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Best PCIe Card: $400 And Up

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: November 2010
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Best PCIe Card For ~$450: None

Honorable Mention: GeForce GTX 480 (Check Prices)

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

GeForce GTX 480
Codename: GF100
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 480
Texture Units: 60
ROPs: 48
Memory Bus: 384-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 700 / 1401
Memory Speed MHz:   924 (3696 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

While the Radeon HD 5970 maintains its title of "fastest video card in the world," Nvidia has reclaimed the honor of selling the fastest single-GPU board. This is, of course, the GeForce GTX 480, which performs notably faster than the Radeon HD 5870, on average.

Costing significantly more than a pair of GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards in SLI, it is difficult to give a nod to the GeForce GTX 480. But for buyers uncomfortable with dual-card setups, the GeForce GTX 480 is an understandably viable option, and it delivers undeniably impressive performance for a card with just one GPU.

Besides, SLI compatibility is less common than CrossFire support, so a GeForce GTX 480 might be the only way to go for many enthusiasts.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480 for more information on the card and its underlying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$490: Tie

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 will demonstrate better performance than 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.

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

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

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

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)

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

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 ~$550: 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 world's fastest graphics card, 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.

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