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Best Video Cards For The Money: Sept '08

Best Video Cards For The Money: Sept '08
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Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great—that is, if you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, what a gamer needs is the best graphics card within a certain budget.

So if you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to make the right decision, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming cards offered for the money.

August Review and September Updates:

As the new GPUs from AMD and Nvidia flood the market, previous generation cards keep getting cheaper and cheaper. The amount of very powerful graphics cards at the $100 price point is staggering: The Radeon HD 3850, GeForce 8800 GS, 9800 GSO, GeForce 9600 GT, and GeForce 8800 GT 512MB can all be had in the neighborhood of this very low price.

In August, the Radeon HD 4870 X2—AMD’s dual-4870s-on-a-card—arrived in force, becoming the highest-performing single graphics card in the world. At a $550 price tag however, it’s too hard on the budget to easily recommend when two separate 4870 cards can be purchased for slightly less and used in a CrossFire configuration. Having said that, it is notable that AMD has the championship title in its ring again.

Nvidia hasn’t been resting on its laurels, however, and has introduced stronger competition for the Radeon HD 4870 by lowering prices on both the GeForce GTX 260 and GeForce 9800 GX2 to a similar level. This has really softened the Radeon HD 4870’s thunder and it now shares the $270 recommendation with these two excellent high-performing cards.

As far as rumors go, it is speculated that AMD will be releasing the 4600 series in the near future as a mid-range line that offers technical specifications similar to the powerful 3800 series, but with a throttled-back 128-bit memory interface (compared to the 3800-series’ 256-bit memory interface). This would make a great mid-range product, but the problem is with all of the inexpensive, high-performing cards at the $100 price point, the 4600 series will need to be available at about $80 to offer desirable price/performance. We’ll see what happens.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list include:

- This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, the cards in this list are more expensive than what you really need;
- Prices and availability changes on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing info, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest;
- The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or retail, your mileage will most certainly vary;
- These are new card prices. No used or open box cards are in the list; they might be a good deal, but it’s out of the scope of what we’re trying to do.

Display 103 Comments.
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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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