OCC Roundup: Graphics Cards of 2007

hardnrg - 2007-12-21 18:12:20 in Video Cards
Category: Video Cards
Reviewed by: hardnrg   
Reviewed on: December 25, 2007

Introduction

If you have been gaming on a PC for quite some time, you've probably realized by now that the single most important component of your computer for games performance is the graphics card. It is said in the computer games industry that audio accounts for roughly 10% of the gaming experience, and the visual part around 90%. Obviously, (good) gameplay makes it a good experience, but here we are talking about the instantaneous experience, what you see and hear.

Console game development works within extremely confined limits and tries to make the most of the graphics hardware, while PC game development is often designed to scale the 3D engine so that the game performs at a playable level on mainstream cards, bring flagship cards to their knees, and possibly even allow the game to be played on entry level cards.

So, which card is right for you? The question is quite similar to being asked, "which car is right for you?" People with no budget limits will always go for the best performance, regardless of price. However, most people want to get the most for their money, while still craving the performance that will deliver a satisfying gaming experience.

 

The Contenders:

Granted, the CPU, RAM and motherboard configurations were not always the same, but the configurations were fairly evenly matched, so all the graphics cards will be compared against each other in one large group.

The Sapphire HD2600XT 256MB Ultimate Edition does not appear to be for sale (no listing on Newegg, Pricegrabber, or Google), so it will not be included in this roundup.

 

Asus EN8600GTS 256MB Silent
PCI-E
Diamond HD 3850 256MB
PCI-E (single card / Crossfire)
Foxconn 8600 GTS 256MB
PCI-E
Gigabyte 8600GT 256MB
PCI-E
Leadtek 8600 GT 256MB TDH
PCI-E
MSI NX8600GT 256MB Twin Turbo
PCI-E
PNY 8500GT 512MB
PCI-E
PNY 8600GT 512MB
PCI-E
PowerColor HD 2400 Pro 256 MB
PCI-E
PowerColor HD 2600 Pro 512MB
PCI-E
PowerColor X1550 256MB
PCI-E
PowerColor X1550 512MB Extreme
PCI-E
PowerColor X1650 Pro 256MB Golden Pig Edition
PCI-E
PowerColor X1950 XT 512MB
PCI-E
Sapphire HD 2400 XT 256MB
PCI-E
Sapphire HD 2600 Pro 512MB
AGP
Sapphire HD 2900 XT 512MB
PCI-E
Sapphire HD 3850 256MB
PCI-E
Sapphire HD 3870 512MB
PCI-E
Sapphire X1950 Pro 256MB Ultimate Edition
PCI-E
XFX 7600GT 256MB Fatal1ty
PCI-E
XFX 8600 GT 256MB Fatal1ty
PCI-E
XFX 8600 GTS 256MB XXX
PCI-E
XFX 8800 GTS 320MB XXX
PCI-E
XFX 8800 GTS 640MB Extreme Edition
PCI-E

 

 

 

Specifications & Features:

The details on the technical specifications and features of each graphics card can be viewed on the respective pages of their reviews.

 

Head-to-head:

In this roundup, I'm going to be looking at the top four cards in terms of pure performance, and the top four cards in terms of performance per dollar.

Although some people have made the move to widescreen aspect displays, many people still use 1280x1024 LCD monitors for gaming. We will be looking at the results at this resolution, and at the higher resolutions of 1680x1050 and 1600x1200. These higher resolutions are very close in pixel count, so I will be grouping these into one category, hereafter called the 16xx resolutions, as some cards were tested at 1680x1050 and others at 1600x1200.

The performance per dollar score will be calculated by dividing the frames-per-second by the current lowest dollar price on Newegg, Pricegrabber, and Google Product Search. For the 1280x1024 tests, this will be multiplied by 100 to make the numbers more readable on the graphs. For the 16xx resolutions, this will be multiplied by 200 for the same reason.


Current Prices

Asus EN8600GTS 256MB Silent $159.99
Diamond HD 3850 256MB $169.99
Diamond HD 3850 256MB (in Crossfire) $339.98
Foxconn 8600 GTS 256MB $149.99
Gigabyte 8600GT 256MB $109.99
Leadtek 8600 GT 256MB TDH $93.99
MSI NX8600GT 256MB Twin Turbo $116.99
PNY 8500GT 512MB $99.99
PNY 8600GT 512MB $149.99
PowerColor HD 2400 Pro 256 MB $49.99
PowerColor HD 2600 Pro 512MB $86.90
PowerColor X1550 256MB $38.99
PowerColor X1550 512MB Extreme $52.99
PowerColor X1650 Pro 256MB Golden Pig Edition $79.99
PowerColor X1950 XT 512MB $256.80
Sapphire HD 2400 XT 256MB $71.99
Sapphire HD 2600 Pro 512MB AGP $92.99
Sapphire HD 2600 XT 256MB $129.99
Sapphire HD 2900 XT 512MB $429.99
Sapphire HD 3850 256MB $183.63
Sapphire HD 3870 512MB $244.99
Sapphire X1950 Pro 256MB Ultimate Edition $155.99
XFX 7600GT 256MB Fatal1ty Professional Series $92.99
XFX 8600 GT 256MB Fatal1ty $149.99
XFX 8600 GTS 256MB XXX Edition $169.99
XFX 8800 GTS 320MB XXX $299.99
XFX 8800 GTS 640MB Extreme Edition $366.45

Head-to-head:

Here are the results for the two classes of resolutions, 1280x1024, and then 1600x1200/1680x1050.











F.E.A.R.: Top Performance (frames per second)

F.E.A.R.: Top Performance Per Dollar (frames per second per dollar, scaled)

Ok, so some games do better on some cards than others, but here we see a range of different cards. Let's move on to the next game to see if any trends develop.

Head-to-head:

Here are the results for Call of Duty at both resolutions.

 

Call of Duty 2: Top Performance (frames per second)

 

OK, more along the lines of what I would expect, pure performance wise. You may be scratching your head wondering where the 8800GTS 320MB is for the higher resolutions, why is it not on the graph ahead of the 3850 or 3870? It wasn't tested at 1600x1200 or 1680x1050, that's why.

 

Call of Duty 2: Top Performance Per Dollar (frames per second per dollar, scaled)

 

So the HD 3850 cards are popping up all over the place, but what surprised me the most is that an 8800GTS 640 card made it to 3rd place at the higher resolutions. Even though it's more expensive, the amount you pay extra you get as extra performance (almost twice as much performance, but also twice as much price, so it evens out).

 

Head-to-head:

I remember, not so long ago, when trying to run Quake 4 at 1600x1200 on a single 7800GT, it struggled quite a lot with all the settings turned up. How do this year's cards fare?

 

Quake 4: Top Performance (frames per second)

 

Top end cards giving top end performance, no surprise really, but it's nice to see how these top cards compare. An HD 3850 256MB card getting 4th best performance at high resolution is pretty impressive. It must appear high on the following graphs surely?

 

Quake 4: Top Performance Per Dollar (frames per second per dollar, scaled)

 

Yeah, the HD 3850 cards beat out the 8600GT cards for value in Quake 4.

 

Head-to-head:

Ok, so maybe you don't play first-person shooter games. There are other games that are graphically intense and have a lot of fast action (no, World of bloody Warcraft doesn't count).

So in this last head-to-head comparison we're going to look at Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I remember pushing my 7800GT SLI rig to the limit to get it to run 1600x1200 resolution smoothly at a decent framerate and ended up having to lose motion blur and settle for 2xAA. Do newer cards take the game in their stride?

 

Need for Speed: Most Wanted: Top Performance (frames per second)

 

I'm starting to see a pattern. Can you see the pattern too?

 

Need for Speed: Most Wanted: Top Performance Per Dollar (frames per second per dollar, scaled)

 

The 8600GT cards battle it out with the 3850 cards. It's interesting to see the 7600GT still capable at playing the game at 1280x1024.

 

Conclusion:

What a great roundup! Some predictable results, and some very interesting surprises.

And the winners are...

 

Diamond HD 3850 256MB
I really was surprised to see this card pop up on both sets of charts both in single and Crossfire configurations. In single card mode it was sometimes nipping at the top dog's heels, while being a much cheaper card, putting it in top place for performance-per-dollar. In Crossfire, it even reached top spot for some games! For the mainstream user, this has to be the ultimate card. It gives you instant great performance, even at higher resolutions, and if you want to kick it up a notch, get a second card for some top of the line performance.
XFX 8800 GTS 640MB Extreme Edition
Consistently in the top three, normally top two, in all performance tests, this card even showed that it wasn't just a card for people with endless cash. It proves that the extra cost of the card is very much worth it, giving you an equal measure of extra performance. For the user that wants flagship card performance, but at a similar performance-per-dollar value to "budget" cards, this card is the soundest choice.