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Big Power in a Small Package
There are plenty of good video cards to choose from. But what if you need a video card which is smaller than normal? As soon as you start looking at low profile video cards your options become much more limited, yet purchasing a low profile video card makes a lot of sense for those who have small computers or simply don't need the power provided by a video card the size of a foot-long sub.
This guide highlights three of the best low profile video cards. They are all excellent products capable of providing reasonable graphics processing power without the need for a separate mailing address.
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ASUS Radeon 4350 Silent
The Radeon 4350 has been around the block. In fact, I recommended it all the way back in December of 2008 as part of a HTPC video card guide.
Yet here it is. The reason the Radeon 4350 still earns my vote is that I still can't think of another video card which can provide so much for so little. Granted, this is not a gamer's video card. But the Radeon 4350 is capable of smoothly playing back any sort of GPU accelerated video that you can think of. The Radeon 4350 is also capable of seamlessly playing back audio through its HDMI connection, which means that HTPC users only need to run one HDMI cable from their HTPC to their receiver or television for both video and audio.
The ASUS Silent card has earned my specific recommendation because it has a great passive cooler. It also has DVI, VGA and HDMI outputs. All for the low price of $35 bucks. That's a steal and there is still no other card in this price range which offers a better overall value.
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ATI has been working hard on creating a full range of budget-minded parts to flesh out the Radeon 5000 series. The Radeon HD5570 is currently the most powerful Radeon available which can be used as a low profile card. While it's performance isn't jaw-dropping, it is certainly respectable. Most games will run without issue on resolutions of 1680 x 1050 or less. Certainly, this card is more than enough if your favorite game is World of Warcraft or Team Fortress 2. The Radeon HD5570 is also of course capable of playing back high definition video without issue.
There are unfortunately no passively cooled HD5570s currently available, so I am not making any specific recommendation as to which company's card you should buy. All of the reference based HD5570s are basically the same. They include DVI, VGA, and HDMI ports as well as a small fan near the rear of the card. Prices range from $75 to $90 dollars. My recommendation is to simply purchase the least expensive model you can find as there are no performance advantages held by the more expensive models. Make sure the card you want is a low profile card, however, because some manufacturers are selling HD5570s with over-sized fans which will not allow the card to be used in a low profile configuration.
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Sparkle Geforce 9800GT 512MB
One of the most interesting things about the video card market is how some manufacturers get creative in finding ways to sell cards with older chips that are no longer competitive with the latest and greatest products. The Spakle Geforce 9800GT is a perfect example of the results that can come from a little ingenuity. In its day the 9800GT was one of the fastest cards around, and its performance is still respectable. There are very few games which can seriously challenge a 9800GT at resolutions of 1680 x 1050 or below.
Even so, the 9800GT is easily outperformed by ATI's new Radeon 5000 series products. So Sparkle has created a unique, low-profile version of the 9800GT. This new design from Sparkle is about half the size of the original reference design and includes a much smaller cooler as well. The result? The Sparkle 9800GT is the fastest low profile video card currently available and the only option for those of you who for some reason want to turn a tiny mini-ATX machine into a gaming computer.
Priced at about $100 bucks, the Sparkle is even a good value, as it is significantly faster than the Radeon HD5570 in most games. There only downside is the fan. Because a smaller cooler had to be used, the fan needs to spin more quickly, which results in a fair bit of noise. This means the Sparkle isn't great for HTPCs, but it will serve well in most other computers.