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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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