Radeon X1800 GTO - $185.99 Newegg:
While the GeForce 6150’s integrated graphics capabilities are good enough to get by for basic HTPC duties, if you want to mix in a little bit of gaming at moderately high detail settings/screen resolutions as well you’re going to need a dedicated graphics card to get the best performance. In addition, while the GeForce 6150 does support some PureVideo capability, it won’t be particularly robust at H.264 decoding of HD content, nor does it support features like spatial temporal de-interlacing or inverse telecine for high-definition content. For those kinds of features you’re going to want to step up to a higher-end GeForce card.
What makes the decision tough for HTPC users however is the lack of support for HDCP in today’s latest graphics cards. As Alan mentioned in his HDCP fiasco article, while today’s GPUs support HDCP, the graphics card manufacturers haven’t implemented it on most of their boards, there are only a handful of graphics cards on the market with HDCP support, and with the exception of ATI’s FireGL V7350, none of them have hit the retail market yet.
Because the market is in such a flux right now, it may not be best for HTPC users to break the bank and spend $300 or more on a graphics card. Besides, the faster graphics cards tend to generate more heat and thus require noisier coolers. The X1900 XT/XTX in particular has developed a reputation for being a noisy graphics card.
Therefore we’re sticking with graphics cards in the sub-$200 price range for this HTPC build. Today’s $200 cards are more powerful than ever, delivering performance roughly on par with the high-end $400 cards of a few years ago like the GeForce 6800 GT.
The fastest of these $200 cards right now is NVIDIA’s GeForce 7600 GT. The GeForce 7600 GT is largely based on NVIDIA’s G71 GPU, in fact we dubbed it half a GeForce 7900 in our 7600 GT Performance Preview article, as the 7600 GT has half the number of pixel shaders as the GeForce 7900 GT and half the ROPs. Its memory interface is also 128-bit, half the width of the 7900’s 256-bit memory interface. It does however have five vertex shading units, which is just three less than the GeForce 7900 GT, and runs at high clock speeds of 560MHz core/700MHz memory (1.4GHz effective), making it considerably faster than its intended competitor, the Radeon X1600 XT.
In more recent weeks however ATI has countered the GeForce 7600 GT with the Radeon X1800 GTO. Initially the Radeon X1800 GTO sold for $50 or more than the GeForce 7600 GT, but board prices on X1800 GTO cards are quickly falling and now retailers like Newegg are beginning to carry the card for under $200. Considering that these boards are based on the exact same R520 GPU found in the rest of ATI’s X1800 family, boasting a 256-bit memory interface only with 12 pixel shaders instead of 16, the X1800 GTO is quite the deal. In addition, ATI’s Radeon X1800 GTO offers full support for ATI’s Avivo video enhancement features, without any fees. For all these reasons, we’re going to go with the X1800 GTO for our HTPC build.
If the Radeon X1800 GTO is a little too pricey, the aforementioned GeForce 7600 GT would be an excellent alternative. The 7600 GT and Radeon X1800 GTO perform fairly closely to one another, with each card winning its fair share of benchmarks, although the Radeon X1800 GTO is a little faster overall. The GeForce 7600 GT also supports NVIDIA’s PureVideo technology, fits in a single-slot package, and doesn’t generate much heat, making it ideal for use in an HTPC. Prices on GeForce 7600 GT cards start at about $160 and go up from there, making it a little cheaper than the Radeon X1800 GTO as well.