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Best PCI-E Card For ~$250

The Best Gaming Graphics Cards for the Money: January 2008
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Radeon 3870
Codename: RV670
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 320
Texture Units: 16
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 775
Memory Speed MHz: 1125 (2250 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

The Radeon 3870 is a lot of card for $250. The only reason not to buy a 3870 is the Geforce 8800 GT 512 MB, which can offer notably more performance for only slightly more money. The problem is that most 8800 GT 512 MB cards have inflated prices, but if you can find an 8800 GT 512 MB for sale close to the 3870's $250 price point, it's a better bet than the 3870.

Best PCI-E Card For ~$290

GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB
Codename: G92
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 112
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 600
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (1800 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

The 8800 GT offers incredible Geforce 8800 GTX-class performance at almost half the price. It beats the Radeon 3870 by a notable margin, but it does tend to be a bit more expensive when available. That said, if you have $300 to spend on a graphics card, you can't do better than a nice 8800 GT.

Best PCI-E Card For $300 - $500 : None

The new 8800 GTS based on the G92 is found in this price range, but it's a hard sell when it doesn't perform much better than the cheaper 8800 GT 512 MB.

As for multi-card options, you could set up two Radeon 3850's in crossfire mode for as little as $360, but the cards would still be somewhat limited by the 256 MB of memory on each.

Best PCI-E Card For >$500: Tie

2x GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB in SLI configuration
Codename: G92
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 112
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 600
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (1800 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

With the 8800 Ultra becoming more scarce and expensive, the most cost-effective high end setup available at the moment looks to be two 8800 GT cards in an SLI configuration. While multi-card solutions are far from perfect, they can offer significant performance increases for those with a big budget.

2x Radeon 3870 in Crossfire configuration
Codename: RV670
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 320
Texture Units: 16
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 775
Memory Speed MHz: 1125 (2250 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

In single card configurations, the Radeon 3870 doesn't hold up well compared to the Geforce 8800 GT. However, two 3870s in Crossfire mode seem to scale very well, and will give a pair of 8800 GTs a run for their money in this price range. In addition, dual 3870s should be notably cheaper than dual 8800 GTs, as availability increases. Finally, Crossfire supports a wider range of chipsets than SLI, so it's often an attractive option.

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