2004 is easily shaping up to be a banner year for the graphics card market as NVIDIA and ATI continue to trade blows with their high-end offerings. We've seen huge increases in performance between the current and last generation of video cards from both manufacturers, and the competition is as intense as ever. Today, there are high-performance options from both companies that easily exceed a $500 price tag. Whether you're eyeing the latest Radeon X800 XT or the GeForce 6800 Ultra, you're going to get the highest frame rates and best image quality, for a price. But let's face it, there is a select audience for video cards in this price range. The rest of us are looking to balance the price/feature scale to find the best model for the performance dollar. The problem is, while it is easier to pick the best card on the market, sorting through the rest can take some time.
When trying to filter through the maze of available models, it helps to set a realistic budget and then narrow down your choices from there. It is also important to remember the old adage "you get what you pay for". For example, if you have a $100 budget, you're going to hit your limit pretty quickly and get a low-end to moderate gaming card with limited longevity. If you can increase your budget a bit, you'll find a good collection of mid-level cards below $200 which should provide a good gaming experience while supporting today's technologies, such as DirectX 9.
Once the budget has been set, the process of sorting out the models can begin. To find the best performance-to-price ratio, users need to take a look at how various models compare in features and in the benchmark arena. Some makes and models may dominate one test or another, but you can get a feel for the average performance when several different tests are run. By viewing the "big picture", you can walk away with a good idea of how a card will perform.
In this segment, we're going to take a look at the latest product from AOpen with a review of their GeForce FX 5900XT. While NVIDIA's XT GPUs are geared toward the price-conscious customer, we've found they can be a very good value overall. The latest trend we're seeing is various XT's being shipped overclocked direct from the factory for enhanced performance. The AOpen GeForce FX 5900XT is one of these cards, sporting a faster GPU, custom cooling package and an attractive price-point for a mid-level 3D gaming video card. In this review, we'll run the 5900XT through our collection of tests and compare it to several other popular mid-level cards in the same price range.