I realize this subject has been done to death in the forums but none of them have really answered my question as everyone seems to have more budget than me.
I need the best possible card that will be reliable and fast for the next 2-3 years. My budget is around $220 i'd say, maybe a little higher. I prefer sub $200 but not a cheap $99 card sli'd either.
My passions: Playing HD movies, lots of them. I need smooth, flawless, maybe even somehow enhanced by the card, video playback. x264, xvid. However, I do not need 7.1 channel audio going out of my hdmi ports or anything like that, I listen with headphones and watch outputted to a HDTV or my monitor. And playing lots of games, usually the latest and greatest the day it comes out. BF3 is a good example of that, drivers have finally stabilized enough for me to not think I need a GTX 580 for my needs. I have interest in good looking new MMO's like star wars the old republic. I was a wow addict.
i7 920 @ stock 2.67 ghz W/massive heatsink and fan
6 120mm case fans, so heat isn't my big concern.
6gb triple channel DDR3 1600 OC (plenty for my needs, I rarely video edit and most games don't take full advantage of that).
Acer 23" led backlit w/ native resolution of 1920x1080p bought just last month and is itching for smooth HD games and video
Msi X58 platinum sli mobo pcie 2.0 16xSo I can't rely on a 2.1 to get me those framerates.
Msi 9800GTX OC 512 DDR3 that needs to be replaced.
Thermaltake 800watt toughpower PS w/clean lines, I bought this specifically for future needs, and I could care less if the card sucks up 350 watts
Win 7 64 bit Ultimate edition.
Things to ignore: Sound .. I sleep in the room with my pc on 24/7, it's become that I can't sleep without the sound, so 1 or 2 extra loud fans @ 100% are not going to phase me. Heat reduction .. sure it would be nice to have a full 2oz of copper on every gpu, heat spreaders on every ram chip, and 2 120mm fans keeping it at 30C even in the summer, but I treat my PC better than I do myself, I am willing to sit in a air conditioned room in the winter. Power consumption as stated above.
Battlefield 3 loves every part of my system but the video card and I can only play comfortably at 720p on medium with no anti-aliasing or any other frills. Up until now i've been able to run any game I throw at it at a comfortable level at my previous monitors 1680x1050.
I need to play at 1080p without FRAPS and lower if needed with FRAPS at high-ultra (higher the better obviously, I want future compatibility). I have no preference for nvidia or amd, but I only have limited experience with modern ati/amd cards. For this money I don't care about MSAA or AA.
And here is the really important part, I rarely so much as reboot let alone shut my pc off, so this card needs to stay on 24/7 365 for 2-3 years. I do not intend on overclocking the card past factory OC levels and I have no need to SLI except perhaps in the future when the card is cheap and I can pick up another one for cheap.
Size: I have about 11 inches clearance before I will hit any hard drives, and they are difficult to place anywhere else. Perhaps a bit more if the power plugs are on the top.
Considerations: I have been considering nvidia 550 Ti's w/1gb, radeon HD 6870 w/1gb. I know NOTHING about ati/amd brands these days, I don't know whats reliable or worth it in comparison to a nvidia card.
These look great to me: XFX HD-687A-ZHFC Radeon HD 6870 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 (This is my #1 choice for 6870's, but is XFX going to be reliable and will it produce those speeds above?) HIS H687FN1GD Radeon HD 6870 1GB 256-bit GDDR5
HIS IceQ X H687QN1G2M Radeon HD 6870 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 (it's bigger brother the HIS IceQ H687Q1G2M would rub against 4 sata drives that I would find it difficult to move) SAPPHIRE 100314-3L Radeon HD 6870 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 MSI N560GTX-M2D1GD5 GeForce GTX 560 (Fermi) 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 (NOT ti, it's really up there in my budget) GIGABYTE GV-N560UD-1G GeForce GTX 560 Ti (a Ti I can afford, but is it worth it?)
Just judging from raw numbers, not benchmarks, the 550 ti isn't much better than my current card, infact it did worse in texture fill rate in comparison to my existing card. So I began to research 560 ti's which are really at the very high end of my budget, if not higher. When I compared a radeon hd 6870 to my existing card (just for an idea of the change to expect) it easily did 50%+ in each category. So are those numbers lieing or is it infact the superior card over a 560 ti for the upgrade and money?
I AM aware of the tom's hardware 30+ card BF3 roundup, however, that is from october 31st and driver support has improved since then and patches have improved certain card series. So I am not sure how much I can rely on it.
I have found it difficult to get true benchmarks for battlefield 3 in the 500 series for nvidia and 6000 series for amd/ati. My only real information has been reading other peoples thoughts and seeing it for myself on youtube. People claiming to get 1080p /ultra 60fps on a non-sli'd setup with this card or that card. I need peoples opinions on what is superior for my budget. 50+ average FPS and high settings or above @ 1080p, A high of around $220 USD before rebates, because those take forever, if you get them at all. A reliable enough brand that even if I do get a lemon and it's past the 30 day return from newegg or amazon then I will get a repair/replacement, or never malfunction at all would be best. Drivers are not as big a deal to me because I am willing to play on horrible old drivers if needed or the latest in beta drivers.
Brands I would like an opinion on since I know little about the radeon side: HiS, Sapphire, XFX, Powercolor, Galaxy
Things I would love to hear: "A MSI GTX 560 ti such and such edition would give you 50+ fps on mostly ultra settings and it's $190" ..
I realize this is extremely long for such a simple question but I have been at this nearly nonstop for several days now and it's to the point where I can't make a decision without real benchmarks or opinions I can trust. If none of the above can meet my requirements and nothing in my budget can, I would have to go a little higher, but not much, the economy sucks. I welcome any and all suggestions I haven't thought of, and comments on whether or not these will do the job. Also I am willing to wait a couple of months if the next generation is rumored to come out and these prices will come down shortly.
You know what I didn't even consider a 6950 because it's out of my price range slightly, but it can almost be unlocked to a full 6970 minus the shaders. And who needs AA? So I am impressed. I will need to sleep on this and see if anyone else has a competitor for that. It's still alot of money to me but I suppose it's an investment.
Granted it only looks at the highest end cards for the most part, it will give you an idea of what to expect from each card listed in BF3. That being said I own a 5870 and play BF3 on ultra (not sure what kind of AA) at 1920x1200 no problem. I do agree with sunnk though, just recommended the 6950 to a friend of mine. In my opinion you can't beat it bang for your buck. I know it is out of your price by a few bucks but to me it is worth it.
Also, if you are looking at AMD cards, I only recommend XFX. They carry lifetime warranties on almost all their products and I don't believe you have to register the card in any specific time frame to get that warranty. (Do not take my word for that) I had a EVGA card that crapped out and I did not register it as I was young and dumb and they would not warranty that card after 1 year even though it had a lifetime warranty. So, just a side note register what ever card you purchase. Regardless I will never buy EVGA again because of that fact. Registration is a stupid way to void a warranty if I can prove the purchase date it should not matter.
I wouldn't really unlock it anyway. Like I said above I have no interest in overclocking anything above factory OC. But it would be nice to be able to have it as a "wow this game is amazing and I just need a little more speed to play it on high" option, not that i'd ever use it. Everytime i've bought hardware i've always had a "what if" option and i've yet to use them.
After sleeping on this I think I will try and find the 6950 for the best possible price, MSI is a brand I trust greatly so it makes me very happy that happens to be the cheapest card on newegg.
Thank you so much for everyones opinion, I will stay active on the forum to return the favor.