Features justify pricey graphics board

The new games standard is DirectX 10, but the graphics boards supporting it have been very expensive. Now a new wave of lower-memory nVidia boards is arriving. We tested one such model that delivers great performance. At $US350, BFG Technologies' PCI Express board, the GeForce 8800 GTS OC, is on the pricey side (many others cost $US300), but it ships overclocked and carries a lifetime warranty.

The current performance champs may be nVidia GeForce 8800 GTX-based, DirectX 10-ready graphics boards with 768MB of memory, but they'll set you back at least $US600. Even the slightly cheaper GeForce 8800 GTS-based models, equipped with 640MB of memory, start at $US400. So it's welcome news that card makers have introduced a lower-cost GeForce 8800 GTS alternative that carries only 320MB of RAM. The card's core clock speed has been boosted from 500 MHz to 550 MHz, while its Shader Clock runs at 1.3 GHz, versus the standard 1.2 GHz.

In our Battlefield 2 and Half Life 2 tests at 1600 by 1200 resolution with antialising turned on, the GTS OC held its own against most other power ($US300 and higher) boards, delivering frame rates of 75 frames per second and 116 fps, respectively; on the same tests, the top performer, XFX's GeForce 8800 GTX ($US589), posted 79 fps and 124 fps, and the top-of-the-line ATI Radeon X1950 XTX ($US359) checked in at 77 fps and 101 fps. In our Quake 4 and Doom 3 tests performed at the same settings, the GTS OC outpaced the X1950 XTX, though it couldn't match the faster clock speed and memory of the 8800 GTX. The GTS OC includes two fully HDCP-compliant Dual-Link DVI connections (maximum 2048 by 1536 resolution) and adapters for component (1080i) and S-Video (480i) TV output.

DirectX 10 (exclusive to Windows Vista) promises future games that will be graphically richer and more complex than today's. If you want to prepare for the jump to that standard while achieving strong performance and visual settings in current-generation titles, you'll find that 320MB GeForce 8800 GTS-based boards like the GTS OC are the most affordable way to do so.

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