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The next generation of mid-range graphics cards are just around the corner, so should you even consider purchasing a GeForce 7600GT or Radeon X1650XT graphics card? Currently the average 7600GT costs just $130, while the X1650XT is closer to $150. At these prices both present very affordable upgrade solutions, and while we can not predict the future something tells us that we won't see DirectX10 cards this affordable until at least the end of next year.

Given the fact that both products can run the majority of new games at 1600x1200 with maximum in-game quality settings enabled, there is no real reason why you should ignore them in the hope that the next generation mainstream contenders will be much more powerful.

When the GeForce 7600GT was released this past June, it was being sold for around $220, so you can expect the next generation replacements to begin life at a similar price point. Currently, for the same amount of money, a GeForce 7900GS or Radeon X1950 Pro can be purchased. In fact, just last month we pitched the new X1950 Pro against the reigning champion of the $200 price range, which was of course the 7900GS. After several rounds of testing we found that while the X1950 Pro was slightly more expensive, it did deliver much better performance overall.

Today we have a very similar match-up in our hands, perhaps the last one we will make for this generation of graphics boards, as the much newer and slightly more expensive X1650XT will go head to head with the 7600GT.

Pound for pound the GeForce 7600GT has always been the most powerful option the mainstream market has got to offer, and it has been this way ever since it was released. I feel Nvidia did it right with the 7600GT, and they did it on the first time round. ATI, on the other hand, made a bit of a mess of their X1000 series, starting with poor execution as they were many months behind Nvidia every step of the way.

Then, once the products became available they were underachievers. The X1600 Pro was a poor match up for the 7600GS and the X1600XT was no match for the 7600GT. While ATI did a fine job when it came to high-end hardware, they completely missed the boat with their mainstream products. The Radeon X1650XT is ATI's last attempt at setting the record straight before Nvidia clobber them once again with their next generation products (rumored to start appearing in the $200 range by mid 2007).

So, while purchasing a mainstream graphics card a month ago was an easy choice with the 7600GT being the obvious option, ATI is hoping to complicate things with a real contender in the form of the Radeon X1650XT. On paper this card is a bit of a weapon, though core and memory frequencies are lower than the Nvidia board, it crushes it in the race with more pipelines. The 7600GT is equipped with 12 pixel pipes, 1 texture mapping unit and 5 vertex processing units. The X1650XT boasts 24 pixel pipes, 1 texture mapping unit and 8 vertex processing units. So with twice as many pixel pipelines the X1650XT should have a performance advantage over the 7600GT.

Built around the new RV560 core, this chip uses an 80nm design process and comes clocked at 575MHz. ATI has gone with GDDR3 memory which is clocked at 1350MHz and allows for a peak bandwidth of 21.6GB/s. Without any more messing about theoretical performance outputs, let's move onto the benchmarking section of this article.