I have an eMachines T3256, which was an incredible PC for the price ($399 for an Athlon XP 3200+, 512MB PC3200 RAM, 160GB HDD, DVD+-RW, and second-bay CD-ROM). The system's only real weak point, however, is that it relies upon integrated graphics (GeForce 4MX--better than Intel's integrated ... Read full review
I have an eMachines T3256, which was an incredible PC for the price ($399 for an Athlon XP 3200+, 512MB PC3200 RAM, 160GB HDD, DVD+-RW, and second-bay CD-ROM). The system's only real weak point, however, is that it relies upon integrated graphics (GeForce 4MX--better than Intel's integrated option, but not by much). From the beginning, therefore, I'd had it in mind to purchase an AGP video card to better round out my "e" PC.
After considerable research on the Net, I narrowed down my consideration to the nVidia GeForce 6600GT and the ATI Radeon X800XL. Ultimately, I chose the X800XL over the 6600GT, and I couldn't be more pleased with the results. Although the X800XL goes for about $100 more than the 6600GT (on average), you get a lot more for the extra cash: double the RAM (256MB vs. 128MB), double the pixel pipelines (16 vs. 8), double the vertex shaders (6 vs. 3), and double the memory bandwidth (256-bit vs. 128.bit). This translates into higher detail settings, better full-screen antialiasing (FSAA) and anisotropic filtering (AF), and smoother framerates--all at higher resolutions. I couldn't be more pleased with the performance this card lets me squeeze out of my budget PC; I can run Far Cry at 1280x1024 at maximum detail settings with FSAA and AF enabled and achieve consistent framerates over 40fps, which is great for an eMachines PC. For those who are interested, I've included some benchmark results below:
Aquamark 3: 48,275
As other reviewers have mentioned, the card itself is a hefty piece of equipment, measuring almost nine inches in length. This is because the X800 XL was originally designed as a PCI Express card and requires a bridge chip (named Rialto) to communicate with the AGP bus. It fits pretty comfortably inside my PC, but you will definitely want to measure the clearance around your AGP slot if you're thinking about purchasing this card. The only other negative comment I can make about this card is that although ATI includes dual outputs, only one is digital (DVI); the other is an analog VGA port. It would have been nice to have dual DVI-out in order to connect two digital displays.
Other than that, however, this is an outstanding card. Although it requires additional power from the PC's power supply (via a standard 4-pin Molex connector--a splitter cable is included in the box in case you don't have another free power dongle), this card doesn't require much power. It runs great off of my stock 300 Watt power supply, and I've not had any problems with the card locking up because it's not able to draw enough power. The card also runs relatively cool (at least "as is"--I haven't attempted overclocking...yet). I'm able to monitor the GPU temperature via ATI Tray Tools (a must-have third-party app for ATI card owners), and the X800XL runs around 44C at idle 65C while gaming.
Overall, this is a great midrange video card. It should be fairly future-proof as well. Sure, you may not be able to run next year's games at max detail and max resolution, but they'll still look great and run smoothly. If you're like me--a casual gamer who isn't willing to pay a premium for the latest and greatest or to upgrade your system four times a year--this is the card for you.