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Best PCIe Card: $175 To $300

Best Graphics Cards For the Money: March 2011
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Best PCIe Card For $180: Tie

Radeon HD 6850 (Check Prices)

Great 1920x1200 performance in most games

Radeon HD 6850
Codename: RV970 "Barts"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 960
Texture Units: 48
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 775
Memory Speed MHz: 1000 (4000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:127 W

AMD's Radeon HD 6850 proved to be a worthy adversary for the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB, and the AMD card's aggressive price forced Nvidia to drop its own MSRPs in order to stay competitive. As a result, PC gamers win with exceptional performance at prices under $200.

Both cards offer DirectX 11 support and HD audio bitstreaming capabilities. The main differentiators are Eyefinity multi-monitor support for the Radeon, while the GeForce has access to the 3D Vision infrastructure that includes 3D gaming and Blu-ray 3D support. It should be noted that the Radeon HD 6800-series supports 3D gaming and Blu-ray 3D playback on commercial televisions, but there are no monitors available in North America yet. Only time will tell if AMD's 3D solution can gain the partner support it requires to serve as a differentiating feature.

Of course, the Radeons can be CrossFire'd and the GeForces can be SLI'd, so motherboard support should be taken into account.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6850 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

GeForce GTX 460 1 GB (Check Prices)

Great 1920x1200 performance in most games

GeForce GTX 460 1 GB
Codename: GF104
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 336
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 675 / 1350
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5

160 W

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 460 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$250:

Radeon HD 6950 1 GB (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6950 1 GB
Codename: "Cayman"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1408
Texture Units: 88
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 1250 (5000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:200 W

AMD dropped half of the Radeon HD 6950's onboard memory to give us this 1 GB model, and the price dropped accordingly. At $250, the existence of this card makes us question why anyone would save a mere $20 to purchase an inferior Radeon HD 6870 or GeForce GTX 560 Ti.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6950 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$280:

Radeon HD 6950 2 GB (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6950 2 GB
Codename: "Cayman"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1408
Texture Units: 88
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 1250 (5000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:200 W

The new Radeon HD 6950 offers similar performance to AMD's previous-generation single-GPU flagship, the Radeon HD 5870, but at $280. A pair of these cards in CrossFire are a force to be reckoned with, as the scaling of AMD's Radeon HD 6900-series is significantly improved versus some of the company's previous efforts.

There's another reason to consider this model. Many folks have had luck modding this board into a fully-functional Radeon HD 6970s through a firmware update. If you can pull that off, the value of the 2 GB Radeon HD 6950 seems pretty clear.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6950 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

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