With price tags of $400 and $500 dollars for the most advanced graphics cards, it's easy to feel left out of the 3D game. But true to form, a few months after the next-generation, high-end cards are trotted out with much fanfare, the midrange cards begin to emerge from the shadows cast by their powerful, flashy siblings. New to the scene are Nvidia's GeForce 6600 GT and ATI's Radeon X700, both competing for midrange dollars. Early benchmark results don't impress, especially on newer games.
Upside: At least it won't be that expensive. For $200, roughly the cost of a home gaming console, Nvidia's GeForce 6600 GT card should provide adequate performance in older 3D games, and it will let you play the newer titles, provided you're willing to sacrifice some higher-end image-quality tweaks. Fortunately, games such as Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 are designed with the mass market in mind, so they should look good at lower graphics settings. Intriguingly, the GeForce 6600 GT is also Scalable Link Interface (SLI) ready. In English, this means that with the proper motherboard, you'll be able to connect two PCI Express versions of the GeForce 6600 GT in the same computer. Granted, you need the high-end motherboard in the first place to make this feature an option, but doubling up on a midrange graphics card could be a great way to upgrade your 3D performance down the road without having to junk your old parts.
Downside: Sixty frames per second at a resolution of 1,024x768 is the goal for 3D games, and if you look at our benchmarks, you'll see that the GeForce 6600 GT doesn't quite hit the mark in Far Cry or Doom 3. The scores in both of those games are still playable, but especially without a powerful PC behind it, you may notice some hitching and skipping during gameplay. Its performance is limited by its memory interface (128-bit to the GeForce 6800 series' 256-bit), and it has only 8 pixel pipelines, compared to the GeForce 6800 GT's 16. We expect Nvidia to dial down the specs on a less expensive card, but since we are just entering the DirectX 9.0-era of 3D gaming, it's disheartening to know that a $200 card won't hold up in a year.
Outlook: The Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT's $200 price tag makes it affordable for those unable or unwilling to drop half a grand on a high-end 3D card, and the value proposition posed by its SLI capabilities gives you a promising upgrade path. We wish this card gave you a little more juice for your gaming dollar, but when Nvidia's partners begin selling it in stores, an included game or two could take the edge off. Stay tuned for our forthcoming full review