While Nvidia remains quite dominant in the high-end segment, a much larger battle has taken place to offer the best mainstream graphics product. Currently the two leading mainstream cards are the Nvidia GeForce 8600 GTS and the ATI Radeon HD 2600XT, both of which are priced well under $200.
As you may recall, we reviewed the first GeForce 8600 GTS cards back in May, while the Radeon HD 2600XT did not hit shelves until late July. This gave the GeForce plenty of time to establish itself before the Radeon HD arrived. However, unlike many expected, the 8600 GTS did not exactly hit the ground running, as the retail price was quite steep at $200-230, giving existing GeForce 7 cards an edge as they were actually cheaper and in many cases faster.
Furthermore, the fact that the GeForce 8600 GTS brought DirectX 10 support to the table was somewhat pointless given that there were no games that took advantage of it at the time.
After some heavy price reductions the GeForce 8600 GTS has now reached a point where it makes sense to recommend it. But of course, there is a new player in town now, the Radeon HD 2600XT carries a MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) of just $150 and specifications to match the GeForce 8600 GTS.
The Radeon HD 2600XT pricing does vary depending on the brand and specifications, as there are a number of variations of this product. While the majority of GeForce 8600 GTS graphics cards come loaded with 256MB GDDR3 memory, there are as many 256MB Radeon HD 2600XT cards as there are 512MB versions. We have found that the Radeon HD 2600XT can come fitted with GDDR4 memory as well as GDDR3 memory, which translates in prices ranging from as low as $100 and up to $170. The more expensive cards all seem to be factory overclocked and generally come with 512MB of on-board memory.
Today we will be comparing these two mid-range graphics cards head to head using a 512MB VisionTek Radeon HD 2600XT and a 256MB ASUS GeForce 8600 GTS. While neither product features overclocking out of the box, the Radeon has an obvious advantage in that it sports twice as much video memory. And while this may appear to be unfair, we have found that the average 512MB Radeon HD 2600XT graphics card retails for just $140, while the average price of a GeForce 8600 GTS sporting 256MB of memory is $160. That said, 512MB versions of the GeForce 8600 GTS are priced at over $200.