GraphicsGraphics card of the year: GeForce 8800 GTS
GeForce 7600 GT, Radeon X1950 Pro
2006 has been another great year for graphics enthusiasts. We have seen the first DirectX 10 hardware appear, and have also witnessed previously high-end hardware falling to obscenely low prices. This is A Good Thing.
We gave notable mentions to a couple of cards at the lower end of the market. For under £100, you can now get a 76GT, which is a spectacular card for the money. You can play any game on the market with decent details at 1024x768, and that's nothing to be sniffed at given the price.
The X1950 Pro was a great addition to the 1900 series by ATI, coming in at a pricepoint in the £100-£200 range. For this, you get the ability to crank up the detail and play at 1280x1024, perfect for the majority of TFT users. This is really a great card with a significantly improved cooler that we'd be happy to have in any of our systems.
However, there was only going to be one winner. The GeForce 8800 has blown us away with its stunning performance, although we are still waiting for the first DX10 titles to see it really strut. As it is, the GTX is really only worthwhile if you are gaming on a 30" panel - there's nothing in the DX9 arena to even think about taxing it in any other respect.
So, our pick of the bunch is the 8800 GTS, which is perfect for a 20" or 24" flat panel with all the details revved up and the AA jacked on, too. It's significantly cheaper than the GTX, so unless you do have the mammoth 30", the GTS is the card to get - a deserved winner of our top award.
GeForce 8800 GTS
MotherboardsMotherboard of the year: Gigabyte GA-965P-DQ6
Asus Striker Extreme, DFI LANParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G
This year has been the year that Core 2 really kicked in and gave AMD a kick up the butt in the enthusiast market. It is fitting, then, that our motherboard of the year is the best performer for that particular line of chips.
We've seen NVIDIA move from NForce 4, through 5, on to 6 this year, with AMD getting the 5 and Intel the 6. The 590 has proved to be a seriously decent chipset for AMD enthusiasts, and the DFI LANParty incarnation was by far the best board we saw. As you expect from DFI, there is a lot of tweakability, plenty of BIOS to fiddle with, and decent performance to boot. Whilst it may intimidate the newcomer, overclocking pros will love the flexibility offered by the board.
Our other notable mention comes from NVIDIA, in the guise of the Asus Striker Extreme. This is an NForce 6 board which, courtesy of some dodgy chipset design by NVIDIA, isn't yet ready to hit the prime time. We've had massive problems with the NForce 6 EVGA reference board and few problems with the Striker, whilst others - such as HardOCP - have seen the exact opposite, and NVIDIA is currently working to address these issues. When the Striker Extreme hits the big leagues in the next few weeks, expect it to really rock out.
However unsexy Intel's chipsets may be, the 965 chipset powered our board of the year from Gigabyte. This was really one enthusiast board that had everything in bucket loads - performance, stability, overclocking potential, as well as one of the best physical layouts we've seen in a long time - top stuff.