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PCI Express Interface: $150 to $310

Best Video Cards For The Money: Sept '08
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Best PCIe Card For $170:

Radeon HD 4850
Codename: RV770
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 800
Texture Units: 40
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 625
Memory Speed MHz: 993 (1986 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

The Radeon HD 4850 is the new people’s champion, instantly bringing yesterday’s $300 performance level down to the mainstream $170 price point. The Radeon HD 4850 will usually best the GeForce 9800 GTX, and even the more expensive 9800 GTX+. This card has a lot of potential when used on its own, and becomes a devastating force when paired with a second 4850 in a CrossFire configuration.

Best PCIe Card For $300: 3-way Tie

Radeon HD 4870
Codename: RV770
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 800
Texture Units: 40
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3600 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

The Radeon HD 4870 offers the same architecture as the 4850-series paired with its secret weapon: brand new GDDR5 memory. Because GDDR5 provides about twice as much throughput compared to GDDR3, its 900 MHZ clock speed is comparable to a 3600 MHZ effective memory speed. This edge allows the 4870 to up the ante and offer very compelling performance for the price, in some titles competing with the more expensive GTX 280.

GeForce GTX 260
Codename: GT200
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 192
Texture Units: 64
ROPs: 28
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1998 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

The GeForce GTX 260 offers compelling performance now that it’s price has been reduced to the $270 price point, allowing it to trade blows with the Radeon HD 4870 on it’s own turf. This is one of those situations where a buyer really should examine the game titles they plan to play and do some research into which performs better, although you really can’t go wrong with either card.

GeForce 9800 GX2
Codename: G92
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 256
Texture Units: 128
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 600
Memory Speed MHz: 1500 (3000 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

The GeForce 9800 GX2 competes at the same price point as the Radeon 4870 and GeForce GTX 260, but with a very different technique; instead of a cutting edge GPU, the GX2 uses two previous-generation GPUs in tandem. The end result is a graphics card that isn’t quite as consistent as the Radeon HD 4870 or GeForce GTX 260, but at very high resolutions in the titles that support SLI drivers well, the 9800 GX2 can be a devastating force. Once again, the buyer should look into benchmarks of their favorite titles when considering which of these three cards to purchase.

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  • 2 Hide
    buzzlightbeer , September 5, 2008 8:17 AM
    the 9800gx2 and the 260gtx doesnt not have directx 10.1
  • 3 Hide
    buzzlightbeer , September 5, 2008 8:19 AM
    take out the not heh sorry
  • -3 Hide
    goonting , September 5, 2008 9:21 AM
    surely would have love buying these cards now... i spent $250 on my HD3870 with Zerotherm cooler..huhuhu
  • -1 Hide
    goonting , September 5, 2008 9:22 AM
    late 2007
  • 0 Hide
    JeanLuc , September 5, 2008 9:44 AM
    Nice article but don't you guys read the comments?1?

    A lot of us don't have XFire or SLI motherboards!
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , September 5, 2008 10:22 AM
    @ JeanLuc: Yeah they do.. they mentioned at the end people with nvidia muthaboards or single pcie slot mobos would have to rely on some of the more expensive cards like the 4870 x2 or something like if they want to play at really high resolutions..
  • 3 Hide
    Pwnz0rz3d , September 5, 2008 10:35 AM
    Might be worth adding a comment along the lines that in the heirachy chart each tier is about a 20%(guess?) imporvement on the one below...
  • 0 Hide
    btoflinski , September 5, 2008 12:03 PM
    as of right now no 9800 gt card supports tri-sli. maybe when the refab the card to the new 55nm core they will add tri-sli. but for right now its just a rebadged 8800 gt.
  • 1 Hide
    dagger , September 5, 2008 12:15 PM
    By the way they sounded, 9800gx2 performed around the same as 4870/gtx260, when in fact it outperforms them both by a huge amount across the board and outperforms gtx280 majority of the time. All games within the last 3 years scale with dual gpu, earlier ones get hundreds of fps it doesn't matter anyway.
  • 3 Hide
    spaztic7 , September 5, 2008 12:29 PM
    OK, why did they not recommend the 4870x2 for over $350? It obliterates everything and crushes high resolutions. Not only that, in many games you get up to 4xAA without any performance hits. I guess this is just one of those things that we will never know... :( 
  • -1 Hide
    dobby , September 5, 2008 12:41 PM
    JeanLucNice article but don't you guys read the comments?1? A lot of us don't have XFire or SLI motherboards!

    well they never recommend multiple cards, just cards with GPU's on whihc do not require a SLi/Xf board
  • -2 Hide
    gxavier , September 5, 2008 1:16 PM
    Again, they give 3 cards for the AGP bus... but leave out single card solutions for those of us that don't care for SLI/Xfire.

    I'd gladly play a premium for the 4870x2 (and you do) in order to keep another bus open for a 4x or higher RAID card.

  • 3 Hide
    Aragorn , September 5, 2008 2:05 PM
    They mention the 4870x2 and SLI setups (in fact they recommend the 4850 Xfire as best for $340.
  • -1 Hide
    gto127 , September 5, 2008 2:21 PM
    Concerning not reccomending any cards for over $350. For an enthusiast site to say something like this just baffles me. Sure you have some diminishing returns but in anything that you get the best at you do pay a premium. An extra $200 to have the best card which I suppose would be a 470X2 is not that bad considering the price tag of the best cards not too long ago. People into high end audio will pay many times the price for something that only sounds 10% better. Having the best has always comanded a premium.
  • 4 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:27 PM
    gxavierAgain, they give 3 cards for the AGP bus... but leave out single card solutions for those of us that don't care for SLI/Xfire.


    No we didn't. Please read the whole article before blasting it, guys.
    Page 4:

    "On a final note, users with an Nvidia chipset or a single PCIe slot should remember that they are not able to purchase two Radeon 4850’s in CrossFire, as their motherboards will not accept them. In this case, options like two GeForce 9800 GTX+ cards, the GeForce GTX 280, and the Radeon 4870 X2 are more attractive options. While these solutions are powerful and might be ideal for a few users who are playing at resolutions higher than 1920x1200, the price performance ratio is not attractive enough for us to include them on our recommended list."
  • -1 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:30 PM
    buzzlightbeerthe 9800gx2 and the 260gtx doesnt not have directx 10.1


    Thanks. Fixed!
  • 1 Hide
    alvarobegue , September 5, 2008 2:32 PM
    This is a great guide, but it basically only considers two measures of a card's desirability: price and performance. The key information missing is power consumption. Well, or how hot it gets, or noise level; they are all related.

    It would be great if future editions of "Best Video Cards For The Money" would mention it somewhere in the specs of each card. An even better (for me) option would be an occasional "Best Video Cards For The Power" guide, but I understand that would probably not be of general interest.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:41 PM
    alvarobegueIt would be great if future editions of "Best Video Cardsvideo cards For The Money" would mention it somewhere in the specs of each card. An even better (for me) option would be an occasional "Best Video Cards For The Power" guide, but I understand that would probably not be of general interest.


    Hi Alvarobegue,

    Interesting suggestion, but the 'best cards for the money' article is all about two factors: price, and performance. I'm afraid that adding a third would dilute that focus.

    Having said that, I'll suggest a review focusing on the power consumption of current cards to the graphics review team. It's a good idea. :) 
  • -4 Hide
    gxavier , September 5, 2008 2:42 PM
    GTO127For an enthusiast site to say something like this just baffles me.citation]

    And thats why I no longer consider Tom's an enthusiast site. They're more of a "mainstream budget oriented" hardware site.

    Take a look at the "best gpu" articles from 2007 and older. There was always a $400+ card, a $500+ card, and sometimes even a $600+ level card (GTX ULTRA!). Now this price range doesn't even get it's own header!




  • 5 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:56 PM
    gxavier
    GTO127For an enthusiast site to say something like this just baffles me.citation]And thats why I no longer consider Tom's an enthusiast site. They're more of a "mainstream budget oriented" hardware site.


    Just because I'm an enthusiast doesn't mean I have to advocate overpriced hardware.

    I would argue a true hardware enthusiast would avoid the most expensive stuff, choosing instead the best price/performance hardware available... and then overclocking the shiznit out of it.
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