I only consider nvidia cards for linux, so my view is skewed.
Unfortunately we're getting back to a state where just about all cards < $100 are crap, and you're lucky to find anything worthwhile in the 100-200 range too. The higher end cards are 200+.
A couple of years back you could get an 8800gt/9800gt for a little over $100, and they were great performers (still are, really).
IMHO the only card really worthwhile right now for under $100 (at least on the nvidia side of things) is a 240gt with ddr5. I bought one the other day for $50.00, but it looks like they're getting increasingly hard to find. They will absolutely smoke 210/430/520's etc., and they have a full vdpau feature set. It would be the ideal current card for a gaming HTPC if only they came in low profile versions :|
The card is mainly used with passive cooling for apps like xbmc. It is certainly not for hardcore gaming, some simpler/old games would run however. Usually onboard solutions have got a similar speed or are even faster (in case of intel mainly only on win).
Is the G 210 still a great buy for low end general Linux use? How does fare under the nouveau driver? What about the 220?
I wasn't planning on any gaming but seeing how cheap cards are now, the 9800 GT seems like a great budget gaming card with good nouveau support.
What do you guys think?
If you go for 9800GT, make sure to get card with VGA BIOS that starts at idle clocks.
The difference, is that the card will not spin the fans like crazy, till the driver is loaded.
Also, keep in mind, that G98a/b cards are faster, but have worse video acceleration than GF 210-240. And both require you to use nvidia proprietary driver in order to enjoy video acceleration and good 3D performance(for their level).
The open drivers currently reached 3D performance parity for both nouveau and radeon open drivers. They are performing at 40-80% of closed source counterparts. Radeon has more and picks more improvements.
As of intel, they get ok 3D, good video acceleration and best development rate - using opensource driver. Their only lacking point is raw hardware performance.
But if going for low-range, it is no questions best deal one can get. Using opensource counterparts from other companies, one would need mid--mid-high-range card to beat them.
The G210s still work fine and do the job for a low end solution. However they are old technology now. I would suggest going a GT610 as the more modern equivalent. You still get passive cooling/silence and they are generally only ten bucks more. If you do not play games then buying higher end is a waste of money and a waste of electricity. For general non gaming Linux desktops integrated Intel is as good as it gets.
Thanks for the suggestions guys. I think I'll go for the GT620 since it's the same price as the GT610 and from the looks of it, offers similar passive cooling and silence. Nothing to worry about, right??