Best Video Cards

Without a doubt, we're seeing new high-end graphics processors moving down the same path we saw CPU's go about ten years ago. The first dedicated graphics boards were equipped with no cooling at all, just a bare core sitting on a chunk of PCB. About five years back, we started seeing small heatsinks on the graphics cores. As graphics cards have progressed, we've started seeing small fans attached to the cores of increasingly hot GPU's.

Nowadays, we're seeing high-end cards with heatsinks on the memory, along with high-speed fans cooling the graphics chips. Some of these new coolers (especially for nVidia's GeForce3 / Titanium) series can get pretty loud and annoying. Still, there are still many options for us looking for great 3D performance with zero noise.

Up until a few weeks ago, we would have recommended nVidia's GeForce2 MX graphics cards for people who want silence. They perform pretty well for their price, and can be run just fine with a large heatsink on the graphics core, without any fans. In fact, the original reference GeForce2 MX board we got from nVidia had no cooling on it at all, and still ran just fine.

The MX is old news though, nVidia's GeForce3 Titanium 200 is today, and is seemingly the next generation of the MX-family. The GeForce3 Ti200 comes with the same core and DDR memory interface as the standard GeForce3 and GeForce3 Ti500, but comes at slower clock speeds. At these reduced clock speeds, the Ti200 core runs cool enough to not require active cooling.

nVidia's GeForce3 Ti200 - Silent AND Deadly

Even better, using passive cooling techniques, many Ti200 cards can be over clocked well beyond their stock speeds. Our nVidia reference Ti200 card was able to easily over clock to 235 MHz core / 510 MHz memory, up from the stock 175 MHz core / 400 MHz memory. At these speeds, the Ti200 card is within 5% of the speed of nVidia's top of the line GeForce3 Titanium 500, and still is emitting absolutely zero noise. Low cost, zero noise, and great performance. The Ti200 is a winner on all fronts.

Since all of you aren't all nVidia fans, it should be known that ATI's Radeon DDR and Radeon 8500 come by default with very small, quiet fans, with very small heatsink. Unfortunately, ATI hard-glues their heatsink/fan units directly to the graphics processor, but there is little doubt in my mind that the new 0.15 micron-based Radeon 8500 processor could run just fine with an oversized passive heatsink.

Let's not forget, Matrox's snappy little multimonitor G550 card comes with no active cooling, thus running completely silent. This card is great for business-types or creative users who like multiple monitors.