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Mid-range PCI Express graphics comparison

Playing with a full house of PCI-E

TO BE PERFECTLY honest, it's been a little hard to get excited about PCI Express graphics. Since June, the only available PCI-E platforms have been Intel's 900-series chipsets, which are saddled with the Pentium 4's comparatively poor gaming performance. Help is on the way, though. New chipsets from ATI, NVIDIA, and VIA are finally bringing PCI-E to the frame rate-friendly Athlon 64 platform, reinvigorating interest in PCI Express graphics.

Renewed interest in PCI-E graphics isn't just being driven by Athlon 64 chipsets, though. A new wave of next-gen PCI Express graphics cards led by ATI's Radeon X700 family and NVIDIA's GeForce 6600 series offer surprisingly compelling performance at astonishingly affordable price points. But which one is right for you? We've rounded up an array of mid-range PCI-E graphics cards from Abit, Albatron, Chaintech, Gigabyte, and XFX to find out. Read on to see how the cards stack up against each other, how the Radeon X700 series stacks up against the GeForce 6600 family, and how vanilla cards measure up to their Pro and GT counterparts.

A full house of PCI-E graphics cards

Comparing the cards
Before we proceed, I strongly suggest that you read the first few pages of our GeForce 6600 GT and Radeon X700 XT reviews. The reviews detail the architectures and capabilities of the ATI RV410 and NVIDIA NV43 graphics chips that power the Radeon X700 and GeForce 6600 series cards we'll be looking at today. Once you're familiar with those, we can move on to some of the more unique attributes of the cards we've assembled.

GPU Core clock (MHz) Memory clock (MHz) Memory type Memory size (MB) Video outputs Video inputs Warranty period Street price
Abit RX700 Pro-128PCIE ATI RV410 420 864 GDDR3 128 DVI, VGA, S-Video None 15 months* $165
Albatron Trinity PC6600 NVIDIA NV43 400 500 DDR 128 DVI, VGA, S-Video, RGB, composite video None 3 years labor, 1 year parts $119
Chaintech SE6600G NVIDIA NV43 500 1000 GDDR3 128 DVI, VGA, S-Video, RGB, composite video None 2 years $199
Gigabyte GV-RX70P256V ATI RV410 420 864 GDDR3 256 DVI, VGA, S-Video, RGB S-Video, composite 2 years $255
XFX PVT43GNDD7 NVIDIA NV43 500 1200 GDDR3 128 DVI (2), S-Video None 2 years $269

As you can see, we have a number of different cards at a wide range of price points. I'll be exploring each of the cards individually in a moment, but while they're all neatly assembled, it's worth singling out a few of their more unique attributes. First, note the incredibly awkward list of product names. To avoid too much tongue-twisting, I'll be referring to cards like the Gigabyte GV-RX70P256V as the Gigabyte Radeon X700 Pro, the XFX PVT43GNDD7 as the XFX GeForce 6600 GT, and so on.

With naming conventions out of the way, I should point out that Albatron's GeForce 6600 is the only vanilla card in the mix. It's easily the cheapest of the lot, but to keep things fair, we'll be throwing a Radeon X700 Pro underclocked to X700 speeds into our benchmarking melee. That should give us a good idea how the entry-level members of the GeForce 6600 and Radeon X700 families compare.

Thumbing through the table, you'll also notice that the Gigabyte Radeon X700 Pro is the only 256MB card in our collection today. It's also the only card with video input capabilities, but with nearly the highest price tag in the group, it all balances out. Manufacturers have long sought to differentiate mid-range graphics cards by offering more on-board memory, but the previous generation of mid-range GPUs didn't really have the horsepower to make use of the extra megabytes. We'll see if this newest generation of graphics chips, combined with the latest crop of detail-rich games, will be different.

Finally, I have to point out that the XFX GeForce 6600 GT is the only one we'll be looking at that has dual DVI outputs. With dual DVI outputs rare on even high-end cards, a couple of digital outputs on a mid-range product is certainly unique. The XFX card is also a special "Extreme Gamer's Edition," boasting an overclocked memory bus right out of the box.