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Be Smart. Stay Inside.
It's summer. For many this means day after day of unbearable temperatures, high humidity, and surprise thunderstorms. Some might think that the sunshine would indicate it is time to go outdoors. Don't listen to them. The summer is a dangerous time of year. Best stay inside and play a few PC games in order to avoid the ever present danger of heat stroke. And since Summer also means air conditioning, why not buy a fast video card? There isn't much point in having an A/C unit if there isn't anything in the room to heat it up in the first place!
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The Radeon 4890 is the fastest single-GPU video card offered by ATI. It was built to compete with Nvidia's GTX 275 and GTX 285, and it does so quite well. Depending on the game, the Radeon 4890 is usually a bit faster than the GTX 275 and close to the performance of the GTX 285. There can be some variance in this from card to card because there seems to be a particularly high number of overclocked Radeon 4890s available, and many of them lack any price premium. In the best cases, the $200 Radeon 4890 can exceed the performance of the GTX 285, which costs $100 more.
What this means is that the first card on this high-performance roundup is also the one that most buyers will want to purchase. The power provided by the Radeon 4890 is enough to run Crysis at Gamer quality at 1920x1200 resolution. As you'd expect, this means that less demanding games like Fallout 3 or Left 4 Dead run at extremely high frame-rates. The two other card which make this list are undoubtedly faster, but even gamers who demand the highest detail settings be available in all their games will rarely need more performance than what the Radeon 4890 dishes out.
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Radeon 4870 X2
While the Radeon 4890 is quite impressive, two Radeon 4870s can still beat it up and take its lunch money. While this card is old news at this point, and no longer has the absolute performance crown, it is still one of the fastest video cards that money can buy and is capable of playing almost any game, with the exception of Crysis and perhaps Arma 2, at a resolution of 2560x1600 with all settings maxed out.
The Radeon 4870 X2 also benefits from maturity, which means a drop in price. The Radeon 4870 X2 can be found for as little as $350 these days. This is still expensive, but it is surprisingly affordable compared to the high-end cards of yesteryear. The only real flaw with the Radeon 4870 X2 is that ATI's CrossFireX drivers seem to be less mature overall than what can be found with Nvidia's SLI. The performance of this card is great - but it isn't quite as good as one would except from two Radeon 4870 GPUs, and that is because the drivers just don't allow CrossFireX setups to scale that well in most games.
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Geforce GTX 295
Barring quad-SLI setups or other such trickery, there is nothing which offers higher performance than the Nvidia GTX 295. Like the Radeon 4870 X2, the GTX 295 takes two already powerful GPUs - in this case, the GTX200 GPU - and pairs them together for incredible performance. The results are even more stunning than one might initially guess thanks to multi-GPU scaling which seems to work quite well. The GTX 295 has an average FPS of about 50 in Crysis Warhead running at 1920x1200, which is 10 more than the average of the Radeon 4870 X2. The difference is subjectively noticeable, resulting in smoother gameplay.
Of course, you get what you pay for. The GTX 295 runs $500 at most retailers. Sales and mail-in rebates are not that common, either. In fact, those who are interested in this performance, own an SLI capable motherboard, and wish to save some cash would be wise to buy two GTX 260s rather than the GTX 295 as they perform identically but cost about $200 less. That said, there are reasons one might want to run a single card solution, and in that case the GTX 295 is the best money can buy.