon HD 2900 XT's $400 price point places it between the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB and the GeForce 8800 GTX. The ATI and Nvidia solutions have very different architectures, which makes direct shader-count comparisons difficult. Shader numbers can be used to compare cards within the same family (for instance, the 8800 GTX to the 8800 GTS, and the 2900 XT to the 2600XT), but not between cards with dramatically different GPU designs. Note that ATI doesn't have a true answer for the GeForce 8800 GTX or 8800 Ultra cards. If you're considering only the highest of the high-end, you're going to get a GeForce.
|Price||Processors / Speed||RAM / Speed||Additional Notes|
|2 x 768MB|
|The GeForce 8800 Ultra SLI configuration is the most powerful graphics setup currently available. These enormous cards will require a large case for cooling, an SLI motherboard, and at least a 900W power supply to feed them.|
|2 x 768MB|
|Two GeForce 8800 GTXs have all the same requirements as the Ultra SLI combo, but you can get away with a mere 750W power supply.|
|2 x 640MB|
|The GeForce 8800 GTS card requires only one external power connector, but a matching set can still put out a decent amount of performance.|
|2 x 320MB|
|With half the RAM of its 640MB sibling, these 320MB GeForce 8800 GTS cards might begin to falter when you crank the resolution beyond 1600x1200.|
|The most powerful single-card solution on the market requires a 500W power supply and enough clearance to fit inside your case.|
|The GeForce 8800 GTX was the first DirectX10 card to arrive on the market and remains a powerful solution today.|
|A single GeForce 8800 640MB GTS has fewer shaders and a lower clock speed than the GTX, but it's a lot more affordable.|
|2 x 512MB|
|Note that dual-video card SLI and CrossFire configurations have added costs beyond the price of the cards.|
|The Radeon HD 2900 XT works fine with two 6-pin power connectors, but you'll need a new power supply capable of providing a 6- and 8-pin power configuration to provide extra juice for overclocking.|
We graphed the average dollar per frame for each card and dual-card setup we tested. We calculated individual dollar-per-frame amount for each game for each graphics setup we tested, then averaged the results for presentation in this graph. It's not a definitive chart due to weighting issues--some games have higher frame rates than others--but it serves well enough to show which cards give the most frames for your money. A lower cost per frame results in better performance for every dollar spent. If you're looking for more details behind our testing, on the following pages you can find the individual results for each game, as well as price/performance comparisons.
(Shorter bars indicate better value)
Average Price Per Frame - Quake 4, Oblivion, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Company of Heroes
In the high-end category we have to judge by two criteria: cost and performance. We have to acknowledge that some of us simply want the fastest hardware on the planet without regard to cost. For those people, the GeForce 8800 Ultra SLI provides the ultimate in performance. As expected, the GeForce 8800 GTX SLI setup comes in slightly behind the Ultras. Both the GeForce GTS 640MB SLI and 320MB SLI setups lagged significantly behind their higher-end brethren. ATI's HD 2900XT CrossFire configuration was competitive with the GTS setups but never came close to displacing the more costly Ultra and GTX SLI rigs.
If you're looking to squeeze the most frames out of your budget in the high-end category, look no further than the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB. It sailed through our benchmarks with ease, and you can easily find overclocked variants of the card selling for marginally more than stock versions. The GeForce 8800 GTX and Ultra offer excellent performance, but the premium pricing kills the value angle. ATI's Radeon HD 2900 XT comes close to the GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, but the GTS still maintains a slight edge in price and frame rates.
GameSpot's Summer Video Card Roundup 2007
In our final installment of the Video Card Roundup, find out which sub-$100 video cards are worth buying.