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NVIDIA MX-440-8x - getting acquainted
It may surprise you to learn that the high-end VGA cards aren't the money makers for their respective manufacturers. Both NVIDIA and ATI openly talk about the fact that their big bucks comes from the mainstream market and that the high-end only makes up 2-5% of their sales. That 2-5% figure may be suspect, however the general point is that most of their money comes from their lower priced, lesser performing models. So why do they spend so much money in promoting their high-end boards?

Well apparently it's to do with prestige. If your top-of-the-range model out performs your competitors then obviously it's good for the company name. However there is another, more subtle reason. If you are cost conscious then you might take a look at the budget board and see that it's only got a few features knocked off in comparison to the "competitor beating" high-end model. You then start to believe that you don't require the extra features on the high-end board and even without these features your budget board will perform pretty well - after all the high-end board is a world beater, right?

So maybe our elementary psychology isn't quite up to scratch but NVIDIA and ATI stake a lot of money on their budget, mainstream boards doing well. Since they intend to sell these by the millions it's important they get the balance of price against performance just right. In some cases we've heard that performance has to take a back seat to price, and although initially this may sound alarming after listening to the reasoning behind this, it's a pretty fair argument.

In the mainstream market consumers aren't looking for 15,000+ 3DMarks or a consistent 250+ frames per second in Quake 3. Most of the time they are using their computer to write a letter, browse the Internet and play the occasional game. Any graphics accelerator made in the last 3/4 years can cope perfectly with writing a letter or browsing the internet. So it's the gaming element that stresses the VGA card the most. With the current line of accelerators from both NVIDIA and ATI coping well with today's games it is possible to cut down on some of the features that are present in those graphical processing units and still retain an acceptable level of performance.

One has to remember that what might seem acceptable through gamer's perspective is most probably not the view of someone on the street. The MX range from NVIDIA was introduced with the Geforce 2 and was extremely popular with mainstream consumers. It provided a good blend of price and performance and NVIDIA revamped the MX for the Geforce 4.

Initially it wasn't a success story. Many people said that the Geforce 4 MX wasn't much of a leap from it's Geforce 2 stable mate. Through aggressive pricing techniques and the phasing out of older MX boards, Geforce 4 MX boards have sold well, if not spectacularly. In the last 2 months we've seen an explosion of AGP 3.0 or AGP 8x motherboards and VGA cards hit the street and with NVIDIA still reeling from ATI's Radeon 9700 PRO it was important that they managed to get number of "new" products out to market. The NV18, otherwise known as the MX440-8X was launched in September and was really a higher clocked and AGP 8x enabled version of the MX440.

ATI put forward their offering some months before NVIDIA with the Radeon 9000 and the Radeon 9000 PRO. We looked at the Hercules Prophet 9000 PRO, which was sadly overpriced, however ATI's model comes in at 85 including VAT and has the same sort of performance margins. It is imperative that NVIDIA stops the gains made by ATI in the second half of this year in all sectors, not just the prestigious high-end.

Today we look at two boards, the V9180S from Asus and the MX480 from Albatron. MSI's MX440-VTD8X did not appear in time for this review, however a separate review of that board will be published in the coming weeks.