I know the 5970's and 5870's are pretty much the 'sweet spot' right now. Hard to find new though.
You don't need new. Used ones are MUCH more cost-effective.
Yeah, but you have to be careful they haven't been trashed bitcoin mining ... some of things I see guys talking about on the mining forum threads with ham-fisting over-clock changes, machine hang, screen black, etc makes me shudder to think what they just did to their cards ...
actually, that's probably nothing. the general user wont be able to alter the 5870 into bricking status. AB has a limit on voltages and the gpu shuts itself down if it hits a certain temp threshold.
you'd have to volt mod the gpu