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The 23 Greatest Graphics Cards Of All Time

November 2009: AMD Radeon HD 5970

Two months after launching the Radeon HD 5870, AMD introduced its Radeon HD 5970, the first dual-GPU equipped Radeon without the X2 suffix. This monster boasted 3200 total stream processors, a 725 MHz core clock, and dual 1 GB banks of GDDR5 memory at a 4 MT/s effective data rate. Although Nvidia released the impressive GeForce GTX 480 a few months later, it couldn't best the Radeon HD 5970. Even the GeForce GTX 580 wasn't fast enough to cleanly sweep its competition in November 2010, and AMD's card held the championship belt for more than a year.

March 2011: AMD Radeon HD 6990 And Nvidia GeForce GTX 590

In March of 2011, both AMD and Nvidia showed us their ultra high-end dual-GPU flagships. The Radeon HD 6990 has a total combined 3072 ALUs, an 830 MHz core clock, and dual-2 GB banks of GDDR5 memory at 5 GT/s. The GeForce GTX 590 features a total 1024 CUDA cores, a 607 MHz core, an independent 1215 MHz shader clock, and two banks of RAM at 3412 MT/s. These cards trade blows, depending on the application and settings, and were released at darn close to the same time. Some folks (like our editor-in-chief Chris Angelini) might argue that the GeForce GTX 590 should win based on the Radeon HD 6990's overly-loud cooling fan (Ed.: Actually, I'd skip both cards, personally), but we'll keep raw performance as the main criteria for this list and call this one a tie. Unfortunately, these cards quickly sold out, and we're seeing dismal availability of both flagships.

At this point, it's up to Nvidia or AMD to change the status quo with their next-generation graphics chipsets, and as always, we're looking forward to report what the future will bring. We hope you enjoyed our trip through graphics card history as much as we did; it stirred up a lot of good memories.

  • JackMomma
    Never thought I'd be proud of my ol' 295GTX as I am now... Anyway, it's time to let her cool off again.
    Reply
  • dogman_1234
    Cool. Thanks for the history lesson.
    Reply
  • jimmysmitty
    One thing, you part with the 3870 X2 states it had a combined 160 Pixel Shaders but a single 3870 had 320 Stream processors, same as the HD2900, and a 3870 X2 had 640 Stream processing units.

    If anything, the 3870 X2 had 128 SP units that acted as 5 SP units giving it 640.

    Other than that, nice article. I remember my 9700 Pro. Too bad the memory died out on it. But it was ok. I got a 9800XT to replace it.
    Reply
  • I was somewhat disappointed the first Matrox dual-head card didn't make the list.
    Reply
  • bin1127
    Cleaning out the closet at Tom's huh?
    Reply
  • buzznut
    Its amazing how many of these I've owned. Voodoo II, Voodoo III, GeForce 4ti, Riva TNT, Radeon 9800, TNT 2 Ultra..Course now that I'm married I can't spend money on things like the latest video card. :(
    Reply
  • chillin15
    proud former owner of the g4 4600 ti
    Reply
  • utengineer
    Still running GTX 280's in SLI. I don't get DX11, but I still play every game out there with no problem. 3 years and still going strong. Great investment.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    jimmysmittyOne thing, you part with the 3870 X2 states it had a combined 160 Pixel Shaders but a single 3870 had 320 Stream processors, same as the HD2900, and a 3870 X2 had 640 Stream processing units.If anything, the 3870 X2 had 128 SP units that acted as 5 SP units giving it 640.Other than that, nice article. I remember my 9700 Pro. Too bad the memory died out on it. But it was ok. I got a 9800XT to replace it.
    Absolutely right. Don must have owned a "special" 3870 X2. I've updated the story to reflect the X2s everyone else owned ;)
    Reply
  • toxxel
    Still have my MSI Geforce 4 TI 4200 128mb DDR card, no real use for it now a days so it just lays in a box with the rest of my outdated stuff.
    Reply