We thought DirectX 10 was going to be a crucial factor by now, but Vista is so screwed up from a gaming perspective we can’t recommend installing it. And then there’s the issue of high-def video playback to consider. Oy vey!
If you have just $200 to spend on your next videocard, don’t see a Vista upgrade in your near future, and don’t think Microsoft will relent and release DX10 for XP, you’ll want to compare Nvidia’s GeForce 8600 GTS to ATI’s Radeon X1950 Pro. In many cases, cards based on the latter are cheaper than those based on the former, leaving you with enough money to buy a new game.
Prices aside, which card is the better value? The answer depends on what you need from your videocard. In terms of gaming performance, the Radeon X1950 Pro is the hands-down winner. Although it has lower clock rates on both its GPU and memory, the chip has more shader units (48 to the 8600 GTS’s 32) and a 256-bit memory interface (compared to the 8800 GTS’s 128-bit memory path). These specs help ATI’s part beat Nvidia’s to a bloody pulp in FEAR (outrunning it by a 39-percent margin at 1920x1200 resolution) and rendering Supreme Commander at least tolerable at that same high resolution.
We didn’t see much of a difference in DVD-decoding performance between the two cards, but the new PureVideo HD engine in Nvidia’s GPU makes it the clear favorite if you’re looking to play Blu-ray or HD DVD movies on your machine. The 8600 GTS will relieve the CPU of more of the high-definition decoding chores, which is an important consideration if your machine is outfitted with a less-powerful processor.
Considering our low opinion of the next-gen optical-drive formats and the utter insignificance of Vista (and, by unfortunate extension, DirectX 10), we just can’t get very excited about the 8600 GTS.