For Ubuntu, an expensive graphics card may actually be a worse choice than a cheap one.
Ubuntu is an excellent choice for an operating system for many reasons. It has a sleek, modern interface that is easy to navigate and learn. Ubuntu is virtually virus and malware-free, which means you don’t need antivirus software. It is an open-source operating system, meaning no licenses are needed to develop for it. It is also free to download and install. However, it requires careful consideration of which graphics cards you can use.
While ATI cards for Windows generally produce the greatest range of features and best performance, under the Ubuntu platform, most are simply not a good choice. Some features, such as 3-D or TV output, have limited success under the platform using ATI cards when they work at all. The Radeon X1950 GT, Mobility Radeon 2300HD and Mobility Radeon x200 all work out of the box, with the latter having the best performance of the lot.
Nvidia cards have traditionally been a good “bang for the buck” video card on the Windows PC. For Ubuntu, these cards are an exceptional choice, because the manufacturer creates drivers specifically for the operating system. While virtually any Nvidia card will work under the operating system, 3-D features require a special driver. Aside from this caveat, the GeForce 8800 GT delivers good performance at low cost, while the GeForce GTS 250 produces top performance at a moderate cost.
Matrox video cards are an aging choice that would be virtually unacceptable for a modern PC running Windows. However, if you are not looking for a cutting-edge 3-D experience, they can produce good results on the Ubuntu platform. In fact, if all you are doing is running simple applications and surfing the Internet, they are all you need. The Matrox Parhelia-512 is perhaps the best offering and the least expensive video card you are likely to find.
Making Your Choice
If you have no intention of running 3-D games or programs that demand video resources (such as desktop publishing, photo manipulation or video editing), you might be better off with a cheap Matrox card. For the middle range, the GeForce 8800 will likely perform well for you for a couple of years. However, if you are looking for a card that will remain up-to-date for quite some time, the GeForce GTS 250 has high-end performance and features that will serve you well.