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The value proposition
Now that we've stuffed you full of benchmark results, we'll try to help you make some sense of the bigger picture. We'll start by compiling an overall average performance index, based on the highest quality settings and resolutions tested for each of our games, with the notable exception of the disputed HAWX 2. We've excluded directed performance tests from this index, and for Civ V, we included only the "late game view" results.

Holy moly, we have a tie. The GTX 570 and 6970 are evenly matched overall in terms of raw performance. With the results this close, we should acknowledge that the addition or subtraction of a single game could sway the results in either direction.

With this performance index established, we can consider overall performance per dollar by factoring price into the mix. Rather than relying on list prices all around, we grabbed our prices off of Newegg where possible. The exception: out of necessity, we're trusting AMD that its suggested prices for the 6900 cards will translate into similar street prices.

Generally, for graphics cards with reference clock speeds, we simply picked the lowest priced variant of a particular card available. For instance, that's what we did for the GTX 580. For the cards with custom speeds, such as the Asus GTX 460 768MB and 6850, we used the price of that exact model as our reference.

AMD card Price Nvidia card
$169.99 GeForce GTX 460 768MB
Radeon HD 6850 $179.99
$214.99 GeForce GTX 460 1GB 810MHz
Radeon HD 6870 $239.99
$259.99 GeForce GTX 470
Radeon HD 5870 $289.99
Radeon HD 6950 $299.00
$349.99 GeForce GTX 570
Radeon HD 6970 $369.00
$429.99 GeForce GTX 480
Radeon HD 5870 2GB $499.99
Radeon HD 5970 $499.99
$509.99 GeForce GTX 580

A simple mash-up of price and performance produces these results:

The lower-priced solutions tend to bubble to the top whenever you look at raw price and performance like that.

We can get a better sense of the overall picture by plotting price and performance on a scatter plot. On this plot, the better values will be closer to the top left corner, where performance is high and price is low. Worse values will gravitate toward the bottom right, where low frame rates meet high prices.

Either way you slice it, the GTX 570 looks to be a better value than the Radeon HD 6970 for a simple reason: equivalent performance and a $20 price gap in the GTX 570's favor. Happily for AMD, the Radeon HD 6950 looks to be a better value than either of them, albeit at a lower performance level.

Another way we can consider GPU value is in the context of a larger system purchase, which may shed a different light on what it makes sense to buy. The 6900-series Radeons are definitely enthusiast-type parts, so we've paired it with a proposed system config that's similar to the hardware in our testbed system but a little more economical.

CPU Intel Core i7-950 $294.99
Cooler Thermaltake V1 $51.99
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R $194.99
Memory 6GB Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1333 $74.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB $89.99
Asus DRW-24B1ST $19.99
Audio Asus Xonar DG $29.99
PSU PC Power & Cooling Silencer Mk II 750W $119.99
Enclosure Corsair Graphite Series 600T $159.99
Total $1,036.91

That system price will be our base. We've added the cost of the video cards to the total, factored in performance, and voila:

Factor in the price of a complete system, and guess what? That $20 gap between the 6970 and GTX 570 pretty much melts into irrelevance. In fact, the 6970's ever-so-teeny performance advantage must justify the additional 20 bucks.

Remember that these results would look very different with a more or less expensive system, so your mileage may vary.