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Best PCIe Card: Over $400

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August 2010
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Best PCIe Card For ~$400: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5870 (Check Prices)

Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

Radeon HD 5870
Codename: RV870 "Cypress"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1600
Texture Units: 80
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 850
Memory Speed MHz: 1200 (4800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

For $100 less than the price of this card, a couple of Radeon HD 5770s (or a single Radeon HD 5850) can easily deliver exceptional performance in the games that matter today. From a raw price/performance standpoint, this makes the Radeon HD 5870 a harder sell. But that is not to say this card is underpowered: it is the fastest single-GPU Radeon option available, sporting relatively low power usage (remarkably low at idle), and the hardware prowess needed to accelerate DirectX 11-based games. For folks without a motherboard that supports CrossFire and a hefty power supply, the new Radeon HD 5870 is definitely a more-than-viable option.

For those thinking at the other end of the performance spectrum, a pair of Radeon HD 5870s in CrossFire is an attractive option.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5870 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$460:

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

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

2 x GeForce GTX 460 1GB 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

Two GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards in SLI easily beat down a single GeForce GTX 480, as demonstrated in this article by Thomas Soderstrom. And, based on conjecture, they might even challenge more expensive CrossFire setups. We'll be investigating this in the near future.

But in the meantime, two GeForce GTX 460s in SLI take a solid recommendation at the $460 price point.

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

Honorable Mention: GeForce GTX 480 (Check Prices)

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.

At the same price as a pair of GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards in SLI, it is difficult to recommend a GeForce GTX 480. But for buyers uncomfortable with dual-card setups, the GeForce GTX 480 is a viable option, and it delivers undeniably-impressive performance for a card with a single 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 ~$600:

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

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 or even a pair of Radeon HD 5850 cards.

The caveat here is formidable power usage. But from a pure performance standpoint, a couple of GeForce GTX 470s makes for an undeniably-sweet setup.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$680: 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 only things we can complain about are scant availability and an extremely high price tag. Availability has improved over time; the price not so much. But if you're in the market for this card, price probably isn't an issue.

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

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