Video cards will be high on the wish list for many gamers when it comes time for gift giving on birthdays and Christmas. Previously we looked at video cards prices in the high-end $500 and over range. This buyers guide will step down in the price range and look at quality video cards for gaming that are under $500 to the $400 range.
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If you aren’t that computer savvy, but are shopping for a computer savvy person this is the point at which you may need to ask some questions about the system you are upgrading. Not all video cards will work in all computers. Older computers are still around that use AGP rather than the new PCI Express slots. AGP and PCI Express video cards will not work in the same port.
If you are shopping for a video card to upgrade a computer bought from a manufacturer like Dell, HP or others you need to check with the manufacturer of the computer to see if you can upgrade the system. Even if you can upgrade the system you will want to be sure that there is enough room inside the chassis for the video card you are considering. Most of the performance video cards are dual slot designs and compact systems from some major manufacturers don’t have the space needed. Once you are sure that the video card will work in the system you are buying it for you are ready to check out the list below of video cards in the sub-$500 range. The cards are arranged in no particular order.
NVIDIA 8800 GTS 640MB
The original NVIDIA 8800 GTS 640MB video card was a fantastic performer and still is. You can get the 640MB version of the 8800 GTS from several NVIDIA card partners including XFX, BFG, EVGA, and PNY. The 8800 GTS 640MB card is available with stock clocks and in factory overclocked versions as well. The best performing 8800 GTS 640MB video card I used was the XFX 8800 GTS 640MB, which actually outperformed some of the stock clocked 8800 GTX cards. The 8800 GTS 640MB graphics cards start at about $400 and go up to close to $500 depending on manufacturer and if the card is overclocked or not.
NVIDIA 8800 GTS 320MB
Moving down the NVIDIA lineup one-step brings us to the NVIDIA 8800 GTS 320MB graphics card. The only difference between the GTX 320 and the GTS 640 is the amount of memory on the card. In my testing, there was typically a minimal difference in frame rates to be seen by giving up half the memory to the 640MB version. Some of the overclocked 8800 GTS 320MB cards were very close in performance to the stock clocked NVIDIA 8800 GTX that costs significantly more. The NVIDIA 8800 GTS 320MB graphics card in its overclocked form is one of the sweet spots in price and performance for NVIDIA video cards. XFX even recently released a new, higher performance Fatal1ty version of the 8800 GTS 320MB video card that we will be reviewing soon. Overclocked and stock NVIDIA 8800 GTS 320MB video cards are available from the companies below.
ATI X1900 XTX
If you opt to purchase a ATI X1900 XTX, you need to keep in mind that while all the other graphics cards from NVIDIA in this price range are DirectX 10 compliant, the X1900 XTX from ATI is not. This card is DirectX 9 only. The X1900 XTX is also down on performance when compared to similarly priced products from NVIDIA. My suggestion is that you only buy this graphics card if you find it on sale and you are not planning to run Windows Vista to take advantage of DirectX 10.
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