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Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run three times, and the results were averaged. All graphics driver image quality settings were left at their defaults, with the exceptions that vertical refresh sync (vsync) was always disabled and geometry instancing was enabled on the Radeon cards.

Our test system was configured like so:

ProcessorIntel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4GHz
Front-side bus800MHz (200MHz quad pumped)
MotherboardAbit AG8Shuttle SB77
Bios revision6.00PGS00B
North bridgeIntel 915PIntel 875P
South bridgeIntel ICH6RIntel ICH5R
Chipset drivers6.0.1.1002
Memory size1GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory typeOCZ PC3200 EL Platinum Rev 2 DDR SDRAM at 400MHz
CAS latency2
Cycle time5
RAS to CAS delay2
RAS precharge2
Hard drivesWestern Digital Raptor WD360GD 37GB
GraphicsATI Radeon X700 XT 128MB with CATALYST 4.11 drivers
ATI Radeon X700 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 4.11 drivers
NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT 128MB with ForceWare 66.93 drivers
ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB with CATALYST 4.11 drivers
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 128MB with ForceWare 66.93 drivers
NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT AGP 128MB with ForceWare 66.93 drivers
OSMicrosoft Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2

We'll be comparing the GeForce 6600 GT's performance with that of a number of mid-range AGP and PCI Express graphics cards. The 6600 GTs have 128MB of memory, but a few of the cards we'll be testing them against come with 256MB of memory. It's common practice for board vendors to differentiate their products by offering more memory, and while this never seems to improve performance on low-end cards, it just might do so for the latest crop of mid-range graphics chips and today's more demanding games. All the cards we tested are available in roughly the same price range, give or take about $70, so the comparisons are reasonably fair regardless of memory size.

I should also note that our Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB is an underclocked Radeon 9800 XT. There are rumors swirling that newer Radeon 9800 Pro 256MB boards actually use Radeon 9800 XT chips running at lower clock speeds, although we've been unable to confirm this with ATI.

Be aware that there are inevitable platform differences when comparing AGP and PCI Express graphics cards. Differences between the motherboards and core logic chipsets used for each platform could have an impact on performance, even with all other system components being identical.

The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1280x1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The tests and methods we employed are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.