The last bit of hardware from my recent shopping spree that I’ll look at is the Sapphire Radeon 7000. This card is manufactured by Sapphire using an ATI chip.
Newegg sells several versions of this card and the prices start at $31. The most basic card is just that, basic: 32 megs of SDRAM and plain old VGA out. I stepped up to a higher-end version of the card, which offers 64 megs of DDR and S-video and composite out. I think that’s worth the extra five bucks I paid.

What can I say? It’s a budget card at a budget price. But when I bought my STB Velocity 128 card with the nVidia Riva128 chipset, it was a performance card. The gap in performance between this Radeon and the Riva128 feels as big as the gap between the Riva and the first Trident-based PCI video card I ever bought, back in 1995.

I tried one in a Celeron-366 and in a 1.3 GHz Duron. Its performance in the Duron was higher. Clearly the CPU was the bottleneck in the Celeron system.

The 7000 lacks some features that high-end gaming cards have. It has fewer pipelines than the higher-end Radeons, and half the memory bandwidth. It also lacks some of the hardware texture and lighting features you expect to find in a performance card of today.

But not everybody cares about those things. It plays Civilization 3 and Railroad Tycoon II just fine, thank you very much, and for word processing and e-mail and Web browsing the memory bandwidth isn’t terribly critical and the rendering pipelines and T&L are completely irrelevant. If you’re into productivity software and strategy games, a Radeon 7000 will treat you right and leave money in your pocket for other things.

Radeon support under Linux is good, mostly because a lot of new Macs have been shipping with Radeons for the past couple of years. Support under Windows, of course, is a non-issue.

The TV out support is nice if your system sports a DVD drive; in a pinch your computer can fill in for your DVD player. The card offers MPEG-2 acceleration, which is nice if your system has an aging CPU in it. Armed with a Radeon 7000 and a DVD drive, my Celeron-366 still dropped frames occasionally, but fewer than it did with an older card.

This card is overmatched in a monster gaming rig, but if you’re looking to put a little more punch in a two-year-old PC, this is a cheap way to get it. If you’re building a new PC and don’t care about 3D gaming performance, one of these $36 Radeon 7000s is all the card you need. Probably more. It’ll allow you to sink some money into something that’ll help your overall performance out more, like a faster hard drive or more memory. Or SCSI. 🙂 As far as I’m concerned, this card is a superstar for the price of a wanna-be. Go get it.