I receive a lot of mail nowadays from people who don't know which graphic accelerator card to get and I can understand that there are a lot of choices for all kind of different needs. There's a lot of hype thrown at us from all the different card and chip manufacturers on the graphic market too and you can easily face a huge disappointment if you should make the wrong choice.
The difficulty in choosing the right video accelerator card comes from the different needs we have for this piece of hardware. As usual we'd prefer getting a card that can do everything at an excellent level and this if somehow possible for a low price as well. However the miracolous cheap all-round card isn't out yet and I guess that it will possibly take forever until all our needs will be pleased. Hence we have to make our mind up what is most important to us and also how much money we are willing to spend.
The first question we have to ask ourselves is if we will use our system mainly for professional work or mainly for games. Most professional cards are not great at games and vice versa. If you've already got a video card in your system, ask yourself if you're pleased with its 2D performance at professional work and if you just want to purchase an add on card for games. In this case you still have the professional performance of your current video card and add some real good gaming performance with the add on 3D card. You will need an additional PCI slot though.
Considerations for Gamers
Direct3D or Proprietary 3D Engine?
You'll now have to decide what kind of games are important to you. Currently the graphically best games are often designed for a special graphic chip, or at least they look best with this one chip. The number one supported 3D graphic chip is nowadays the 3Dfx Voodoo, found on add on cards like the Orchid Righteous3D, Diamond's Monster3D and several others. It looks as if upcoming games will still support this particular chip and since the Voodoo 2 is already on the horizon, you can expect 3Dfx's 'Glide' engine staying supported by many games for a long time. Alternatively to a special 3D chip support, many new games are using Direct3D's new features quite heaviliy, so that it depends on how well the 3D card's driver translates Direct3D to their proprietary engine. PowerVR's PCX1 and PCX2 chips are quite powerful 3D chips, but the cards that use them are highly incompatible. I've seen only very few games that run on this chip properly. If the PCX engine is used directly, the games look awesome though. The only 3D chip to my knowledge, that doesn't have a dedicated 3D engine, but is using Direct3D as its API directly, is NVidia's RIVA 128 chip, currently the fastest Direct3D chip available on the market. The RIVA 128 is wonderful for Direct3D games, but games that are only supporting a bunch of proprietary 3D engines will not run on the RIVA 128. The future will bring almost any game in Direct3D, which will help NVidia's RIVA a lot.