Video Card Recommendations

Aron Schatz
October 3, 2006
Video Card Recommendations
How do you make a decision on which video card to purchase? Basing things solely on price is the wrong move. This guide will lead you in the direction of which card to buy...

Page 1: Video Cards


When selecting computer components, careful and informed choices are crucial. Each component is thoroughly intertwined with each other to the point that changing one piece of hardware may force a change into many other pieces as well. Thankfully, some pieces of the computer can be made nearly independent from other components, but there is a large range of products to choose from. Video cards fall into this type of category. How you decide on the one to buy is very important in regards to the money you will spend and the performance you will get.


There are quite a few caveats to video card purchases. The first is that it is dependent on your motherboard. If you have a motherboard that supports PCI Express, you should pick up that type of card. This also holds true for AGP and normal PCI. Apart from that there are basically no other requirements of a video card from a computer.

Size Yourself Up:

2D quality is extremely important for everyday use of a computer. Nearly all cards have excellent 2D quality in today's market. The third dimension quality determines how much you are willing to spend on a new video card. Right off the bat, some people want their ePenis (iPenis for Apple people) to show and will always recommend dual video cards and whatever is most expensive at the time. Price should not be your only factor. Typically, you can try to get a card to match your needs and your budget.

You will want to ask yourself what kind of 3D work you are involved with. Most readers of this site will likely say that 3D games are the majority (or entirely) of 3D work that they will be doing. Some will say CAD and other modeling programs. Things such as Solid Works are heavily 3D involved and take a good GPU to give you good performance. A GPU is a graphics processing unit, the brains of a video card. A GPU is basically turning out to be a very fast vector processing unit and people are actually starting to make programs to run directly on it.

We will stick with the gaming crowd for the recommendations. Your next step should be to write down what current and future games you plan on playing or want to play. This is an important step to determine which card is right for you. Someone that wants to play Prey or Crysis is going to be very different than someone that wants to play Pong (though, not Plasma Pong). If you are not a person that uses 3D but you are planning on upgrading to Windows Vista, there are important things that will influence your buying decision today.

Windows Vista:

For future-proofing your computer, it is important to understand what requirements Windows Vista has in store for video. You will want the new Aero interface (the bells and whistles interface) coming with the new version of Windows. Do not fret if you enjoy open source. Technologies such as XGL and AIXGL provide pretty eye candy as well. Windows Vista will use a Pixel Shader 2.0 card. Basically any card that is DirectX 9 compliant will do well. You will want a card that has at least 128MB of RAM included and more if you are using a huge display (bigger than 1920x1200). Basically Windows Vista is a new 3D game that you may want to play. Most video cards that you can purchase today have this requirement.

Low End:

This category fits basically any sort of budget. It is the low end meaning low price and low feature set. If you do not plan on doing gaming and are happy with your current operating system for awhile, you can easily get away with sticking with your current video card. If you are building a new system, a $50 video card will work well with Vista. For PCI Express, an X300 would work extremely well for everything you could do on a budget. Hell, the GMA950 will even do fine. That is the first Intel graphics that will work with Vista. If you want an Nvidia chipset, which has better support for open source, a Geforce 6200 would be fine. If you are stuck with AGP, pick a card that has DirectX 9 support such as a Geforce FX 5000 series or a Radeon 9500 series or higher. Do not get a 9200 series card because that is a DirectX 8 card. Remember that this is for a low end budget. $50 is pretty damn cheap.


The middle of the road is for people like me that will not spend over $200 on a video card. Personally, I am still using a X800GTO16 for my gaming needs and it still works great. Remember that resolution has not increased in the past few years. My 19" LCD monitor is stuck at 1280x1024. For larger displays, you will want a more powerful card. I will not be recommending any other cards other than PCI Express in this and the next category. On the Nvidia side, you can get a 7600GT for that price range and even the 7800/7900 series if you wait for a deal to popup. On the ATI side of things, a X1600XT would suit your needs and even the X1800/X1900 series if you can wait for a good deal. The market is filled with cards in this price range and you are able to pick and choose which features you want in a graphics card at this level. This is the market that video card manufactures want.

High End:

No budget on the high end. Well, of course you will want twin cards in either SLI or Crossfire configurations. The best of the best for you! A top of the line 7950GX2 x2 paired up with a motherboard that can support SLI will provide you FOUR GPUs. FOUR! That is really overkill. If you have much money too burn, buy that. I would never purchase something like that when a single card would be fine for my needs. Buying expensive stuff for your ePenis does nothing except make your wallet shrink. If you are doing high end graphics work, this is a different situation and perhaps you should be looking at the Quadro or the FireGL lines. My recommendation on a single PCI Express card would be a X1950XTX or a single 7950GX2. These should provide more power for your needs at a significant price drop than SLI or Crossfire would.


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