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Hardware 2.0: Best graphics cards, hard drives, and solid state drives list (2012 edition)

Here is the second installment of the final "Hardware 2.0" Best Kit Lists for 2012, looking at GPUs, hard drives, and solid state drives in the extreme, mainstream, and budget price categories.
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1 of 11 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Best graphics cards, hard drives, and solid state drives list of 2012

Here is the second installment of the final "Hardware 2.0" Best Kit Lists for 2012.

The last list looked at CPUs and motherboards ranging from an eye-watering $1,000 to a very reasonable $50. This list will look at graphics cards, hard drives (HDD), and solid state drives (SSD), with prices ranging from $1,000 to a mere $59.

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Extreme GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 690

You probably think that it's a cop-out listing two cards, and maybe it is, but that's what I'm going to do, so allow me to explain why I've done this.

First up, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 690.

When it comes to raw power, there's no doubt that the GeForce GTX 690 is the king. It is essentially two GeForce GTX 680 cards packed onto a single board, with a slightly lower core clock and a 300 Watt TDP. It is, without a doubt, the best graphics card that money can buy.

The only problem with the GeForce GTX 690 is the price tag: $999. 

If that price doesn’t bring a tear to your eye then this is card for you, but if you're not ready to put down that much cash for a graphics card, then read on.

Price: From $999.

Image source: Nvidia.

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Extreme GPU: AMD Radeon HD 7970

If the GeForce GTX 690 is too rich for your blood, and you're happy with what is essentially the second-fasted graphics card, then the AMD Radeon HD 7970 is the card for you.

For about $50-$80 less than the GeForce GTX 680 you get pretty much the same performance, and a card that will take anything you can throw at it.

There are overclocked GHz versions of the AMD Radeon HD 7970 available for an extra cost, but to be honest, most regular AMD Radeon HD 7970 cards are already well overclocked and paying extra gains you little in the way of performance.

You can pick up a Radeon HD 7970 for under $400, making it a far more sensible buy than the GeForce GTX 690.

Price: From $400.

Image source: XFX.

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Mainstream GPU: AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB

While buying the most powerful graphics card gives you bragging rights -- for a while -- you can get excellent performance from a more mainstream cards, and at a more mainstream price.

The AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB gives you a powerful card that can handle modern games without breaking a sweat at a price that's far easier to swallow than going for an extreme card.

Make sure that you pick a Radeon HD 7850 that has 2GB RAM, and not the models with only 1GB. The extra video memory will allow you to crank the texture quality up higher, and help keep the in-game framerate more stable.

Price: From $185.

Image source: Gigabyte.

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Budget GPU: AMD Radeon HD 6670 DDR3

A budget price gets you previous-generation technology, but the AMD Radeon HD 6670 is a very capable card which has the power to handle any modern game you throw at it -- just keep your expectations realistic and don't plan on cranking the settings all to max.

Remember to look for the DDR3 models of these cards, as you'll end up paying the extra for the faster GDDR5 RAM.

Price: From $59.

Image source: SapphireTech.

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Extreme HDD: Western Digital VelociRaptor WD1000DHTZ 1TB

Built around a 10,000-RPM spin speed platters, these SATA 6 Gb/s drives include a 64 MB cache, the Western Digital VelociRaptor drives are the best that money can buy.

While the performance doesn't come close to that of a solid state drive, the VelociRaptor is a blazing fast hard drive, and is packed with features such as pre-emptive wear leveling and no-touch ramp load head technology that help deliver the highest possible reliability rating of any SATA drive.

Price: $299.

Image source: Western Digital.

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Mainstream HDD: Samsung EcoGreen SpinPoint F4 ST2000DL004 2TB

A fantastic drive offering a whopping 2TB of capacity and excellent performance at a decent price.

The Samsung SpinPoint F4 is also a solid, reliable drive, and thanks to technologies such as SilentSeek and NoiseGuard it doesn't sound like a helicopter taking off!

Price: $130.

Image source: Samsung.

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Budget HDD: Western Digital WD Blue WD5000AAKX 500GB

Not much to say about this budget drive other than it offers a decent storage capacity and good reliability at a price that will suit anyone wanting to build or upgrade a budget PC.

Price: $65.

Image source: Western Digital.

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Extreme SSD: Samsung 840 Pro 512GB

At the heart of any good drive is performance, reliability, and capacity. Samsung's 840 Pro ticks all these boxes. The Samsung flash memory can deliver up to 100,000 IOPS random read speed and 540MB/s sequential read speed, while the Specially-engineered wear-leveling and garbage collection algorithms ensure high reliability.

The Samsung 840 Pro also features business-friendly features, including AES 256-bit full disk encryption.

Price: $760.

Image source: Samsung.

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Mainstream SSD: Crucial M4 CT256M4SSD2 2.5-inch 256GB

Want to kit out your PC with an SSD without breaking the bank? The Crucial M4 CT256M4SSD2 2.5-inch 256GB is the drive for you. It offers blazing-fast sequential read speeds of up to 500 MB/s for less than $1 per GB.  

A great drive for desktop or notebook systems.

Price: $200.

Image source: Crucial.

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Budget SSD: OCZ Agility 3 AGT3-25SAT3-120G 2.5-inch 120GB

Mid-range performance and storage capacity at a budget price. The capacity and price makes it an ideal drive to install Windows onto to get fast boot-up speeds.

Price: $110.

Image source: OCZ.

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