Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT 512MB
Current Cost: $144
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
The CPU and graphics card components are the two most important factors in overall game performance, and since we've already upgraded the former, it's time to see what video card we can snag for around $150. Thankfully, NVIDIA has introduced a new mainstream powerhouse since our last Value Guide, in the form of the GeForce 9600 GT. This card offers a perfect mix of performance and value, and is tailor-made for both our AMD and Intel platforms.
The 65nm G94 core features 64 stream processors clocked at 1625 MHz and 16 pixel/texture pipes running at 650 MHz for a fillrate of 10.4 MT/sec. or 20.8 MT/sec. bilinear. The GeForce 9600 GT has a full 256-bit link to 512MB (or 1GB) of onboard GDDR3 memory, which runs at a clock speed of 1800 MHz. This translates into 57.6 GB/s of memory bandwidth, and all of these specifications represent a quantum leap ahead of the GeForce 8600 GTS we recommended in the previous guide. There is absolutely no doubt that the GeForce 9600 GT 512MB is the fastest sub-$150 video card, and rivals the more expensive GeForce 8800 GT 512MB for pure value.
While we don't choose a specific model, mostly due to fluctuating prices, supplies and availability, we can recommend both the Gigabyte GeForce 9600 GT 512MB (pictured at top) and PNY GeForce 9600 GT 512MB (pictured below) cards at this price range. Both of these models offer an excellent mix of high performance and value, making the GeForce 9600 GT 512MB a near-perfect fit for our value system configurations.
ATI does have two direct competitors at this range, the Radeon HD 3850 and 3870 512MB cards, but only the first one can hit the same price range as the GeForce 9600 GT. The Radeon HD 3850 512MB might not have the pure top-end speed of the NVIDIA card, but it's still very competitive and even saves us a few bucks. Alternatively, you can spend a bit more and grab a Radeon HD 3870 512MB. Our budget won't allow us, but that doesn't mean you can't.
Display: 19" LCD with 5-8ms Response Time
Current Cost: $165
Consecutive Guides: 3
Price Change: $0
One reason we are so concerned about the graphics card, is that we're maintaining the 19" LCD into the guide, and looking to upgrade that to a 20-22" in the near future. This kind of real estate needs mainstream performance graphics, as even at 19-inches, the resolution is 1280x1024 for standard and 1440x900 for widescreen displays. This also brings up the question of aspect ratio, and while the widescreen format is preferable for most games, we realize others will want to stick with a standard 4:3 display.
As there are so many different brands and styles at this price range, and since a monitor can be a very personal choice, we are currently recommending a general selection of a 5ms-8ms 19" LCD. Many of these units have exceptional features, and with a high response time, even gaming will show minimal (if any) ghosting. One good feature of going the 19" route is that you can usually get a DVI input, something that is more difficult at the 17" range. The best overall LCD value point has now shifted to the 19" models, and displays from Acer, Westinghouse, KDS, LG, Sceptre, Fuji, Nikko and others are available in this price range.
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.