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Best PCIe Card: Over $320

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: May 2010
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Best PCIe Card For ~$350: None

Honorable Mention: GeForce GTX 470 (Check Prices)

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

GeForce GTX 470
Codename: GF100
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 448
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 40
Memory Bus: 320-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 607 / 1,215
Memory Speed MHz: 837 (3,348 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Along with the GeForce GTX 480 flagship, the GeForce GTX 470 is one of Nvidia's next-generation DirectX 11 cards and performs between the Radeon HD 5850 and Radeon HD 5870, on average.

The card appears to be widely available now at the suggested $350 MSRP, which is a positive sign.

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

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: 1,600
Texture Units: 80
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 850
Memory Speed MHz: 1,200 (4,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

For $100 less than the price of this card, a couple of Radeon HD 5770s easily deliver exceptional performance in the games that matter today. From a raw price/performance standpoint, this makes the Radeon HD 5870 a hard 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 also make this an attractive card.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$500: 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 / 1,401
Memory Speed MHz:   924 (3,696 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Nvidia is a competitive company. And while the Radeon HD 5970 maintains its title of fastest video card in the world, Nvidia has, on paper, reclaimed the honor of selling the fastest single-GPU graphics card. This is, of course, the GeForce GTX 480, which performs notably faster than the Radeon HD 5870, on average.

It's hard to justify the $100 price premium over AMD's Radeon HD 5870, but it's pretty easy to justify a $200 savings compared to the Radeon HD 5970, so I suppose the card is positioned correctly--assuming cards continue selling at MSRP (many are going for as much as $100 more). While the GeForce GTX 470 has arrived in force, availability of the 480 has so far been extremely limited.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 480 for more information on the card and its underlying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$620:

Two Radeon HD 5850 in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

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

2 x Radeon HD 5850 in CrossFire
Codename: RV870 "Cypress"
Process: 40nm
Universal Shaders: 2,880 (2 x 1,440)
Texture Units: 144 (2 x 72)
ROPs: 64 (2 x 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

Two Radeon HD 5850 cards in CrossFire are a force to behold, with power almost equaling a single Radeon HD 5970 for $80 less coupled with abundant availability. This configuration has become the de facto standard setup for folks who want serious power from a high-end machine.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$700: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5970

Great 2560x1600 performance

Radeon HD 5970
Codename: 2 x RV870 "Cypress"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 3,200 (2 x 1,600)
Texture Units: 160 (2 x 80)
ROPs: 64 (2 x 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

3,200 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 should improve 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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