Testing and Verdict

We tested the 3D performance of each card by running our usual set of benchmarks on our usual test bed, the details of which are in the table below. Bar Company of Heroes, these all run using our in-house pre-recorded timedemos taken in the most intense sections of each game. For CoH we use the in-game graphics benchmark, which we’ve found gives a good representation of the performance of the game.

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As these cards are all less than £100 it is unlikely you will combining them with a 24inch (or higher), £400+, monitor, so we’ve stuck to resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 which represent more common 17/19/20inch monitors. Each resolution is run with 0x FSAA with trilinear filtering, 2x FSAA with 4x AF and 4x FSAA with 8x AF, while all other in-game and driver options are kept to their maximum. Each setting is then run three times and the average is taken, for reproducible and accurate results. Finally, to test the impact of transparency antialiasing, we rerun everything with this visual enhancement turned on.

For comparison we've included results for nVidia's 8600 GTS, 8600 GT, and 8500 GT as well as a couple of cards from both company's previous generation, namely the ATI Radeon X1650 XT and nVidia GeForce 7600 GT, to see how the newcomers stack up against their retiring brethren.

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Once again we see the older generation cards really holding their own against the new cards from both ATI and nVidia. These new cards really have failed to blow us away like the 8800 did when it was introduced. That said, maybe our expectations were raised just a little too high. Either way, you're getting very little extra performance in DirectX9 games.

Even so, there is no compelling reason not to choose one of these new generation cards if you are currently in the market for a sub £100 graphics card. And, with this in mind, on performance there is little to choose between the competing solutions from ATI and nVidia. However, in terms of features and value, all three of ATI's cards we've looked at today are just a nose ahead of the nVidia equivalents.

Across our testing, the 2600 XT sat somewhere between the 8600 GTS and 8600 GT which, considering it is the same price as the 8600 GT makes it a great performer for the price. However it is usurped, for the recommended award, by its slightly slower sibling, the 2600 Pro.

The 2600 Pro costs a mere £60 yet gives close to the performance of cards costing £20 -£30 more. And, being slower only because of reduced clock speeds, there should be plenty of opportunity for overclocking these to compete with more expensive cards. Alternatively a passively cooled version would be great for those with an HTPC that want to do some proper gaming on their HDTV.

When viewed in terms of its performance, the 2400 XT is a bit of an odd card but, assuming low profile passively cooled versions hit the market soon, thanks to the presence of UVD it is potentially the perfect solution for a super-sexy slimline HTPC. And, by turning game settings down a notch, you'll even be able to play a few games.


Verdict

ATI has managed to claw itself back from the brink by introducing a series of mid-range cards that not only competes but, on the most part, surpasses the competition. Performance could be better compared to previous generation cards but the additional features and support for DirectX 10 titles make for a winning solution. So, it may not hold the ultimate performance crown but ATI certainly knows how to strike a low blow.

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