It’s fair to say that although AMD and Nvidia have both released what they’ve referred to as ‘mid-range’ graphics cards, mid-range DirectX 10 hardware doesn’t truly exist... or at least hasn’t until this week.
The closest we’ve got to affordable (and worthwhile) DirectX 10 hardware is Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB or, more recently, the limited quantity Radeon HD 2900 Pro 512MB, but both of these cost well in excess of £150 (inc. VAT). Those that couldn’t afford either of these cards opted for previous generation hardware because they were faster than the mid-range entry-level DX10 cards in almost all scenarios.
Because of this, we’ve given both AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 2600- and Nvidia’s GeForce 8600-series’ a hard time and we’ve generally been unimpressed by the performance on offer. In fact, it has led to many questioning whether DirectX 10 was really worth investing into, especially given the fact that you’ve got to not only purchase a high-end graphics card, but also a copy of Windows Vista to really see the small and subtle image quality improvements that the new API brings.
Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GT 512MB reference card in all its glory...
Several top developers have publicly said that DirectX 10 isn’t worth spending much time on at the moment. The reasons have been varied, but they all lead to one thing – the fact that there hasn’t been enough performance on offer at the price points where there is real volume. With Monday’s announcement, this has thankfully changed and capable DirectX 10-class hardware is as close to affordable as it has ever been.
While some would say the fact that Nvidia launched a new mid-range product on Monday (the one we're looking at here) and AMD is following suit in a few weeks is just pure luck, we’re going to say it’s a complete coincidence and not unexpected. After all, 2007 is probably the best year for games we’ve had in a long time; at least, it’s the best year we’ve had since 2004, when we saw great games like Half-Life 2, Doom 3 and FarCry unleashed.
The slew of really compelling games arriving this year has led to some problems, at least for me, where I can’t find the time to play everything I want to. The games that you’ve probably been following very closely (or played already) this year include BioShock, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, World in Conflict, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Hellgate: London, Unreal Tournament 3 and Gears of War to name just a few.
Oh, and there’s some game called Crysis too, but I’m not sure if anyone is particularly bothered about that one...
The GeForce 8800 GT is based on Nvidia’s G92 graphics processing unit which, despite hitting a mid-range price-point, is the most complex shipping GPU to date with a transistor count of around 754m. This is 63m more than G80 (691m) and 54m more than R600 (700m), but doesn’t mean it’s the fastest GPU available today – Nvidia’s GeForce 8800 Ultra will keep that title for the time being.
There are a lot of reasons why the GeForce 8800 GT features the most complex GPU ever made, so before we get onto the actual hardware, we should probably have a look into the architecture...