Pros: Very good performance for gaming and general use, easy to install, good features, cheap
Cons: x2 anti-aliasing bug, CD-ROM in package didn't work
Had I known how badly the Payroll Department were going to mess up my last fortnight’s wages, I probably wouldn’t have got this so quickly. But hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!
The first thing that struck me about this card was that for a mere £45 (about $90 at current exchange rate) from a local computer hardware shop, it seemed to have all the features I was looking for to upgrade from my old GeForce4 MX card. At 256Mb it’s packing a decent punch in the memory department, and it has full support for DirectX 9.0, including the all-important pixel and vertex shaders (2.0 ), making it capable of playing the latest games. (It is of course happy with OpenGL as well). Since the nVIDIA cards use Unified Driver Architecture (UIA), the card worked straight away without having to install any new ones (since the same driver works on all nVIDIA cards). In fact, installation was such a doddle that I took the computer apart, took the old card out, put this one in, put it all back together again and had it working in literally 5 minutes! Admittedly the screen resolution did reset to 800x600 but this was soon remedied. It is quite a good thing that the old UIA driver was already installed, however, because I couldn’t get a thing on the installation CD to work! Downloading the latest driver from the nVIDIA site seemed like a good idea, so I did – add another few minutes to the total installation time for download and reboot. Linux users will be happy to know that the card is fully compatible using the Linux Xfree86 driver, which was (presumably!) on the CD and can be downloaded from the website.
At first I didn’t notice an incredible difference in performance to my old card, but after trying it out on several games (many of which the GeForce4 MX really struggled with), I have to say that it does give very good all-round performance – for my use, anyway. It can run most 3D games happily in 1024 x 768 resolution, 32-bit colour depth, with graphic quality and effects on “High”. One or two games did require a little bit of tweaking to get the frame rates to a satisfactory level, but overall 1024x768 on high quality was fine. 2D games ran very smoothly at 1280 x 1024 resolution. (3D games might be a little slow on this resolution, but I’m quite happy with the above-mentioned resolution and I don’t think it makes a huge amount of different anyway!) My monitor is too old and clunky to go much above that, though the cared would be capable of it.
The interface is AGP, and it does have AGP8 support though mine’s only an AGP4. I did have one rather major (though easily circumnavigated) problem with the card; when anti-aliasing is set to x2, the screen sizing goes all wonky and you only see half the screen horizontally! Rather a major bug but x4 anti-aliasing works fine and doesn’t seem to slow down the frame rates noticeably, so I don’t find it a major problem. I have noticed that when playing DVDs there is very little “stuttering”, which I used to have a bit of a problem with using the old card. (Some of it can of course be put down to the DVD drive slowing up, but not all as there wouldn’t be any significant improvement now if it wasn’t at least partly down to the card.) I also used to experience a fairly regular problem with the colours going awry in certain games; this has occurred once with the new card, but in the same time period with the old card I would have expected it to occur far more frequently.
(To give you some perspective on the performance I’ve mentioned above, my system is – 2.3GHz CPU, Win XP, 768Mb RAM.)
Of course, you are not going to be able to play the latest games at absolutely their top settings. However, it’ll be a while before there are games that you won’t be able to run using this card; it’s not top of the range, but it’s a very good budget model. Apart from the games side of things it is also a very good option for video editing without spending too much money, and also has support for multiple display devices (not that I’ve any use for this feature at the moment).
Being nVIDIA, any game you get will happily adjust the features in-game for you, but you do get an nVIDEA control panel as well where you can tweak till your heart’s content. If you’re anything like me you’ll probably just want to get on with things with the minimum of fuss, but it’s nice to have the option.
Overall, despite one or two issues this is an excellent buy for those wanting a good card without a large cost, and after surveying the market I would think that there’s not much to beat it for under £50 / $100 (not buying new, anyway). I'm very happy with my purchase, though I might have waited a while if I'd known what Payroll were going to do to me!!
Compatible with Windows XP, Me, 2000, and Linux.
(For those who are interested and understand them!!)
Graphics core: 256-bit
Memory interface: 128 bit
Core clock: 270MHz
Rendering pipelines: 4
Pixel Peak Fill rate: 1,080 MPixels/second
Texture units per pipeline: 1
Peak texture fill rate: 1,080 Mtexels/second
Textures per pixxel: 16
NVIDIA CineFX Engine: 1.0
Pixel Shader support: 2.0
Vertex Shader support: 2.0
Anisotropic filtering modes: up to 8x
The game this really made look breathtaking was: TRON 2.0
GeForce4 MX graphics card
Voodoo 2 graphics card
** Update (22nd January 2009) **
If a powerful gaming PC is what you're after, a good choice is the Packard Bell iPower X9810 - much includes the powerful nVidia GeForce 9800GT graphics card.