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Best PCIe Card: $400 And Up

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2010
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Best PCIe Card For ~$490: Tie

2 x GeForce GTX 470 in SLI Configuration (Check Prices)

Great 2560x1600 performance

2 x GeForce GTX 470 in SLI
Codename: GF100
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 896 (2 x 448)
Texture Units: 112 (2 x 56)
ROPs: 80 (2 x 40)
Memory Bus: 320-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 607 / 1215
Memory Speed MHz: 837 (3348 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Two GeForce GTX 470 cards are a potent combination when paired in SLI mode, delivering more graphics muscle on average than a single Radeon HD 5970. Now, the new Radeon HD 6870 offers a viable CrossFire alternative at a similar price.

While a couple of GeForce GTX 470 cards in SLI demonstrate similar performance compared to a pair of Radeon HD 6870s, power usage should be some 200-300 W less for the Radeons under load conditions. This might not be much of an issue for folks with solid power supplies, but it is something to keep in mind.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 470 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

2 x Radeon HD 6870 in CrossFire (Check Prices)

Great 2560x1600 performance

2 x Radeon HD 6870 in CrossFire
Codename: RV970 "Barts"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 2240 (2 x 1120)
Texture Units:   112(2 x 56)
ROPs: 64 (2 x 32)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 900
Memory Speed MHz: 1100 (4200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6870 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$520: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5970 (Check Prices)

Great 2560x1600 performance

Radeon HD 5970
Codename: 2 x RV870 "Cypress"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 3200 (2 x 1600)
Texture Units: 160 (2 x 80)
ROPs: 64 (2 x 32)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 725
Memory Speed MHz: 1000 (4000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

3200 shader processors. There isn't much more we need to say about the brutal rendering muscle that characterizes the Radeon HD 5970. With two Radeon HD 5870 GPUs onboard, the Radeon HD 5970 performs close to pair of GeForce GTX 470s on average, but our testing shows that performance slows up a little at 2560x1600 resolutions and beyond. At 1920x1200 and below though, the Radeon HD 5970 is a fine choice and will work with any motherboard unlike a pair of GeForce GTX 470 cards. But with a pair of GeForce GTX 470 or Radeon HD 6870 cards costing some $60 less, the Radeon HD 5970 is relegated to Honorable Mention status.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 5970 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Honorable Mention: GeForce GTX 580 (Check Prices)

Great 2560x1600 performance

GeForce GTX 580
Codename: GF110
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 512
Texture Units: 64
ROPs: 48
Memory Bus: 384-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 772 / 1544
Memory Speed MHz:   1002 (4008 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Nvidia has come up with a card that can challenge the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970s title as the fastest graphics card in the world. The GeForce GTX 580 wins its share of battles against the previously undisputed king-of-the-hill, and while it's outperformed by dual-card solutions like Radeon HD 6870s in CrossFire and GeForce GTX 470s in SLI, the GeForce GTX 580 scores a well-deserved place on the honorable mention list.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 580 for more information on the card and its underlying 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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