The $150 Xtasy 5864 is easy on your wallet and easy to install, even if you haven't had the fun of getting inside your computer before. The card is compatible with Windows 95 OSR2 and later, plus Linux. VisionTek provides a huge, multicolored reference sheet that illustrates the steps you'll need to follow; if you're capable of making blue and yellow turn green on those sandwich bags, you can install this card.
The drivers install nearly automatically from the included CD, and the most work you'll need to do is to select the resolution and palette level you'd prefer. With 64MB of DDR RAM and a 250MHz 2D/3D GPU, the VisionTek has plenty of processing power for a wide array of resolutions and color depths. The company doesn't provide guidelines for setting resolutions, but the accepted rule of thumb is 800x600 for a 15-inch monitor, 1,024x768 for a 17-inch display, and whatever your eyes can bear on larger monitors--up to the card's maximum 2,048x1,536 at 60Hz. Just remember that to avoid eye-fatiguing flicker, you'll want a resolution of at least 75Hz (above 85Hz, flicker is all but imperceptible).
The Xtasy 5864's bundle is as minimal as its price; there are no free games included. You do get a CD with CyberLink's PowerDVD playback software, which could be useful if you have a DVD-ROM drive or plan to get one. If you do, the S-Video port on the back of the Xtasy 5864 lets you use your television to watch movies or play games. However, there are no S-Video or composite-video adapter cables included.
In the fast-changing world of gaming graphics, the Xtasy 5864's GeForce2 Ti technology is considered retro, but except for the most demanding players, most users will find that it's still very fast. In CNET Labs' tests, the Xtasy 5864's 3D performance at the mainstream setting of 1,024x768 resolution and 32-bit color was just slightly slower than that of the midrange Hercules 3D Prophet III Titanium 200 and the like-priced ATI Radeon 7500. The VisionTek falters badly at a higher 1,600x1,200 resolution, however, so it clearly has its limits when it comes to high-intensity gaming. But for mainstream apps, it's a definite winner; in 2D testing (using eTesting Labs' Business Graphics WinMark 99), the Xtasy pulled ahead of the Radeon 7500 by 29 percent and the Prophet III Titanium 200 by 24 percent.
VisionTek backs the Xtasy 5864 with pretty good service and support. The lifetime warranty including free phone support is great; the bad news for consumers is that support lines are open only on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT. The Web resources compensate somewhat for the inconvenience; you can e-mail questions to technicians or browse the fairly competent Tek-Support section, complete with FAQs, forums, and downloadable drivers. Because the card has an Nvidia chipset, you can download the latest Detonator drivers and reasonably expect a performance gain.
A budget to grow on
The Xtasy 5864 may lack the sex appeal of being the latest and greatest innovation in 3D-graphics technology, but the truth is it can still render most 3D games faster than you're physically capable of playing them, and its low price leaves you some cash to spend on a state-of-the-art sound card or speaker system. However, if you have an extra monitor around, you may prefer the ATI Radeon 7500, which sells for the same price but has dual-monitor capability and slightly better overall performance.
|Quake III Arena test
Frames per second; longer bars indicate better performance
|3D test: MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro
Longer bars indicate better performance
|3D test: eTesting Labs' 3D WinBench 2000 1.1
Longer bars indicate better performance
|The Xtasy 5864's 3D performance at the mainstream setting of 1,024x768 resolution and 32-bit color was just slightly slower than that of the midrange Hercules 3D Prophet III Titanium 200 and the like-priced ATI Radeon 7500. It falters badly at a higher 1,600x1,200 resolution, however, so it clearly has its limits when it comes to high-intensity gaming.