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The arrival of the nVidia GeForce 8800 GTX was close to a monumental event in the history of 3D graphics. It was the first card to support DirectX 10 and its associated unified shader model, it greatly improved image quality compared to nVidia's previous generation of cards (finally catching up with ATI in this regard), and it blew every other card on the planet out the water in terms of performance. Unfortunately all this power also demanded an enormous price tag and, considering expected competition from ATI and the imminent release of cheaper mid-range cards based on the same technology, the GTX was deemed a card for the bleeding edge enthusiast only.
To remedy this nVidia launched the 8800 GTS 640MB the following month and the 8800 GTS 320MB a couple of months later still. They both offered close to the awesome performance of the GTX but at a much more reasonable price. However, at around £250-£300, they were still a bit too expensive for the gamer on a budget - these were lower high-end cards, not true mid-range parts. Of course, had we the benefit of hindsight we would have insisted that a GTS was worth saving every penny for because what followed throughout the rest of 2007 was one disappointment after another.
First came nVidia's supposed mid-range parts, the 8600 GTS and 8600 GT, which were massively cut down versions of the 8800 series. They were smaller and quieter than the 8800 series, and had great new HD video processing capabilities but their gaming performance was way below expectations and try as we might, we just couldn't see fit to ever recommend them, even though they were quite cheap. We then had ATI's Radeon HD 2900 XT, which was level with the 8800 GTS 640MB in terms of performance but consumed a huge amount of power when under load and was still too expensive to call mid-range. Finally we had ATI's attempt at true mid-range DX10 cards, in the shape of the HD 2600 XT and HD 2600 Pro, which were even better in terms of multimedia capabilities than nVidia's 8600 series, but again lacked the horsepower to make for a worthwhile upgrade for any gamer with a previous generation card like the X1950 Pro or 7900 GS.
All of which brings us to now, a full year after the 8800 GTX first arrived, and the launch of the 8800 GT, the first true "refresh" of any of the DirectX 10 capable graphics card. It has been a long time in the making but with specs that rival the 8800 GTS and high street prices hovering around the £175-£200 mark, this could finally be the mid-range card we've all been waiting for. But before I evangelise the card too much, I should probably explain a bit more about what makes it so special.
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