Until now, nVidia has failed to launch any DirectX 10.0 cards at a price that's accessible to the general populace – but all that's
set to change.

The PNY GeForce 8600 GTS 256MB is the standard bearer for the firm's new cards. It's the most expensive but, at £133, remains affordable.

At first glance, the hardware is tuned for high performance. The memory clock speed is fantastic, and the 675MHz core clock speed is impressive too. However, whereas nVidia's 8800 GTS cards have 320bit memory interfaces, the 8600 GTS boasts just 128bit. Consequently, the memory bandwidth is a slightly disappointing 32GBps (gigabytes per second) – this card will get bogged down once games start throwing complicated graphics code at it.

This isn't the only area where the new cards struggle. The 32 stream processors (these replace the fixed pixel and vertex shaders of pre-8800 cards) compare with three times as many offered by even the 320MB version of the 8800 GTS.

In our games tests, we found the 8600 GTS to be roughly on a par with the GeForce 7950 GT, which costs almost £30 more – that's a victory of sorts. However, with new ATI cards about to drop by, nVidia needed the 8600 GTS to offer a bigger advantage over existing products to be competitive.

It's also debatable whether these DirectX 10.0 cards will live up to the name. There aren't currently any proper DirectX 10.0 titles available for testing (you can expect such games to emerge in numbers towards the end of the month), but initial benchmark scores suggest that the 8600 GTS is likely to struggle with DirectX 10.0 games.

Of course, the 8600 GTS isn't all about performance – the visuals it produces are very attractive. There's certainly room for improvement, but the GTS makes a reasonably good job of playing high-definition video.

PNY GeForce 8600 GTS: Specs

  • nVidia GeForce 8600 GTS graphics processor
  • 256MB GDDR3 RAM
  • core clock 675MHz
  • memory clock 1GHz (2GHz DDR effective)
  • manufacturing process 0.08-micron
  • 32 stream processors
  • 128bit memory interface
  • PCI Express
  • DirectX 10.0
  • DVI
  • video-out
  • nVidia GeForce 8600 GTS graphics processor
  • 256MB GDDR3 RAM
  • core clock 675MHz
  • memory clock 1GHz (2GHz DDR effective)
  • manufacturing process 0.08-micron
  • 32 stream processors
  • 128bit memory interface
  • PCI Express
  • DirectX 10.0
  • DVI
  • video-out

OUR VERDICT

Mainstream next-generation ATI cards will be launched in the next month or two – if you're in the market for a £100-£150 card, we'd recommend that you wait until then before deciding whether to buy the 8600 GTS. It has some nice features but, for our money, it's not a sufficiently major advance over existing mass-market chips to be a tempting buy.

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