Gaming gurus can obsess all they want about things like vertex performance. What I see when I look at the video card lineup is that graphics cards right now are very, very cheap for the performance they deliver. With DirectX 10 just over the horizon but not yet here on Windows, the current generation of cards just keeps getting cheaper, all while gaining from tweaks in performance and power. Result? $150 buys you an excellent graphics card if you’ve got a PC case that can handle it. (Small form factor Shuttle, anyone?)

Budget ATI salvo

Today’s announcement is that ATI is coming out with its own X1650 XT offering to counter the dominance of the NVIDIA 7600 GT. When it ships mid-month, the 1650 should be priced at around $150, provided vendor partners don’t up the price. That could make it an excellent deal if you want to stick with ATI, though the 7600 GT remains a fantastic card; I have one in my Shuttle and love it.

For VJs and live visualists, a cheap but reliable video card is a great asset. I use my 7600 to power custom graphics in Unreal, 3D in Processing and Jitter, and better video performance. What’s stunning is that the cards that were $300 this summer are now going for US$150, so if you’ve been waiting to upgrade, now is the time. Put it on your Christmas list if you have to. Coverage of the new card has been quick in appearing:

Introducing the Radeon X1650 XT: A New Mainstream GPU from ATI [Detailed overview, review, and benchmarks from AnandTech, via Gizmodo]

AMD unveils ATI Radeon X1650 XT [The Register]

What about mobile?

The market that seems to be suffering at the moment is the notebook market. Intel’s integrated graphics chips, while their performance is lackluster for anything beyond basic 3D and video playback, let laptop vendors sell cheap systems. On the PC, some makers have been kind enough to offer cheap custom graphics options using mobile versions of the card architectures from ATI and NVIDIA. Even something like an affordable NVIDIA 7300 or ATI X1400 adds a much-needed performance boost. Mac users are the ones who pay the cost here, because the cheapest Apple system with discrete graphics (non-integrated, in other words) is the MacBook Pro, starting at US$1999; PC options with similar graphics start under US$1000. I expect in the future we’ll see integrated chips that don’t suck, especially as AMD promises the upcoming “Fusion” architecture which will bear the fruits of their acquisition of ATI. In the meantime, though, it’s an excellent argument for seeking out a PC builder that lets you customize specs, if you desire anything beyond basic-level graphics performance.