Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB (PCI Express)
Current Cost: $185
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
The video card is one area that has undergone consistent upgrades, starting with the GeForce 7600 GT 256MB in mid-2006 and moving to the GeForce 7900 GS 256MB late in the year. So it's no surprise we're upgrading again, this time to the DirectX 10 mainstream powerhouse GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB. While not as big a jump as we would have liked to see from NVIDIA' top-end mainstream card, the GeForce 8600 GTS does represent an upgrade over the GeForce 7900 GS. It also includes a unified shader architecture similar to the GeForce 8800-based cards, but with a scaled-down core design and memory architecture.
The 80nm G84 core features 32 stream processors clocked at 1.45 GHz and 16 pixel/texture pipes running at 675 MHz. The memory architecture offers a 128-bit link to 256MB of onboard GDDR3 memory running at a clock speed of 2.0 GHz. This results in a fillrate of 10.8 Gtexels/s and 32.0 GB/s of memory bandwidth. While certainly high-end on the mainstream scale, the GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB is not even half as powerful as a GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB, but remains the top-end NVIDIA card in its class. It is also fully Shader Model 4.0 compliant and offers standard features like GigaThread Technology, PureVideo HD, the NVIDIA Lumenex Engine, and NVIDIA SLI.
While we don't choose a specific model, mostly due to fluctuating supplies and availability, we can recommend both the Albatron GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB (pictured above) and Gigabyte GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB (pictured below) cards at this price range. Both of these models offer an excellent mix of high performance and value, making the GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB a near-perfect match for our value system configurations.
Although we usually recommend an ATI card in the same price range, this month we're going to skip it, as the GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB is the top mainstream DirectX 10 card on the market, and it wins by default. Until ATI/AMD can get the Radeon HD 2600 mainstream series out, we are sticking with that recommendation.
Display: 17" LCD with 8-12ms Response Time
Current Cost: $145
Consecutive Guides: 6
Price Change: -$15
The $1,000 budget, combined with our mandate of creating the fastest gaming system for the money, brings with it a few challenges on the monitor side. We cannot use too much of our budget in a given area, and the best strategy is to distribute it evenly through the component list. A 17" gaming LCD is the baseline these days, as this display technology is clearly the wave of the present and future. An LCD is becoming almost a requirement, if for no other reason than 19" CRTs are becoming virtually impossible to find.
As there are so many different brands and styles at this range, and since a monitor can be a very personal choice, we are currently recommending a generic selection of an 8ms-12ms 17" LCD. Many of these 17" units have exceptional features, offer a more visually appealing display than a standard CRT, cause less eye strain, and with a 8-12ms response time, even high speed gaming will show minimal (if any) ghosting. One concession is the difficulty in getting DVI inputs at this price range, and although the majority of LCDs at this level are analog, some are starting to feature both interfaces. The best overall LCD value is currently with the 17" models, and displays from Acer, Daewoo, Rosewill, CTX, BenQ, CMV, Envision, or even Viewsonic and Samsung, are available in this price range.
On the other hand, if there were one budget-breaking upgrade we'd recommend, it would be to move to a 19" widescreen LCD display. This is where the top value is right now, but we simply do not have the extra $20-$25 necessary to make this upgrade. As most games are going the widescreen route, and 19" is the entry point for 16:10 gaming, this is an optimum display for a value system.
Please keep in mind that when buying any type or brand of LCD, there is always the slight chance of receiving a defective unit or a flat-screen with dead pixels, so be certain to purchase only from a vendor that offers liberal return and replacement options. This is doubly important for LCDs, and be sure to check the vendor's Dead Pixel Replacement Policy and investigate any further protection you can buy.