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Best PCIe Card: ~$300 To $400

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$310: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5850

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most titles

Radeon HD 5850
Codename: RV870 "Cypress"
Process: 40nm
Universal Shaders: 1,440
Texture Units: 72
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 725
Memory Speed MHz: 1,000 (4,000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

The new Radeon HD 5850 has some definite advantages over a pair of GeForce GTX 260s in SLI or a pair of Radeon HD 5770s in CrossFire. It doesn't need a CrossFire-compatible motherboard, it uses a lot less power thanks to its 40nm manufacturing process, and it sports DirectX 11 capabilities (plus Eyefinity).

Unfortunately, scant availability forces us to relegate the Radeon HD 5850 to Honorable Mention status until it can be purchased without having to fight for it.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5850 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$330: Tie

At approximately the same price,  these options retain the same advantages of their single-card counterparts: two GeForce GTX 260s offer SLI compatibility, PhysX, and GeForce 3D Vision support, and two Radeon HD 5770s offer DirectX 11, Eyefinity, and high-def audio bitstreaming to CrossFire-compatible motherboard users. A good case can be made for either of these options, and none of them are a poor choice. Just pick your poison.

2 x GeForce GTX 260 in SLI (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, good 2560x1600 performance in most titles

2x GeForce GTX 260 in SLI
Codename: 2 x GT200b
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 432 (2 x 216)
Texture Units: 144 (2 x 72)
ROPs: 56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

Nvidia doesn't have a DirectX 11-class architecture yet, so if you're going to sink $300+ into DirectX 10 hardware, do so knowing that there are competing DirectX 11 boards available in the same price range.

A pair of Radeon HD 5770s won't offer quite the same level of performance as two GeForce GTX 260s in SLI; that's the trade-off for more modern functionality, though.

2 x Radeon HD 5770 in CrossFire (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, good 2560x1600 performance in most titles

2x Radeon HD 5770 in CrossFire
Codename: 2 x RV840 "Juniper"
Process: 40nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units: 80 (2 x 40)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 850
Memory Speed MHz: 1,200 (4,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

The new Radeon HD 5770 sports added benefits over its GeForce GTX 260 competition: DirectX 11, triple display outputs, and the ability to bitstream high-definition audio content from Blu-ray movies contribute significant value to ATI's newest mainstream graphics cards. For those seeking long-term DirectX 11 compatibility, this might be the more attractive option.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5770 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$400:

Two Radeon HD 4890 cards in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

2 x Radeon HD 4890 in CrossFire Configuration
Codename: 2 x RV770
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units: 80 (2 x 40)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 850
Memory Speed MHz: 975 (3,900 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Two Radeon HD 4890 cards should, on average, perform on par or better than a single GeForce GTX 295, and will definitely beat out a single Radeon HD 5870. Plus, these Radeons cost less than either option. If you have a CrossFire-compatible motherboard and want some serious performance at high resolutions, this route is the way to go.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 4890 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

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