Two cards fit into this category (NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT and the new ATI RADEON X800 XL) plus the SLI couple of two GeForce 6600 GT cards.
We think the ATI RADEON X800 XL has more appeal towards the end-user. This new graphics card uses the R430 GPU manufactured with 0.11-micron technology. Unlike the X800 PRO, it has 16 pixel pipelines and thus offers more speed even considering its lower GPU clock rate.
The ATI RADEON X800 XL beats the NVIDIA GeForce 6800 GT in pixel shader performance, but loses to it in texturing speed and in processing shadows. Like other new-generation solutions from ATI, the RADEON X800 XL has no problems with full-screen anti-aliasing.
As any other RADEON X800, this card is small and features low power consumption thanks to the 0.11-micron process (it comes without an additional power connector, by the way). Its recommended price is $299, so the RADEON X800 XL is an excellent choice in its price category.
As for the SLI pair of two GeForce 6600 GT, it roughly corresponds to the speed of a single GeForce 6800 GT, if it works correctly, that is. Sometimes these two even beat the RADEON X800 XT. But again, the performance of this SLI combination largely depends on how well the ForceWare driver is optimized for the particular game. With this optimization the SLI pair can yield a speed boost of up to 80 percent. Otherwise, the performance either remains as that of the single card or improves just a little bit. Anyway, this pair will hardly cost you less than one RADEON X800 XT. One GeForce 6600 GT costs about $180 and more, and you need two such cards, and also a SLI-supporting mainboard (about $200 more). All in all such a system may cost as much as $550-600, which is the price of a topmost graphics card that would give you the best performance in all applications, without relying on any driver optimizations.