The old faithful GeForce FX5200 has been dragging its feet for the last year or so. Have to say it did the best it could, thanks to it we could play even NFS Most Wanted, (which was a beautiful game, those police chases were wicked!). The point is no First Person Shooter (FPS) released after 2005 or so could be played because the system just could not handle the strain. So for the last 6 months or so its been pretty much getting the best games before 2005 and playing them, and I just finished playing Warcraft 3. Not being able play games released up to 3 years beforehand is not a suitable or desirable characteristic when the users range from mild enthusiasts (myself) to true followers and FPS fans (bro & cousin). So the new graphic card requirements would be – capable of delivering decent performance on even the latest games within an affordable price range ie, basically performance for the value conscious casual gamers.
So I went hunting in the mainstream segment. We can classify the market into 3 segments roughly- Budget segment (up to $125), best bet of the lot currently would be GeForce 8600GT. Mainstream segment ( $150 - $250), pretty much the bread and butter segment of the gaming industry. Performance segment ( >$250), once again Nvidia rules this segment with GeForce 8800GTX ( a true monster).
Back to hunting, in December when I checked there were only 3 real choices – GeForce 8800GT (round $250), Radeon HD3850 (round $200) and Radeon HD3870 (round $220). GeForce 8600GTS was only OK as it had only 128 bit memory bus width, which the critics felt was a huge drawback. Then somewhere I saw that Nvidia was planning to launch its next-gen mainstream card by mid February. The GeForce 9600GT.
We skip forward a couple of months. The initial leaked specs and benchmark results suggested it to be way better than 8600GT and round 80% performance of 8800GT. A very interesting prospect when you consider the fact that being a midrange card it was sure to be priced in the sub $200 category. Finally, the release of the card on 21st February. The benchmarks rolled in and the verdict was out. 9600GT outperformed HD3850 comprehensively and was pretty much a match for the HD3870 through different tests, and here comes the sweet part. It was priced in the $169-$189 range. Huh! The choice would be obvious wouldn’t it? But then again its not as if those marketing departments are their just for namesake, so on the very same day AMD slashed the prices of HD3850 and HD3870 to competitive levels ie pretty much sub $200 levels. 8800GT does offer better performance but at a higher price. So finally you are left scratching your head wondering which card to go for. Each one offers its money worth of performance and this is a nice situation to be in if you are planning to buy a graphic card soon and I am. : )
As with most new graphic cards, processors etc it will take a bit of time for prices to settle… say 2 months. After that I will get my own GeForce 9600GT and start playing the games which have been just pleading for my esteemed presence… sigh!!! Till then I can dream on…
P.S.- a word of advice to those on the lookout for new graphic cards, do not choose between the models just on the basis of the features on offer, no: of pipelines, amount of memory, clock speed etc. Trust only benchmarks to get a real idea of the performance. I found www.tomshardware.com to be a very useful site for obtaining such information and trustworthy too.