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DirectX 10 game titles look fantastic and are truly the future of gaming, so you're interested in jumping on-board, read on as Windows explains all about your mid-range GPU choices...

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  February 16, 2008

DirectX 10 game titles look fantastic and are truly the future of gaming, so you're interested in jumping on-board, read on as Windows explains all about your mid-range GPU choices...

Every game you play is powered by a game engine that is responsible for creating the visuals you see on-screen. These engines use specific techniques such as shading etc by talking or interfacing with a graphics API (Application Program Interfaces) to get the job done.

Essentially an API is the interface sitting between the app or game and the physical hardware. It basically talks to the hardware and tells it exactly what the program wants to do.

Currently, the best looking games (Crysis and Gears of Wear for example) make use of the newest DirectX 10 (DX 10) API, which in turn offers support for a specification known as Shader Model 4.0 (SM 4.0) (older titles still use DirectX 9 (DX 9)).

However, while developers have a choice of whether or not to use DX 10 at the moment, in the not too distant future, DX 10 will likely become the standard API of choice. For your graphics or VGA card to render these games properly - i.e. how the developers intended their games to look on your screen - however, the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) powering your card needs to ‘speak the language'.

Thankfully, both AMD and nVidia have cost-effective, mainstream GPUs that fit the bill. In most cases, the GPUs, and thus the graphics cards they're built into, that fall into this mainstream segment retail for between US $150 and $300.

It's true that mainstream GPUs can be found on more expensive cards, but these are generally specialist cards that are either pre-overclocked (set at a higher clock frequency than normal for further enhanced performance) or feature more graphics memory. These models can sell for as much as $100 more than their standard, reference-design brethren. Let's get started examining what mid-range, DirectX10 GPUs AMD and nVidia offer.

CLOSE-UP: AMD GPUs

The firm released its latest mid-range series of GPUs (AKA graphics chipsets) last November, known as the Radeon HD 3800 series. At present two GPUs are being shipped to card manufacturers; the Radeon HD 3870 (codenamed RV670 XT) and the Radeon HD 3850 (RV670 Pro).

The launch of this GPU series involved the initiation of a new GPU naming scheme for AMD. In the past, the firm had differentiated its GPUs' various speed grades by using either two or three characters (XT/XTX /Pro) after the GPU series' model number. (Generally ‘XTX' signified the highest-end component, so if you came across a Radeon X1950 XTX card, it was the top model in the X1950 series.)

Now though, AMD has done away with the character labeling and instead varies the last two digits in the model number itself, with higher numbers representing a higher-end, more expensive part. So now when you look at the 3870 and 3850, the first two digits signify both cards belong to the 3800 series and the 70 signifies the higher end chipset.

That's not the end of the story however as AMD has plans to release cards featuring multiple GPUs on a single PCB (Printed Circuit Board) in coming months.

Nine vs ten

Microsoft's DirectX 10 (DX 10) API is much more feature rich than its predecessor, DX 9. In a nutshell, the new API makes it possible for developers to create almost photo-realistic gaming graphics. Both of the images above are from Microsoft's Flight Simulator X though the screen at the bottom is rendered using DX 10 whilst the one at the top is created using DX 9 .

The bottom image looks far better thanks to its more realistic looking clouds and water effects. All of the GPUs we talk about in this feature, as well as in the review pages thereafter, are capable of DX 10 rendering.

DX 10.1, expected by the middle of this year, will add minor updates to DX 10 but you'll still need a compatible GPU if you want your games to look their best.

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