Choosing the right graphics card for a new computer

I'm putting together specs for a new computer that I plan to order in the next few weeks. I'm not a serious gamer, but as long as I'm investing in a new one, I want to make sure it will do what I want, now and in the future, such as:
- Microsoft's new flight simulator
- Games & movies that use Nvidia's 3D Vision (I plan to add a 3D projector within the next year)

I have settled on a Core i&-950 processor. Now I'd like help with choosing the right video card. I don't have an unlimited budget. I have been considering the GeForce GTX 460, but it gets confusing.
- Is this card powerful enough?
- Are 2 cheaper cards in SLI mode better than a single more expensive one?
- How much difference does 2 GB vs. 1 GB make?
- I'd like to run 2 monitors plus the projector

Thanks. I will appreciate all input.
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RocknBloggerConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Having a dedicated PhysX card can increase your frame rate regardless of what you use as a main card. 2 things to consider. 1. Heat. If the new 500 series card is like the 400 series it will run pretty hot. Having a second card installed will add to that issue. 2nd, not very many games support PhysX so it's going to be a minimal usage type of thing. You have to way the benefit vs heat and power tax and figure out what's most beneficial for you.

Don't assume that your going to get a lifetime warranty, assume your going to get a 1 year warranty if your buying from a PC builder. Everyone wants to have the largest profit margin possible so any cost cutting will probably be in attractive to them. Make sure of this before you order the system.

My opinion is a bit different than yours here. I would go with the top of the line GTX480 as opposed to the 580. Prices wise the bottom 580 and the top 480 are about the same. So to get the big punch out of the 580 you would have to buy the GTX580 Superclocked card which would give you maybe a 15% to 20% boost in performance (maybe) at about $50 more. Also The GTX480 is on it's 3rd or 4th iteration meaning that early bugs have been worked out. Just like i7 processors, the later releases are much more stable and much better for overclocking.

I have the GTX480 and I can tell from personal experience that I play every single game with all settings set to their max, every single one, and the card doesn't break a sweat. The graphics are incredible. Another thing to consider is if you think you might want to go SLi in the future what better way to do it than with 2 or 3 480's. The Firmi processor the 480's have is awesome and very capable. I really don't think I would go with the 580 unless I had real need for it. At this point I would probably wait for the 600 series before upgrading again unless I decide to go SLi. I just don't think 10% to 20% increase would benefit me that much.

If I were you I would invest the difference in more ram maybe. I originally had 6GB's and while that was good it was nothing like when I upgraded to 12GB's. Don't set all your focus on the video card, yes it's important but don't overlook other areas that you might want to improve. Have you though about using an SSD drive for your OS/Gaming drive? That will give you the biggest boost in performance second to the video card. Actually it's probably the other way around but the SSD won't do anything for graphics:-)
The GTX 460 is a great card and should work well for you. What I do with SLI is buy the fastest single card I can afford then a few months down the road when I feel I need a boost the performance I'll add a 2nd for sli, and depending on the card, motherboard and power supply you can have 2-way sli, 3-way sli, and 4-way sli. The amount of performance increase varies but is more often than not noticeable. The amount of ram on the card helps performance when using high resolutions and eye candy like anti-aliasing(AA), and anisotropic filtering(AF). For 3 Independent displays you'll need a 2nd card, I'd get a cheapy like a gt 210 or gt 220, just make sure it uses the same driver as the GTX 460. The GTX 460 has 3 video outputs(2x dvi and 1x hdmi) but that would only support a surround display across all 3 displays. If you get a GTX 460 get the 1Gb version as its faster than the 768Mb version.
If you're considering the GTX460 then you're in the price range of the GTX470. You may as well go with the GTX470 to get the most bang for your buck. While the specs are similar you will get better performance out of the 470. However there are a couple more things you need to consider.

Make sure you have the right power supply to run either of these cards. To be on the safe side I would say to get a 1000W power supply. You can probably get away with a good quality 850W PSU but you might as well go with a bigger one for later expansion (SLI). These cards also run hotter than previous GTX260 cards so make sure you have good ventilation. I wouldn't go with a small case, you want as much air flow as you can get.

As for SLI unless you went with a couple 460/470 cards your not going to get much if any boost in performance going with lower priced cards like the 260's. Also not all games are SLI ready so you can run into problems with some game titles.

You can easily run 2 monitors with a single 460/470 card. I can't tell you anything about the projector without some more information. Basically these cards have 2 DVI ports and one mini-HDMI (They come with an HDMI cable).

You say that you're ordering your PC, can you build it yourself? You can probably save some money putting it all together yourself and invest a bit more into your build. For example you may want to consider a GTX480 which would future proof your system for at least 2 to 3 years. Also take into consideration that the 500 series of cards have hit the marketplace which should lower the price on the 480 cards in the next couple of months.

As a recommendation I would look at EVGA cards. They have excellent customer support 24/7 that you can call. I've used other brands and found support lacking unless you can be satisfied with forum support which EVGA does have too and also excellent I might add. I've use EVGA products for years now and have never had any reliability issues.

EVGA has 2 different warantees, lifetime and 1 year. All their cards that end in AR are lifetime (01G-P3-1378-AR) 1 year would be TR (01G-P3-1378-TR).

I hope this all helps. If you have any other questions I'll be more than happy to answer them for you.
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bob42376Author Commented:
Thanks for the great information.

RocknBlogger, you are causing me to rethink building my own. It's just an issue of time.I like your thinking about the GTX 480. That's about $300 beyond what I had planned. But, for just a little more, I could go with the 580. I'm guessing I'd have to wait a long time for that one to drop significantly in price.

I'm sure the 580 I would get from an online builder would not be the lifetime warranty version, so another thought if I go that route - order the computer with a low-end card and then install the 580 myself, using the low end card as a dedicated PHYSX card. But does a dedicated PHYSX card make any sense with the 580?

Thanks for your patience. All this gives me a headache.
Here are some real world numbers that might help you decide which card to get. 1024x768 1280x1024 1024x768 1680x1050 1920x1200 2560x1600
bob42376Author Commented:
Great help - Thanks!
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