WE'VE BEEN HEARING
constantly, all summer long, about fancy new high-end PC hardware that's bat-out-of-hell fast but worth more than the GDP of Lithuania. New Pentium 4 Extreme Editions, Athlon 64 FXes, and especially 16-pipe graphics cards like the GeForce 6800 Ultra and Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition, have dominated the news and reviews. These expensive toys have tempted many of us, no doubt, but generally, a graphics card that costs 500 bucks is a bit of a reach for most folks. With Doom 3 on the loose and Half-Life 2 just over the horizon, it's enough to make a grown man cry, or to make a grown man's wife disown him for charging a mortgage payment's worth of hardware on the MasterCard.
We knew, though, when NVIDIA and ATI introduced their new 16-pipe high-end graphics chips, that eventually the other shoe would have to drop. Eventually, the massive performance increases we saw in high-end graphics cards would cascade down the GPU makers' product lines, into their "mainstream" cards. Fortunately, folks, that time has come. NVIDIA's GeForce 6600 series is ready to debut, with eminently reasonable price tags from about $149 to $199. I've had the $199 card, the GeForce 6600 GT, in Damage Labs for a week now, and I'm nearly beside myself. Read on to find out why.