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Whether you're a budget gamer who is happy to balance price and performance with the low to mid-range graphics cards available, or a hardcore gamer for whom getting the maximum from your graphics card is important, ask any gamer what is the most important component in their PC and it is a fair bet they'll reply that the graphics card is king.
But while there is a vast choice of low and mid-range graphics cards available, if you're really serious about gaming and getting the most from your games then you'd be wise to consider a high-end graphics card that can handle the latest Direct X 10 features, provide blistering frame rates and play the latest games at the maximum resolutions and texture details. But with so much choice in the graphics card market, which are the best models to go for?
Although NVIDIA's 8000 series of graphics cards have been superceded by the 9000 series, the 8000 series should still be considered serious contenders for a place in your PC, and none is more deserving than MSI's overclocked 8800GTS graphics card. MSI's card provided 512MB of GDDR3, and with an overclocked graphics processor, 128 stream processors and a 256-bit memory bus, it competes favourably with the 9000 series and offers a good level of performance in games at a price akin to much lesser graphics cards.
The MSI card also comes equipped with NVIDIA's PureVideo chipset, which is a dedicated video decoder chip that alleviates the CPU from video decoding tasks.
While there are other flavours of the 8800GTS available from a range of manufacturers, this card should be at the top of the list if you're working to a tight budget.
Since relinquishing their crown to NVIDIA, arch-rival ATI have struggled to regain lost ground. However, since the launch of their X1900 series and latterly their 3800 series, ATI have slowly been clawing their way back into the graphics card picture. And with the HD 3870 X2, the gap has closed still further.
The Radeon HD3870 X2 is a dual-GPU card that offers an astounding level of performance. Kitted out with two RV670 graphics processing units on a single board, users can take advantage of ATI's Crossfire technology without the need for a second graphics card. However, if you have one of the latest Crossfire motherboards, it's possible to run two of these cards together in a CrossfireX configuration.
Not to be outdone by ATI's HD3870 X2, NVIDIA launched their 9800GX2 graphics processing unit. In similar fashion to the ATI card, the NVIDIA offering carries two G92 graphics processing units on a single board, allowing users to take advantage of SLI (scalable link interface) without the need for second card, although if your motherboard supports such, a second card can be installed for QuadSLI capability.
NVIDIA 9800 GTX
However, it does bear striking similarities to the 8800GTS with the main difference being slightly higher operating frequencies which account for slightly more processing power and greater memory bandwidth, which gives rise to unrivalled performance from a single GPU card and at prices around the $350 mark, it's perhaps the best price to performance card available in the current market.