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

  • 1
MSRP: $229.00

The Good Excellent HD video image quality; easy installation with no internal cable connections.

The Bad Subpar 3D performance, even for a midrange 3D card.

The Bottom Line If you're looking to build a home theater PC, we recommend ATI's Radeon HD 2600 XT as the midrange card to use, thanks to its nearly perfect HD video image and its no-fuss installation. But for 3D gaming, you'd be much better off looking for a good deal on a faster, older graphics card.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 5

At $150, ATI's new Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card comes $25 to $50 under Nvidia's competing Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS cards. But before we give out any good deal awards, we need to note that we find the 3D performance of both new cards disappointing, even considering their mainstream ambitions. The only thing ATI's new card truly excels at is decoding HD video, but then so does Nvidia's card (especially after a recent driver update). We're certainly glad that HD video enthusiasts have a wide variety of options, but midrange gamers can get much more bang for the buck with an older 3D card while they wait for more next-gen games to come out, and more powerful midrange graphics cards to play them on.

Unlike Nvidia, ATI has a very fragmented lineup with its new Radeon HD 2000 series. After the Radeon HD 2600 XT, the next jump from ATI is the $400 . That leaves GeForce 8800 GTS cards with no true competitor at the $250 to $300 price level. That also means that if you have a particular loyalty, ATI has left you fewer options with this new generation of Radeons. We suspect Nvidia may get a lot of business in that high midrange/low high-end market segment as a result.

For the Radeon HD 2600 XT, its basics compare favorably to Nvidia's GeForce 8600 GT and GTS. Like its Nvidia competitors, most boxed versions of ATI's new card will come with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM. You may see DDR4, or even DDR2 versions as well as pricier models with 512MB of RAM. In addition to the memory type and amount, the various retail models of the card will vary by core and memory clock speeds as well. Our stock model came with an 800 MHz clock on the core, the memory, and the shader pipeline, so any boxed card with a higher clock speed on any one of those parts should benefit with faster 3D performance.

We'd encourage you to look for any performance boost, too, considering the Radeon HD 2600 XT's stock 3D scores. As usual, GameSpot's Sarju Shah came through for us with the benchmark scores, both for us and for GameSpot's own summer graphics card roundup, which we recommend you check out. For this card in particular, unless you're a dedicated Company of Heroes fan, you can get better overall 3D performance from Nvidia's GeForce 8600 GTS (which still isn't great), or any of a number of cards from the previous generation, if you don't mind losing out on DirectX 10 capability, and if can still find them in stock. And because those next-gen DirectX 10 games aren't really that impressive yet, we don't consider losing out on DirectX 10 a major loss today. And by the time more next-gen PC games come out that really use it well, you'll likely have another generation of 3D cards to choose from.

3DMark 2006
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

'Quake 4'
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200, 2x antialiasing, 8x anisotropic filtering, high quality  

'Company of Heroes'
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024, 2x antialiasing, 8x anisotropic filtering, high quality  

'Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl'
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280x1,024, 8x anisotropic filtering, medium quality  

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