With a new 3D graphics API on the horizon with the release of Windows Vista, there may seem little point to buying a new DirectX 9 graphics card now. However, when you consider the lack of a single game that uses DirectX 10 features and that Windows Vista won't be in consumers' hands until January, it's clear DirectX 9 performance is what matters today.
The only line of DirectX 10 cards currently available, the GeForce 8800 offers the fastest DX 9 performance possible, but with a high price tag to match. The sub £200 balance of performance and value is a more popular selling point, and the Asus EN7900GS fits into this bracket.
The 7900GS is a slightly cut down Nvidia GeForce 7900GT with four less pixel pipelines, reducing its throughput slightly. This model from Asus differs in that both memory and GPU have been overclocked, giving a 20 per cent speed boost over other 7900GS cards. The 256MB of GDDR3 memory clocks in at 1.44GHz, with the GPU at 590MHz.
Unlike the Nvidia G80 cards, the 7900GS board is slim and does not obscure a PCI slot with its heatsink, making it a good choice for small form factor PCs. Vendors now have one less excuse not to include a GPU capable of decent 3D rendering.
The performance on offer with the Asus EN7900GS is excellent, and it achieved better benchmarks than a stock Nvidia GeForce 7900GS. A 256MB frame buffer is still sufficient to run most games in high resolution, although this could be the weakest point in the EN7900GS specifications list.
Putting a pair of Asus EN7900GS cards into an SLI configuration behaves the same with this card as with many others, save for one big difference: the price. Previously, SLI meant spending a small fortune for two GPUs, but with the EN7900GS, a high performing SLI setup costs less than £300, bringing performance closer to the G80 cards but still requiring less outlay.
Performance in DirectX 9 applications will continue to be the main selling point of video cards for some time to come, and it may be awhile before there are more than a handful of gaming titles, like Crysis, that showcase the Vista-only API. Until then a 7900GS will not disappoint, although ATi's similarly priced card offers serious competition. Orestis Bastounis