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Best PCIe Card: $310 And Up

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: May '09
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Past the point of reason:

With rapidly-increasing prices over $260 offering smaller and smaller performance boosts, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than the Radeon HD 4850 X2. While more expensive solutions perform impressively in multiple-card configurations at ultra-high resolutions, there’s just not enough of a gain compared to the Radeon HD 4850 X2, unless you play at resolutions beyond 1920x1200.

Then again, while we often recommend against purchasing any graphics card that retails for more than $300 from a value point of view, there are those of you for whom money might not be much of an object, who can afford a 30” 2560x1600 LCD monitor, and who require the best possible performance money can buy. For those of you, we recommend the following cards:

Best PCIe Card For ~$350: Tie

Two GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) cards in SLI Configuration (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles (some with lowered detail)

Two GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) cards in SLI Configuration
Codename: 2 x GT200
Process: 55/65 nm
Universal Shaders: 432 (2 x 216)
Texture Units: 144 (2 x 72)
ROPs: 56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

As we noted with the single-card recommendations, two GeForce GTX 260 cards in SLI offer advantages in titles that run better with the GeForce GT200 architecture. If you have an SLI motherboard, the decision becomes a no-brainer as two GeForce GTX 260 cards are a serious force to reckon with. As with the single cards, we recommend the newer Core 216 versions, thanks to the similar price and enhanced performance.

Two Radeon HD 4870 1 GB cards in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

Two Radeon HD 4870 in CrossFire Configuration
Codename: 2 x RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units: 80 (2 x 40)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3,600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Two Radeon HD 4870 cards are a powerful combination, especially when equipped with gobs of memory. With the price of a Radeon HD 4870 X2 running over $400, we recommend two Radeon HD 4870 cards in CrossFire to save the cash. Of course, if you don't have a CrossFire or SLI motherboard, the single-card solution Radeon HD 4870 X2 looks a lot more attractive.

Best PCIe Card For ~$410: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 4870 X2 (Check Prices)

Good 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most titles with some lowered detail

Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB
Codename: 2 x RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units: 80 (2 x 40)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Two separate GeForce GTX 260 cards in SLI or two Radeon HD 4870 cards in CrossFire are slightly cheaper than a single Radeon HD 4870 X2, which gives those dual-card configurations the recommendation. Having said that, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is a single card and is therefore viable for those of you with a single PCIe slot on your motherboard. For this reason, the 4870 X2 gets an honorable mention.

Best PCIe Card For ~$520: GeForce GTX 295 (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles (some with lowered detail)

GeForce GTX 295
Codename: 2 x GT200b
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 480 (2 x 240)
Texture Units: 160 (2 x 80)
ROPs: 56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

Nvidia's GeForce GTX 295 with SLI-on-a-card is the most powerful single graphics card on the planet. With two attached GeForce GTX 275 cards that have been merged, the GeForce GTX 295 offers very notable gains over the Radeon HD 4870 X2 in the great majority of game titles. Even more impressive is that it does so while consuming less power than ATI's flagship card does, which is no small feat.

This is the fastest single graphics card you can get. To get more performance, you'd have to look to extreme solutions such as multiple GeForce GTX 280s in SLI or Radeon HD 4870X2s in CrossFire, but unless you have a 30" monitor, that would likely be a gratuitous waste of money.

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