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Best PCIe Card: $275 To $400

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2010
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Best PCIe Card For ~$300:

Radeon HD 6950

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

Radeon HD 6950
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

The new Radeon HD 6950 offers slightly better performance than AMD's previous-generation single-GPU flagship, the Radeon HD 5870, but at a $300 price point. There's not much else to say except that this is a really strong gaming option at this price. Moreover a pair of these cards in CrossFire can be very compelling, as we'll soon see.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$355: Tie

The new GeForce GTX 570 and Radeon HD 6970 have taken this price segment by storm, offering unmatched performance at the $350 price point. In many cases, they actually perform very closely to a pair of GeForce GTX 460 cards in SLI or Radeion HD 6850 cards in CrossFire, but they do so without the hassles associated with a multi-card rig.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 570 and our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6970 for more information on these cards and their underlying architectures.

GeForce GTX 570 (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

GeForce GTX 570
Codename: GF110
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 480
Texture Units: 60
ROPs: 48
Memory Bus: 320-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 732 / 1464
Memory Speed MHz: 950 (3800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Radeon HD 6970 (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

Radeon HD 6970
Codename: "Cayman"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1536
Texture Units: 96
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 880
Memory Speed MHz: 1375 (5500 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Best PCIe Card For ~$370: Tie

Two GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards in SLI can beat down a single GeForce GTX 480, as demonstrated in this article by Thomas Soderstrom. Early indications suggest that the Radeon HD 6850 scales well in CrossFire mode, offers strong competition for a couple of GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards.

2 x GeForce GTX 460 1 GB in SLI Configuration (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance

2 x GeForce GTX 460 1 GB in SLI
Codename: GF104
Process:   40 nm
Universal Shaders: 672 (2 x 336)
Texture Units: 112 (2 x 56)
ROPs: 64 (2 x 32)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 675 / 1350
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5

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

2 x Radeon HD 6850 in CrossFire (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance

2 x Radeon HD 6850 in CrossFire
Codename: RV970 "Barts"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1920 (2 x 960)
Texture Units: 96 (2 x 48)
ROPs: 64 (2 x 32)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 775
Memory Speed MHz: 1000 (4000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

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

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    gxpbecker , December 21, 2010 11:55 AM
    Love the compition between AMD/Nvidia

    Dear Tom's
    Please for the love of everything holy remove those Jump ads afeter EVERY page change. Thanks - frustrated Tom's User
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    jjb8675309 , December 21, 2010 4:06 AM
    pretty much reciprocates my thoughts exactly
  • 1 Hide
    Tamz_msc , December 21, 2010 4:49 AM
    Great article as usual.
  • 4 Hide
    duk3 , December 21, 2010 5:46 AM
    Ties everywhere, I love it
  • 1 Hide
    ShahJahan , December 21, 2010 6:35 AM
    Along with the "Check Prices" link, please also provide a "Full Review" link for every graphic card.
  • 5 Hide
    Silmarunya , December 21, 2010 8:06 AM
    reprotectedIt's funny how ATI's fixed Crossfire scaling proves useless against Nvidia's original unimproved SLI.


    Actually, since 69XX Crossfire's scaling is more or less on par with SLI, depending on the title.

    Still, I agree with SLI's merits. Of course, ATI also has its merits (far superior performance per watt and often per dollar as well for example).

    It's a good time for PC enthousiasts. For the first time in months both ATI and Nvidia now have something worth buying (unlike in the original Fermi era, where ATI ruled alone).
  • -2 Hide
    dEAne , December 21, 2010 8:43 AM
    Thanks for the update tom - I need that.
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , December 21, 2010 9:46 AM
    I still love it when you state " is the most powerful card you can buy that doesn't require an auxiliary PCIe power cable" as this is always my card of choice. The type of card simplifies things and still would think I got the best card. :p 
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 21, 2010 10:33 AM
    they should've included the ~600$ twin 6950's.. since an extra 80$ will walk all over the geforce 580.. i know that 80$ isn't a small amount, but when you're building a pc with ~2000$ budget, two of those rather than one 580 does seem pretty logical...
  • 0 Hide
    christop , December 21, 2010 10:48 AM
    Nice info..
  • 0 Hide
    youssef 2010 , December 21, 2010 11:40 AM
    Great Article. BTW has any body seen this wicked $169.99 HD5850 at newegg?

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814131386&cm_re=5850-_-14-131-386-_-Product



    or this $179.99 GTX 460 1 GB (seen only in the cart)

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814187115
  • 0 Hide
    nafhan , December 21, 2010 11:41 AM
    Just a thought about the Sandy Bridge comment at the start of the article:
    It looks like Sandy Bridge may be in the same performance category as the truly low end discrete parts (i.e. Radeon 5450/GT 210). That's a huge improvement for Intel IGP's (and IGP's in general), but those GPU's are basically to slow for gaming and much slower than the 4650. So, I don't think Sandy Bridge should impact the recommendation for the 4650.
  • 13 Hide
    gxpbecker , December 21, 2010 11:55 AM
    Love the compition between AMD/Nvidia

    Dear Tom's
    Please for the love of everything holy remove those Jump ads afeter EVERY page change. Thanks - frustrated Tom's User
  • 1 Hide
    jedi940 , December 21, 2010 12:32 PM
    ^+1 Agreed. PLEASEEE!!!
  • 0 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , December 21, 2010 1:19 PM
    for ~600 bucks, two 6950s in crossfire kicks ass massively..
    http://www.guru3d.com/article/radeon-hd-6950-crossfirex-review
  • 1 Hide
    NuclearShadow , December 21, 2010 1:25 PM
    reprotectedIt's funny how ATI's fixed Crossfire scaling proves useless against Nvidia's original unimproved SLI.


    ATI has finally remedied that problem. So I don't see how its "useless"
    go ahead and check the benchmarks with the 6850's CF and the 1GB 460's
    SLI. At this point any gamer should really just decide on price and maybe Physx if the gamers personal preferences desire it.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , December 21, 2010 1:35 PM
    I appreciate the addition of power-usage remarks among the recommendations. With multiple cards able to provide the required performance, power usage becomes a valid criterion for making a final selection. All else being [effectively] equal, there is no sane reason not to choose the card that draws less power.
  • 0 Hide
    wolfram23 , December 21, 2010 1:41 PM
    Good list. This is the one thing I hate about PCs... I just got two 5850s for $299 each back in April/May which was a great deal at the time... Now I could get more for less. Oh well, the good news is they're able to crush anything I throw at them so I can't really complain. Still... 6950s at that price point makes me sad lol.
  • 0 Hide
    flyinfinni , December 21, 2010 1:57 PM
    Toms- you dropped the ball here on the 450/5750. The reviews actually show the 5750 and 450 to be very close in single card configurations, but show the 5750 PULLING AHEAD in dual card configurations. You state the opposite in this article. Might be worth an edit here.
  • -2 Hide
    rpgplayer , December 21, 2010 2:19 PM
    reprotectedIt's funny how ATI's fixed Crossfire scaling proves useless against Nvidia's original unimproved SLI.


    which is a direct product of AMD's terrible driver support, AMD/ATI needs to exert more effort in driver development, and driver optimization. Their hardware has always been great, software support on the otherhand has always been where they are lacking.
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