Back in June, we advised against purchasing Nvidia's latest, greatest high-end graphics card, the GeForce 7950 GX2, because next-gen 3D cards from both Nvidia and ATI were allegedly coming out before the end of the year; we couldn't justify a $600 card knowing that it would be obsolete in six months. And it was too bad, because other than the timing of its release, we really liked the card. Fortunately, we don't have that same reservation about the midrange Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS chip, provided to us by PNY in its 256MB Verto GeForce 7900 GS card. The reason is because the $229 recommended price has dropped as low as $199 at various retailers, so even if Nvidia does unveil a comparably priced 3D card with its next-gen tech before the end of the year, the financial stakes aren't as significant. If you buy this card now, you'll get a slim, easy-to-install 3D card that provides totally acceptable 3D frame rates for at least a year or so, we suspect. And ATI doesn't have a great option here, because its comparable Radeon X1800 GTO costs about $75 more.
First, the specs. The GeForce 7900 GS comes in with a 450MHz core clock and a 1.36GHz memory clock. Compare that to the Radeon X1800 GTO's 500MHz core and 1GHz memory, and, while the architectures aren't like comparing apples to apples, the two cards are relatively similar. Both are single-slot designs, meaning that each will take up the space of only one internal expansion slot, and both come with 256MB of DDR3 memory. Like most cards these days, the GeForce 7900 GS does require a direct connection to your PC's power supply, and PNY was kind enough to include the appropriate cables in its package. It also included various video adapters, including a VGA-to-DVI adapter (the card has two DVI outputs and a component-video plug).
While the packaging and the specs are relatively straightforward, the price-performance ratio is what really makes the Verto GeForce 7900 GS a strong 3D card. (Thanks to Sarju Shah at GameSpot for running these tests for us. You should also check out the 3D card roundup that he and James Yu published this month. It's a massive undertaking, and they've done a superlative job of encapsulating the current state of the 3D card market.) Consider, for roughly $200 to $225, the PNY Verto GeForce 7900 GS will give you smooth, stable 3D performance at 1,280x1,024, the most common native resolution of a modern LCD. It dips significantly only below 60 frames per second on the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, arguably the most demanding 3D game on the market right now. True, the Radeon X1800 GTO is a bit faster on Quake 4, and roughly the same on Oblivion, but as we mentioned earlier, that card will run you about $75 or more, or at least $50 more than the Verto card.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)