HotHardware Holiday Gift Guide

Sex, Lies and Video Cards

There are very few components that we enjoy testing more than video cards.  And if you're a gamer, we know there are few components you like reading about more than new video cards.  If you're interested in a new 3D Graphics engine this holiday season, then you have a lot of options to choose from.  Let's get started...

XFX GeForce 8800 Uttra - $639

Many vendors are still offering cards based on the formidable NVIDIA 8800 Ultra GPU, but the XFX version seems to strike the best balance between clock speeds and price, without getting into water-cooled territory.  Even the memory on this card is clocked higher than NVIDIA's reference spec.

You'll recall that we were very impressed when we tested our first 8800 Ultra half a year ago, even if the card didn't represent the best value. If you feel the need for speed, go ahead and grab two and run them in SLI mode, if your motherboard supports it.  At about $639 a piece these cards aren't cheap, but they're still the top dog in 3D graphics.

If you don't have a six-figure salary and lots of disposable income, don't worry about it!  Both AMD and NVIDIA have some very affordable mid-range cards that redefine our expectations of mid-range.

HIS Radeon HD 3870 - $235

On the AMD side of the fence is the Radeon HD 3870.  Just one of these cards is more than fast enough to handle today's hottest games, and two can be linked together in a CrossFire configuration for even more performance.  Not to mention support for three, and four card CrossFireX configurations is coming early next year.

If you haven't read our review of the new Radeon 3000 series cards, you should take a look.  These new GPUs are reasonably fast on their own but are designed to work extremely well in pairs or more.

XFX GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB - $270

NVIDIA hasn't been sitting idle in the mid-range either.  Their latest entry, the 8800 GT is a serious performer too as our recent testing indicated.  It was really hard to choose between all of the 8800 GT cards available, but in the end we went with the XFX 8800 GT due to the higher clock speeds for a minimal boost in price.  There's nothing wrong with the 8800 GT at stock speeds, and XFX offers those too, but we're firm believers that you can never have too much speed, especially if it is only a few dollars more.

If you ever feel the need for more power, you can always grab a second card and run them in SLI.

While we are very pleased with the mid-range GPUs, we're also impressed with what you can buy for under $200 these days.  It used to be that if you bought a video card and spent less than $200, you needed to check product labels to make sure you had enough horsepower to run the latest games.  Thankfully those days seem to be a thing of the past, but that doesn't mean you're going to be playing at ultra-high resolutions with all the details turned way up either.  Perhaps next year...

Sapphire Radeon HD 3850 - $179

Perhaps the hardest choice in the video card arena was the low-end AMD/ATI card.  There were plenty of great bargains from the last generation of products, but we wanted to recommend something a bit more future-proof.

In the end we decided to give the nod to Sapphire's Radeon HD 3850 GPU that we reviewed alongside its bigger brother the HD 3870.  It's a little less expensive than the 3870s featuring a full 512 MB of RAM because this variant has 'only' 256MB of GDDR-3 memory and it's clocked lower, but it is a great performer for the price.

And if you ever find yourself in the need for more horsepower somewhere down the road, you can always add a second card and run them in CrossFire mode.

ASUS EN8600GT 256 MB - $120

If you're looking for an affordable NVIDIA solution, then we'd direct your attention to the Asus EN8600GT.  What's so special about it other than the fact that it can play DX10 games, and won't break the bank?  It's silent.  That's right, a silent video card that runs cooler than NVIDIA 8600 GT reference boards thanks to the custom cooling solution.

If you're not into silent computing, there are plenty of other 8600 series cards to chose from too, but for the price we honestly think that the EN8600GT can't be touched.  There's something to be said for a cool-running and quiet card.  We got our first look at the 8600 series GPUs back in April.  We thought they were a reasonable value then and we are still impressed with the performance value they represent today.

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