written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 12/23/2010
Gamers and video cards go together like peanut butter and jelly, but not all video cards are good choices for people who want to be able to play PC games at high resolutions with maximum detail. In this article we'll examine the three best gaming video cards today.
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Nvidia Geforce GTX 580
The recently released Nvidia Geforce GTX 580 continues the Nvidia tradition of building gaming video cards with huge GPU's that provide huge performance. The GTX 580 is unquestionably the fastest single-GPU video card solution currently available. In fact, it generally matches the performance of the AMD Radeon 5970, the old dual-GPU video card that has been the flagship of the Radeon product line for some time.
While the performance of the GTX 580 is monster, the best thing about the card is the power consumption, which is now at reasonable levels. The stock card also comes with a very impressive vapor-chamber cooler that does a wonderful job of keeping the video card's temperature low during hardcore gaming.
Despite the slightly higher model series number, the Radeon HD 6950 is actually a successor to the Radeon HD 5850, AMD's older affordable high-end video card. Although not the absolute quickest video card available, the level of performance provided by the 6950 clearly lands it in "high-performance" territory. There are very few games that can challenge this card, and anyone playing games at a resolution below 1080p will likely be unable to bring framerates below 30 FPS in any game, no matter the detail settings used.
The Radeon HD 6950's greatest asset, however, is price. It can be purchased for as little as $300. That's no small amount, but it's relatively inexpensive for a high-end video card. The low price contributes to the Radeon 6950's outstanding bang-for-the-buck. The Nvidia GTX 470 and Radeon HD 6970 are quicker, but only slightly, and they cost $50 more. Most gamers will be best served by pocketing the $50 and purchasing the 6950.
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Nvidia GTX 460 1GB
Nvidia has had trouble competing with AMD's Radeon cards from a value standpoint over the last two years. However, the company has been trying hard to defeat AMD in recent months by cutting the price of the Nvidia GTX 460 to the bone. The result is a very competitive gaming video card that is the only logical choice for a hardcore gamer on a tight budget.
The GTX 460 is more of a mid-range video card, and it's no where near as quick as the GTX 580. With that said, it's plenty fast enough for the majority of games, particularly if you play at a resolution not exceeding 1080p. For example, this card can achieve an average of over 40 FPS in Metro 2033 if at 1080p resolution and medium detail settings. Metro 2033 is by far one of the most demanding games currently available, so this result is impressive. A less demanding game, like World of Warcraft, will typically run at well over 60 FPS with all detail settings at their maximum.
Price is the bottom line, however. The GTX 460 can be had for as little as $200, which is reasonably affordable for most gamers. A quick word of warning - don't cheap out and buy the $160 version with 768MB of memory. The GTX 460 is quick enough to become memory-limited in some games, which results in a dramatic performance gap between the 768MB and 1GB variants.