Q3 2006 Midrange GPU Shootout

Answering the Question

Answering the Question

Anyone who has dabbled in the computing scene should be intimately familiar with the modern phenomenon known as fanboyism. Derived from the term 'fanboy', which originated from the comics scene and gradually expanded in both usage and scope to describe any individual obsessed with the pursuit of certain geek related hobbies, this colorful addition to the English vocabulary retained much of its negative associations (especially to an non-partisan observer) when it made the short hop over to the technology sector.

According to the online Wikipedia (aptly a magnet for its own brand of fanboyism), fanboy refers to someone who is slavishly supportive of his or her 'cause', which can be an operating system, hardware manufacturer or programming language. The Internet explosion of the past decade has only empowered these fanboys to unite and air their views via online forums and blogs. In a medium where relative anonymity encourages people to express their opinions without self-moderation, things can quickly disintegrate into flame wars between the opposing camps. Nowhere in the computing scene exemplifies this better than the competitive graphics scene, where there are only two major manufacturers of discrete 3D graphics cards. The presence of common and repeatable benchmarks only fuels the competition, leading to particularly virulent mud slinging.

For those who are die-hard supporters of either ATI or NVIDIA, nothing will change your minds about your next graphics card purchase. So you can stop reading now, or go ahead and interpret our results in a manner where you can best gloat over the other side. But for the rest whose overriding concern is getting the best performance for their dollar, we aim to show you exactly that for the crowded midrange graphics segment. As the presence of this popular thread on our forums testifies, picking the right graphics card - part of the ritual undergone by all enthusiasts when planning their next system - can be bewildering, especially with all the similar suffixes and labels. While we generally agree with most of the recommendations made possible by this unofficial community effort, we felt that it was timely to answer the question with some benchmark results, if only to validate the recommendations.

Hence, we have rounded up six possible contenders for the midrange price segment, loosely defined as graphics cards that cost between US$80 - US$250. These estimated list prices (exclusive of delivery costs or rebates) are taken from price comparison websites and online retailers. We have also tried to include the local prices; perhaps that may also alert you to the premium you pay the distributors for local service and support. Meanwhile, our stated price range is broadly based on what chipset manufacturers themselves consider their midrange. The table below compares the various graphics chipsets in the spotlight of this article and some of its features and other technical details:

Our Midrange Contenders
GPU/VPU NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 7600 GS 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT (128/256MB) ATI Radeon X1800 GTO 256MB ATI Radeon X1600 XT 256MB ATI Radeon X1600 PRO 256MB
Core Code G73 G73 G73 R520 RV530 RV530
Transistor Count 177 million 177 million 177 million 321 million 157 million 157 million
Manufacturing Process (microns) 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09
Core Clock 560 MHz 400 MHz 350 - 575MHz 500MHz 590MHz 500MHz
Vertex Shader Pipelines 5 5 5 8 5 5
Rendering (Pixel) Pipelines 12 12 8 12 12 12
Texture Mapping Units (TMU) 12 12 8 12 4 4
Raster Operator units (ROP) 8 8 8 12 4 4
Z Compare Units 16 16 16 12 8 8
Memory Clock 700MHz (1400MHz DDR3) 400MHz (800MHz DDR2) 667 - 1500MHz DDR2/3 500MHz (1000MHz DDR3) 690MHz (1380MHz DDR3) 390MHz (780MHz DDR3)
DDR Memory Bus 128-bit 128-bit 128-bit 256-bit 128-bit 128-bit
Memory Bandwidth 22.4GB/s 12.8GB/s 10.6 - 24.0GB/s 32.0GB/s 22.1GB/s 12.5GB/s
Ring Bus Memory Controller - - - 512-bit (for memory reads only) 256-bit (for memory reads only) 256-bit (for memory reads only)
PCIe Interface x16 x16 x16 x16 x16 x16
Molex Power Connector NIL NIL NIL Yes NIL NIL
Multi GPU Technology Yes (SLI) Yes (SLI) Yes (SLI) Yes (CrossFire) Yes (CrossFire) Yes (CrossFire)
DVI Output Support 1x Dual-Link &
1x Single-Link
1x Dual-Link &
1x Single-Link
1x Dual-Link &
1x Single-Link
2x Dual-Link 1x Dual-Link &
1x Single-Link
1x Dual-Link &
1x Single-Link
Average Local Street Price (S$) ~ S$305 ~ S$205 ~ S$155 S$369 - S$429 ~ S$271 ~ S$200
Estimated Online Price (US$) ~ US$173 ~ US$119 ~ US$85 ~ US$200 ~ US$129 ~ US$110