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It’s no secret that, when it comes to buying PC components, neither the cheapest nor the most-expensive products available represent that value sweet spot where price and performance intersect. More often than not, it’s the equipment a tier or two under the bleeding-edge, high-end hardware able to offer the most best bang for your buck.
In today's graphics card market, Nvidia offers a few great products that fall within that most-attractive range. On the low end of the spectrum, the GeForce 9600 GT can be had for under $100 (though it's under heavy fire from the compelling Radeon HD 4770). It serves up reasonable performance, though. A few dollars more gets you into GeForce GTS 250 territory, which turns out to be a re-badged GeForce 9800 GTX+ with a new coat of paint, more memory, and the same great performance. At the top of the price/performance value ladder is Nvidia's GeForce GTX 260, with models coming in under $200 and providing exceptional power for that price.
Today, we will scrutinize a few GeForce cards in this range, each of which offers a unique spin compared to the reference model that Nvidia designed (the implementation that we usually review for a launch). We’re going to see unique cooling solutions, overclocks, powerful tweaking tools, and other bells/whistles associated with these cards to help each stand out from the pack and appeal to customers who want a little more than what the average model can provide.
On the plate we have: Gigabyte's GV-N96TSL-1GI, Gigabyte's GV-N96TZL-1GI, Asus' ENGTS250 Dark Knight, Zotac's GeForce GTS250 AMP! Edition, Asus' ENGTX260 Matrix, and MSI's N260GTX Lightning Black Edition. We’ve got a lot of cards and data to cover, so let’s dig in.