Budget graphics cards are more capable today than they have ever been. Apart from games, an entry-level graphics card can handle tasks that make the CPU's work easier. For instance, all current generation GPUs can decode high-definition videos, provided you use a player that utilizes them efficiently. The new killer application is GPU-based processing in software such as video encoders and image editing programs. The massive parallelism afforded by the raging battalion of stream processors in a GPU can make a PC with a weak CPU work five times faster than one with a quad-core CPU and integrated graphics. If that's the power of an entry-level GPU, you can guess the immense processing power of the high-end ones.
Although these cards do not churn out exceptional frame rates or offer stellar game play, they fare well in most of the latest games at decent resolutions. Even ultra-budget cards priced under Rs 3,500 can play titles such as Left 4 Dead and even Crysis Warhead at 1440x900 with medium settings on. And by adding just an additional Rs 1,000 for a better card, you can play Crysis Warhead at full HD resolution in Performance mode. Most cards ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 can play games at resolutions of up to 1680x1050.
So, gamers with a low budget can rejoice. Cards in this category offer just as many video output options as high-end ones, including dual-link DVI ports for a dual-monitor setup, D-sub ports for backward compatibility, and even the new DisplayPort. Some have HDMI ports, so an HTPC enthusiast can connect his HDTV or monitor and watch movies via his computer. For an HTPC setup, this type of a rig is more powerful than any other standalone HD movie playback device available today. A new feature in the latest-generation of graphics cards is an on-board audio processor that can stream multi- channel audio via HDMI. While gaming or playing movies, these cards emit the least amount of sound, or none at all, thanks to the completely passive cooling solutions that some of them use. These cards do not require fans, and remain cool due to their leaner fabrication process; 40 nm currently being the lowest. This also means that such cards consume less power, so there’s no need for extra power connectors or upgrading your computer’s power supply.
It is important to note that Nvidia and AMD have different approaches towards stream processors. Thus, while an ATI GPU that has more stream processors than that of Nvidia, both may be equally powerful. So, we did not consider higher scores for the number of stream processors present. We logged parameters such as GPU speed, type and amount of memory, memory speed, DirectX support, and so on. All of these features enable the visual effects you would expect to see in today’s games. We looked out for the types of output ports on the rear of the card. Extra points were awarded to those that supported new-generation interfaces such as HDMI and DisplayPort. Cards that featured copper heatsinks, and those with active or passive cooling methods scored accordingly in this category.
This is, after all, what drives a gamer into buying a graphics card. We used an array of real-world games and one synthetic test for the evaluation of the graphics cards in order to get a clearer picture. Nowadays, the most popularly sold monitors are widescreen LCDs that start from a screen size of 19 inches. The native resolutions begin from 1440x900. As this resolution is very lenient and most graphics cards can support it without any real effort, we also included the more challenging 1680x1050 and 1920x1080 resolutions for both entry-level and mainstream graphics cards. First up, we used the DirectX 10 game Left 4 Dead. Known for its generous use of high-resolution characters, environment and cool effects, this game demo was an ideal test for the card’s processing and memory subsystems and is representative of current-generation gaming performances. In the case of entry-level graphics cards, we tested the game in the following resolutions and settings: 1440x900-Medium-No AA, 1680x1050-Medium-No AA, and 1920x1080-Medium-No AA. Since this would be too easy for mainstream graphics cards, we set all the effects to Very High and bumped the AA to 8x.
Next up, was Race Driver: Grid that made good use of demanding gaming effects such as simulations, physics, environment, smoke, and so on. We tested the game at the three resolutions with AA turned on in the case of entry-level cards, and with 8xAA in the case of mainstream graphics cards. We also tested the graphics cards on one of the most demanding games out there - Crysis Warhead. This was the most strenuous test we could throw at the cards, as it brings even a high-end graphics cards to their knees. We made it less taxing for entry-level graphics cards by setting the mode to Performance, which is the lowest, and turning on AA. For mainstream graphics cards, we bumped the visual effects and AA just enough to get playable frame rates. Finally, for the synthetic tests, we used 3DMark Vantage, which simulates real-world gaming performance. Here, we ran the test in Entry mode for entry-level cards and in Performance mode for mainstream graphics cards. Hence, if you wish to compare cards based on the 3DMark score, compare them within their own category and not across categories.
Click to enlarge this image. This sheet contains the details, the hardware specifications, price, and scores of each index, value for money, performance, features and such.
XFX RADEON HD 4650
GPU: Radeon HD 4650; DirectX support: 10.1; Core speed: 600 MHz; Memory: 1 GB DDR3 500 MHz; Stream processors: 320; Video outputs: Dual-DVI.
Price: Rs 3,850
Comment: The XFX Radeon HD 4650 is a great choice for users who are on a tight budget and find the need to turn their PC into an entertainment hub. It fits the bill if the need is to build an HTPC along with a little casual gaming.
Good: Decent cooler, low noise.
Bad: Average performance.
ZOTAC GEFORCE 210 SYNERGY
GPU: GeForce GT 210; DirectX support: 10.1; Core speed: 589 MHz; Memory: 512 MB DDR3 400 MHz; Stream processors: 16; Video outputs: DVI, HDMI, D-Sub.
Comment: The Zotac GeForce 210 Synergy graphics card is ideal for those looking for a low-profile, low-power-consuming, and low-priced graphics card for casual gaming and/or HTPC builds.
Good: Low profile, above average performance.
Bad: HD-video playback software not bundled.
XFX RADEON HD 5750 XXX ED
GPU: Radeon HD5750; DirectX support: 11; Core speed: 740 MHz; Memory: 1 GB DDR5 1200 MHz; Stream processors: 720; Video outputs: Dual-DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort.
Comment: Excellent performance and affordability makes this card a must have for mainstream gamers.
Good: Affordability, performance, ATI Eyefinity.
Bad: Absolutely nothing.
ZOTAC GEFORCE 9600 GT SYNERGY
GPU: GeForce 9600 GT; DirectX support: 10; Core speed: 600 MHz; Memory: 1 GB DDR3 800 MHz; Stream processors: 64; Video outputs: Dual-DVI.
Comment: Pick this card if you want a brilliant performer for under Rs 5,000.
FOR: Doesn’t require additional power, single slot design, good performance.
Bad: Should have had an HDMI port or come with an HDMI adapter.
Published Date: Jul 13, 2010 03:05 pm | Updated Date: Jul 13, 2010 03:05 pm