Great Time to be a PC Gamer!

PC gaming has traditionally been a difficult and expensive hobby due to constantly evolving hardware and high cost components (particularly graphic cards). However, the last year or so has seen a nice selection of graphic cards released by both Nvidia and ATI that are not only great performing cards, but present an unprecedented value to the costumer with very low prices.

Nvidia GeForce 8800GT
Released: October 2007
Price: ~$250 (512MB)
Specifications: 8800GT Details

Upon its release, the 8800GT literally changed the PC graphics market overnight. Delivering performance virtually equal to the 8800GTX (Nvidia's second card from the top) but for half the price, you could not find these cards online or at stores for months after its release. Despite its numbering as an 8000 series, this is actually the first card to use Nvidia's G90 cores (all of the other 8000 cards use the G80 core) which features several improvement such as 65nm manufacturing resulting in less heat output and power consumption, and additional video processing logic to enhance Blu-Ray and HD-DVD video playback. This card remains arguably the best overall buy even today and two of these in SLI will outperform any single graphics card on the market for less than the cost of the new nvidia 9800GX2 flagship.

ATI Radeon HD 3870
Released: November 2007
Price: ~$220
Specifications: 3870 Details

Essentially ATI's response to the 8800GT, the HD 3870 is one of the best cards ATI has released in years. While not quite as fast as the 8800GT, it is slightly cheaper and until recently much easier to find than the 8800GT making it quite compelling to consumers wanting quality gaming on a budget. In fact, the HD 3870 become quite popular with gamers and pretty much destroyed Nvidia's then midrange card the 8600GT and 8600GTS. Innovations include 55nm manufacturing process, support for directX 10.1 and PCIe 2.0, and higher CPU and shader clocks speeds than any Nvidia cards close to its price range. The Radeon HD 3870 is still a great buy and for $200 offers performance rivaling cards in the $400-$500 price range.

Nvidia GeForce 9600GT
Released: February 2008
Price: ~$180
Specifications: 9600GT Details

Due to the success of the Radeon HD 3870 and 3850 cards, Nvidia was forced to the respond with a card that can offering compelling performance for less than $200. Their answer was the new GeForce 9600GT, the first 9000 series card released by Nvidia. The fact that the first card in this new series was a budget card and not a flagship as has traditionally been the case for the past few generations illustrates how much the market has changed. With SLI and Crossfire leveraging multiple GPU to increase performance, single monolithic cards are much less attractive today than they once were. The 9600GT is an excellent value with a price well below $200 offering performance within 10-20% of the 8800GT and about equal to the Radeon HD 3870. An SLI configuration with 9600GTs can give any single card a run for its money while still costly much less than the Nvidia and ATI flagships. To give you an idea of the performance this card is delivering at this price, I just added it to my 3 year old Dell desktop featuring a Pentium D processor (yeah that old. We're talking Pentium 4!!) which is obviously going to be a bottleneck with any modern graphics card. Yet, I'm able to run Bioshock (high-end game about 8 months old) at max settings and 1680 x 1050 resolution with well over 40fps! Gaming on a budget? You'll do well with this one.

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