ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT review: ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT

'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion'
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024 2x antialiasing, 8x anisotropic filtering, high quality  

With the ugly 3D performance truth out of the way, we can focus on HD video, where the Radeon HD 2600 XT really shines. For raw image quality, ATI's new chip fares just as well as Nvidia's GeForce 8600 GTS, which is to say, it's excellent. If you're a complete videophile, you'll still find a dedicated player to be your best bet, but for most of us, the video output from these cards is completely acceptable.

ATI also has a leg up as far as convenient installation in that it requires no internal cable connections to the other parts of your PC. Thanks to an onboard audio chip, if you use ATI's included DVI-to-HDMI adapter to connect your PC to your television, you can also send the sound from your PC out through that same connection. Nvidia's card can almost do the same thing, but because it lacks a built-in audio chip, it requires an additional internal connection to route the audio signal over the HDMI cable. The Radeon 2600 XT also doesn't require a direct connection to your PC's power supply. The GeForce 8600 GTS does.

As far as power requirements, the two cards are equal. Both vendors recommend a 400-watt power supply in your PC. That means a lot of off-the-shelf, budget-class desktops won't be able to handle them with their 300-watt stock PSUs. Then again, few of those systems have an HD optical drive, which leaves little justification for picking up one of these cards in the first place.

Finally, we have to acknowledge that while ATI's Vista drivers handle TV connections very well, Nvidia has also gained ground in this area, thanks to a recent driver update. Nvidia's cards used to overscan the Windows Vista desktop when you connected your PC to a wide-screen television. Now that Nvidia has solved that issue, ATI can no longer claim superiority in terms of its overall video compatibility. Still, the Radeon 2600 XT's ease-of-installation superiority will likely win it some fans among home theater PC enthusiasts.

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