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Best PCIe Card: $410 And Up

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: October 2010
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Best PCIe Card For ~$440:

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 1 GB 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. Because of this, we're recommending a pair of GeForce GTX 460s in SLI at the $440 price point, leaving Nvidia's flagship with a less-prestigious Honorable Mention.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$450: None

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.

Costing a little 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 ~$520:

Two Radeon HD 5850 in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

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

2 x Radeon HD 5850 in CrossFire
Codename: RV870 "Cypress"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 2880 (2 x 1440)
Texture Units: 144 (2 x 72)
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

Two Radeon HD 5850 cards in CrossFire are a strong force to be sure, with power almost equaling a single Radeon HD 5970 for $80 less. Dropping GeForce GTX 470 prices have forced the Radeon HD 5850 to lower in kind, and $520 for a pair makes for a compelling CrossFire setup. Just keep in mind that CrossFire does have a couple of performance inconsistencies at 2560x1600 and higher resolutions. But at 1920x1200 or below, it should work fine.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$590: Tie

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. Also, you'll need to have an SLI-capable platform to support these boards. But if your rig can handle it, a pair of GeForce GTX 470s can provide very strong, consistent performance.

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

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.

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

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Top Comments
  • 16 Hide
    Opc , October 4, 2010 6:29 AM
    I don't like the GTS 450 at all ! 10$ more get a 5770.
  • 10 Hide
    mitch074 , October 4, 2010 6:45 AM
    ...again, the 4850. This card just won't die.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    Tamz_msc , October 4, 2010 6:24 AM
    The GTS 450 still needs to drop closer to 100$ for people to take notice of it.
  • 16 Hide
    Opc , October 4, 2010 6:29 AM
    I don't like the GTS 450 at all ! 10$ more get a 5770.
  • 5 Hide
    darthvidor , October 4, 2010 6:42 AM
    Nvidia should consider a dual-GPU in one card since it has excellent SLI scaling for the 450 and 470.
  • -2 Hide
    Tamz_msc , October 4, 2010 6:44 AM
    Quote:
    1. good to see hd5850 back in the list after 470 bested it !

    2.anybody who buys a 5970 does not look at prices. so it doesn't really matter if it now has a better price/performance.

    2.why include gtx480 at all if 2x460 beat it comprehensively and comes close to a 5970?

    3.$35 price difference between 5850 and 470 justified is too much for almost same performance.

    4.a 5870 is not really good in P/P as 5850 comes almost equal to it in performance with only a little OC. maybe something else should be included at this point like 2x5770.

    GTX 480- the most powerful single GPU card out there.
    GTX 470 has better performance than the 5850 in DX 11 withe Tessellation enabled.Otherwise the performance difference is 10-12% on average.
  • 10 Hide
    mitch074 , October 4, 2010 6:45 AM
    ...again, the 4850. This card just won't die.
  • 6 Hide
    cleeve , October 4, 2010 6:51 AM
    mayankleoboy12.anybody who buys a 5970 does not look at prices. so it doesn't really matter if it now has a better price/performance.


    I disagree. It's cheap enough now that it justifies consideration based on price/performance.


    mayankleoboy12.why include gtx480 at all if 2x460 beat it comprehensively and comes close to a 5970?3.$35 price difference between 5850 and 470 justified is too much for almost same performance.


    The 480 is included as an honorable mention, check the text. And it does beat a 470 by a notable margin sometimes.

    mayankleoboy14.a 5870 is not really good in P/P as 5850 comes almost equal to it in performance with only a little OC.


    Once again, the 5870 gets an honorable mention, not a full-blown recommendation. You have to read it a little more carefully. :) 
  • 4 Hide
    dallaswits , October 4, 2010 7:06 AM
    I bought an XFX 5850, and i love it....
    It beats the pants off the 2x 9800 GTX+'s I had before. By itself...
  • 6 Hide
    dallaswits , October 4, 2010 7:08 AM
    Nice to see AMD having to defend against Nvidia. Competition breeds better products......

    Cant wait for Halflife 3 and the cards that are swimming in the deep end around that time..... (2011!!! O.o)
  • 9 Hide
    Darkerson , October 4, 2010 8:07 AM
    Already have a 5770 and its done admirably considering my demands of it. Probably gonna get another one at tax time for Crossfire. Really hoping the 6XXX series knocks it out of the park again, so they 5XXX series gets a decent price drop and AMD can stick it to Nvidia another year in a row :p 
  • 1 Hide
    rantoc , October 4, 2010 9:29 AM
    "Besides, SLI compatibility is less common than CrossFire support, so a GeForce GTX 480 might be the only way to go for many enthusiasts. "

    Seems "less" should be "more" up there. Good article!
  • 3 Hide
    RazberyBandit , October 4, 2010 9:44 AM
    I'm surprise the 4870 didn't make it into that list of $130 cards. I know their supply is limited, but it would probably spank both the GTS 450 and 5750 in most titles.
  • 0 Hide
    R6ex , October 4, 2010 10:09 AM
    How about the 480 SLI?
  • -8 Hide
    kovaxo , October 4, 2010 11:01 AM
    i just wonder , why GTX 260 not here ?!!
  • 2 Hide
    enzo matrix , October 4, 2010 11:18 AM
    kOvaxoi just wonder , why GTX 260 not here ?!!

    Because of the GTS450...
  • 2 Hide
    dallaswits , October 4, 2010 12:47 PM

    kOvaxoi just wonder , why GTX 260 not here ?!!

    Because it is being pushed out by a similarly priced 450.......
  • 1 Hide
    tom thumb , October 4, 2010 2:14 PM
    And the battle continues...

    I'm just waiting for the 5850 vapor-x to come down below $300
  • 2 Hide
    victomofreality , October 4, 2010 2:15 PM
    The 4850 is in too high a price bracket NCIX has had it on sale for $70 for 2 weeks now and I think it will stay there till they kill their stock off.
  • 2 Hide
    theoutbound , October 4, 2010 2:17 PM
    I really hope when Nvidia drops the price of the 768mb 460 it drops around $140-$150 to really push the 5770 at a similar price point. Nvidia has a real dead zone in that range they seem to be ignoring for the future. Great roundup as always Tom's. I can't wait until next month when (hopefully) we have some new cards appearing on the list.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , October 4, 2010 2:20 PM
    The crossfire performance issues, is there a place I can read more up on that?
    I'm running a 4640x1050 desktop size and have considerable performance issues. Amd gave me a hotfix driver that is supposed to fix 4870x2 performance issues, but all it did as lower my fps to about 20-30 in world of warcraft window mode (1680x1050).
    Perhaps my problem's the same one you have when testing? Or maybe not, since the cloned output devices are running on a lowcost 5000 series card that isn't crossfired with the other cards ....
  • 1 Hide
    flyinfinni , October 4, 2010 2:29 PM
    Why do you list GTS450 SLI as an honourable mention, but not the 5750 Crossfire? It scales just as well and actually is FASTER than GTS450 SLI in a number of titles.
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