July 2008 was the month that the graphics card industry took another big leap forward. Nvidia launched a new range of 200-series cards, with the record-breaking GeForce GTX280 leading from the front.
But ATI has been busy also, and has likewise launched a new batch of supercards. The interesting thing is that ATI and Nvidia have both taken very different routes with their new generation of graphics chips.
Nvidia has gone for brute force – the GTX280 is the most powerful graphics card ever created, with the cheaper GTX260 not too far behind.
ATI on the other hand, has decided to go down the 'value for money' path. Its new 4000-series cards are clocking in at speeds just below the Nvidia ones, but crucially they cost a hell of a lot less.
To celebrate the release of these awesome new graphics cards, here's our round-up of the top 10 graphics cards available today.
NVIDIA GeForce 8800GT
The GeForce 8800GT is a stonkingly good graphics card. When it came out last year, it offered performance just a fraction underneath the 8800GTX for a fraction of the cost.
It has 112 stream processors - each of which is individually clocked at 1. 5GHz - plus a 256-bit memory interface running at 900MHz.
And while the 8800GT is designed for PCI Express 2.0 (offering 5Gbps throughput), it's backwards compatible with original 2.5Gbps PCI Express slots too. The 8800GT was also the first 65nm GPU that Nvidia produced.
This more efficient process technology not only shrinks the size of the circuitry but reduces the overall power consumption. You can get this card for under £100 now which is phenomenal value for money. Beware the horrendous 256MB versions though – it's 512MB or nothing for this card.
NVIDIA GeForce 9600GT
The 9600GT is a relatively low-budget graphics card that makes the others in the sub-£200 market all but redundant.
The gaming performance is on a par with the G92-based 8800GT, dropping a few frames per second here and there, but never enough to really make a difference to the naked eye at standard resolutions.
Of course, if you're driving a very hi-res panel at 2,560 x 1,600 then you're going to have trouble getting smooth framerates at the native resolution, but if you're willing to pay out for such a mammoth screen then you'll be able to afford at least two of these, or a more expensive card.
Compared to NVIDIA's 8800GS and the awful 8800GT 256MB version - both of which are still retailing at well above the cost of the 9600GT - this card walks all over them.
NVIDIA GeForce 8800GTS
You'll spot this latest version of the GeForce 8800GTS card because it nominally carries 512MB of memory on board - not unlike the 8800GT.
Inside its silicon heart there are yet more similarities with the GT: it's based, for example, on the G92 core.
In brief, G92 is a refined version of G80, designed on a 65nm process with a more polished instruction issue engine and capable of much higher clockspeeds. It also features the Pure Video 2 engine for improved HD decoding.
To earn its extra consonant, the 8800GTS has the full complement of 128 stream processors previously seen in the 8800GTX and Ultra cards, and thanks to the difference in G92 architecture, it has double the number of texture address units that those cards boasted.
On paper then, it's a superior card in every manner - from clock speeds to shader counts - to every previous NVIDIA chip.
However, if you go for this card you need to make sure you don't buy one of the older versions (which had 640 or 320MB of memory) – unless you're getting a significant discount.