Best Of The Best: High-End Graphics Card Roundup

Air, Electricity, and Water

If you have the necessary cash at your disposal, you can use it to buy some fabulous graphics cards armed with elaborate cooling solutions.

You won't get much in the way of non-standard cooling at price points under $150. However, for $300, you should get a card that's capable, quiet, and cool. And when it comes to 3D graphics cards that retail for $500 or more, you'll also hear talk about how such expensive boards should include fancy extras, like liquid cooling.

Regardless of how you feel about liquid inside your PC, you have to give it up for EVGA's GeForce GTX 295, for example, which lets the company quietly offer impressive performance from its dual-GPU board. As seasoned lab rats, we're used to standard cooling fans on graphics cards. Once you apply a significant gaming load, you get accustomed to hearing fans spin up akin to a jet engine. By contrast, this water-cooled graphics card is dead silent. You start the testing, brace yourself for an acoustic barrage, and then nothing happens. Great stuff, right?

Dual-GPU architectures ask a lot from their coolers because these designs cram the processors, memory, and power circuitry of two boards into a single package, simultaneously doubling power and thermal requirements, which large heatsinks and powerful fans work hard to displace. Compared to BFG's air-cooled GeForce GTX 295, MSI's GeForce GTX 280 has an easier job—its HydroGen-series card includes only one GPU, making it easier for MSI to pack all of its cooling resources onto a single circuit board. It also makes for a solid-performance product, as the integrated water cooler allows for high clock speeds, letting this older-generation graphics card keep up with the newer GeForce GTX 285 models.

Have no fear if you're reluctant to go the water cooling route. Instead, you can turn to optimized air-cooling alternatives. Nvidia does a good job managing thermals with its massive two-slot reference coolers, but they're often loud and large. With its specialty models, MSI improves upon this design significantly (both in terms of cooling performance and aesthetics). The company's GeForce GTX 285 SuperPipe is a classic example. It uses long (8 mm diameter) heatpipes and twin fans to figuratively blow Nvidia's reference fans away.

On the ATI front, there's a bit of a duel taking place between the MSI Radeon HD 4870 X2 and the Palit Revolution 700 Deluxe version of the same card. Here, loud and cool compete against quiet and cooler.

Thanks to its 40 nm manufacturing technology, the Radeon HD 4770 is also notable in that it is very quiet, energy efficient, and cool. It delivers enough speed at high-quality settings to keep up with some of the quicker high-end cards featured here. You can check out its benchmark results in our tables and we plan to conduct additional tests for other models soon.

Ed.: We're keeping tabs on availability of the Radeon HD 4770s, and right now they're nearly impossible to find. We still recommend the card to anyone who can get their hands on it, but there are plenty of other options out there if you aren't able to wait.

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  • Only one ATi card? What happened to all those OC'd 4890s?
  • And those HAWX benchmarks look ridiculous. ATi should wipe floor with nvidia with that. Of course you didn't put dx10.1 support on. Bastard...
  • cangelini
    quarzOnly one ATi card? What happened to all those OC'd 4890s?

    These are the same boards that were included in the recent charts update, and are largely contingent on what vendors submit for evaluation. We have a review upcoming comparing Sapphire's new 1 GHz Radeon HD 4890 versus the stock 4890. It'll be up in the next couple of weeks, though.
  • ohim
    Am i the only one that find this article akward since looking at the tests done on Ati cards on The Last Remnant game makes me wonder what went wrong ... i mean it`s UT3 engine ... why so low performance ?
  • curnel_D
    Ugh, please tell me that The Last Remnant hasnt been added to the benchmark suite.

    And I'm not exactly sure why the writer decided to bench on Endwar instead of World In Conflict. Why is that exactly?

    And despite Quarz2's apparent fanboism, I think HAWX would have been better benched under 10.1 for the ATI cards, and used the highest stable settings instead of dropping off to DX9.
  • anamaniac
    The EVGA 295 is the stuff gods game with.

    I would love that card. I would have to replace my whole system to work it properly however.
    I want $1500 now... i7 920 (why get better? They all seem to be godly overclockers) and EVGA 295.

    How about a test suit of the EVGA GTX 295 in crossfire for a quad-gpu configuration? I know there's driver issues, but it would be fun to see what it could do regardless. Along with seeing how far Toms can OC the EVGA GTX 295.
    Actually... Toms just needs to do a new system building recommendation roundup. I find them useful personally, and would have used it myself had my cash source had not lost his job...
  • Weird test:
    1) Where are the overclocking results?
    2) Bad choice for benchmarks: Too many old DX9 based graphic engines (FEAR 2, Fallout 3, Left4Dead with >100FPS) or Endwar which is limited to 30FPS. Where is Crysis?
    3) 1900x1200 as highest resolution for high-end cards?
  • EQPlayer
    Seems that the cumulative benchmark graphs are going to be a bit skewed if The Last Remnant results are included in there... it's fairly obvious something odd is going on looking at the numbers for that game.
  • armistitiu
    Worst article in a long time. Why compare how old games perform on NVIDIA's high end graphic cards? Don't get me wrong i like them but where's all the Atomic stuff from Saphire, Asus and XFX had some good stuff from ATI too. So what.. you just took the reference cards from ATI and tested them? :| That is just wrong.
  • pulasky
    WOW what a piece of s********** is this """"""review"""""" Noobidia pay good in this days.
  • darkpower45
    ok i tried playing The Last Remnant on my comp with my 4870x2 and it failed hardcore >.< the game itself is ridiculously boring too. sooo why is it added to the benching list?? *shakes head* makes me sad...
  • guusdekler
    I find it a lack this tests do not include the 3DMark Vantage suite.
    Ok, there aren't many games using DX10, but some very good ones do !.

    Thats the reason i've switched to vista.

    And with me enough people to justify a proper DX10 benchmark.
  • Luscious
    No mention of the GTX 285 2GB version? I'm planning on picking up three of these for a tri-SLI Core i7 build, all water-cooled and overclocked.
  • Ellimist
    well i'm running an factory overclocked gtx285. only because i like solid drivers and DAAMIT doesn't seem to be able to provide these consistently. thats been my biggest problem in picking up an ATI card.

    This review however is terrible. the benchmark selection is dated if nothing else. even toms other reviews of recent have used better benchmarks than this.
  • sosofm
    This benchmark is not fair for Ati !!!
  • IronRyan21
    Lets see some 3dmarkVantage pls
  • drealar
    Like car review magazine (like the one my friend is working for), I THINK they only have cards that were submitted to them and (not sure if this is the case with Tom's) they're only lended for a limited amount of days.

    Although I'm not very satisfied (coz lack of ATI card in your possession), I thank you for the review with Fallout, Left 4 Dead and Last Remnant with DX9. Yup I'm still using XP coz the bog-down symptom with Vista is too noticeable for my rig.

    1920x1200 as minimum threshold? Cool, as my 23" is limted to 1920x1080 anyway :P
  • JeanLuc
    I think you guys should cut Tino Kreiss some slack this I believe his first publication? Saying things like "this is the worst article I've read in a long time" doesn't actually help. You can blame the choice of benchmarks suites on sites manager/editor not the author as he only does what he is told to write. So with that in mind............Cangelini your fired.

    I am curious though, HAWX is a game sponsored by ATI so why is the HD4890 getting it's backside tanned by the GTX275? It's not just a few FPS behind either the difference is quite remarkable and yes I do realise the BFG GTX275 is overclocked but it's not overclocked by a lot.
  • cangelini
    JeanLucCangelini your fired.

    Perhaps you'll hire me as a copy editor for your posts instead? ;-)

    In all seriousness, Tino has been with Tom's German office for a long time. I've asked the staff responsible for testing there to drop in and provide some feedback on the products and benchmarks used here.

  • linaaslt
    How lame this article is... i was always wondering why they don't use full potential of gpu, if ATI is capable of using DX10.1 (and game uses that technology), why not use it. it might not be fair for nvidia but ffs, i believe that this kind of review should show all potential of products.
    Shame for TH!
  • rags_20
    Do you really think you're bring different and a better reviewer by not including Crysis? You're dead wrong.
  • JeanLuc
    cangeliniPerhaps you'll hire me as a copy editor for your posts instead? ;-)In all seriousness, Tino has been with Tom's German office for a long time. I've asked the staff responsible for testing there to drop in and provide some feedback on the products and benchmarks used here. Best,Chris

    *Hint* It would help if you could edit your own posts. :; It really would be handy to have an edit button.
  • radiowars
    quarzOnly one ATi card? What happened to all those OC'd 4890s?

    I counted 5, did you ONLY read one benchamark?
  • I don't know with what system you're doing your benchmarks but I have a BFG 285 OC and I have waaaaaaaaay more than 100fps in 1920x1200 max settings + 4AA and 8AF.