I've been looking for graphics cards for my new hybrid system today, and have come across the EVGA 256-P2-N549-T2 which sells on newegg.com for $70.99.
There are a few reasons why I think this card is a good candidate. I would be grateful for any comments on my reasoning.
The card uses the nVidia GeForce 7600GS chipset. First, everyone seems to recommend nVidia. Second, it seems that XvMC support would be a good idea, to shift MPEG 2 decoding to the card (even though I'm going to get a AMD Phenom quad core processor). From what I have read, the driver does not currently support anything higher than the GeForce 7000 series. So, I looked for a card that supports the highest 7000 series chip set.
Next, I want to be able to use UI2 with alpha blending. The wiki says that the 7000 series will support this, with at least 128MB. This card has 256MB RAM.
I want to output 1080p over HDMI. Unfortunately, I can't find any cards that have a HDMI interface and meet my other requirements. No problem though, as the card has a DVI interface so I can use an inexpensive DVI->HDMI adapter which should not affect quality.
Last, and I'm not sure what real difference this makes, this card is a 128 bit card rather than 64 bit. It uses the PCI Express x16 bus, and has a 400MHz clock.
What do you think?
Well a quick search of the forums will tell you that 7600 cards are not plug-n-play currently. They seems to get mis-identified by the AVwizard and this causes some problems and will mean some manual configuration will be needed.
I would suggest that you just avoid that problem and get yourself a 7300GT or GS (I use one of these personally on my home Core and we build them into some of our commercial systems too) - there is really no advantage in buying a better card than that currently. Here in the UK we can buy these for less than 20 UKP currently so I would guess that you will be able to significantly beat that being in the US ;-)
The 7300 class cards will perform as well as any other suitable nVidia card if you are set on UI2 + Alpha blending... which means you will experience some tearing on horizontal panning when playing video content.
Hope this helps