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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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