Give Up A Little Performance? Sure.
When it comes to graphics cards, the upper crust of the mid-range is perhaps your best bet for snagging great performance at a reasonable price. In order to deliver the goods without breaking the bank, vendors usually equip their cards with enhanced cooling solutions or a bit of extra graphics RAM.
If you're only comparing 3D performance, the difference between these mid-range cards and those you'd find at the very top of our latest graphics charts is less than what you might think. While the GeForce GTX 285 may be the fastest single-GPU card around, a GeForce GTX 260 or a Radeon HD 4870 doesn't lag behind by much. If you can live with that relatively minor difference, you stand to save between $100 to $150 or more.
If you're a smart shopper (we've been trying to help out as much as possible lately by tracking down the lowest prices on a number of different models), you can get decent 3D performance for under $250--and at that performance level, you should be able to stave off an upgrade for at least a year or two.
In particular, GeForce GTX 260 prices have slid sharply of late, so you can find older models with 192 shaders (newer ones have 216) for up to $50 less. If you're less-worried about a couple of $20s, you can opt instead for better models with 1 or 2 GB of graphics RAM that are also SLI- or CrossFire-ready. This means you can buy one card now, then purchase another one in a couple of months and use both in tandem to power your games at higher resolutions with more demanding graphics settings.