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Best Video Cards For The Money: Oct '08

Best Video Cards For The Money: Oct '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.

September Review and August Updates:

As soon as we released last month’s “Best Cards for the Money” article, the mid-range Radeon 4600 series was released and turned the sub-$100 video card market on its ear.

ATI pulled a real coup with the 4600 series by releasing a GPU essentially as powerful as its previous high-end champion, the Radeon 3800 series—the 4600 series has the same number of stream processors (320!) as the 3800 series and has twice the number of texture units (32 vs. 16). To save costs and to keep the 4600 from embarrassing the 3800 series, it was neutered with half of the ROPs and memory interface: 8 ROPs and a 128-bit memory interface. Despite these trade offs, the Radeon HD 4670 series is one hell of a powerful graphics card for $80 and trades blows with the 3800 series cards. The 4670 generally performs between the 3850 and 3870, showing especially well when anti-aliasing is applied. Add to this support for eight-channel LCPM over HDMI audio just like the 4800 series and the 4670 looks like a real people’s champion.

Of course our friends at Nvidia can be counted on to give us a viable alternative at any price point, and that’s exactly what it did by lowering the price of the 9600 GSO to within spitting distance of the 4670. This former lowest-of-the-high-end cards is now priced firmly in the midrange, and performs well opposite the 4600 series. The only concern is that the 9600 GSO cards in the wild are of varying specifications: some are 128-bit cards and some are 192-bit cards, and they have wildly varying clock speeds. So do some comparison shopping if you look at the 9600 GSO.

Other than that, the low-end Radeon 4350 and 4550 were released as well. These cards aren’t quite in stores yet but it’s likely we’ll see them before October ends. With 80 stream processors the new 4300-4500 cards have twice as much shader power as their Radeon 2400-3400 forbears, but they don’t compare well to the 120 stream processors in the Radeon 2600-3600 series. As a result their performance lies between the older mid-range and low-end parts, making them unsuitable for gaming rigs. They do hold quite a bit of potential for low-power home theater PCs though, and we’ll definitely test them in that capacity at Tom’s Hardware in the future.

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 change 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.

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  • 6 Hide
    Duncan NZ , October 6, 2008 8:20 AM
    Nice, glad to see a Tom's article actually acknowledging the existance of the 4870X2. Biggest complaint, you put a $340 config in the $350 and up section...
  • 2 Hide
    johnbilicki , October 6, 2008 8:37 AM
    I like how you guys added relative resolution/performance estimates. It's good to see 1920x1200 wide screen LCD's starting to flirt with the $300 mark. Five years ago I paid what I did for my KDS 24 inch wide screen for a regular 19 inch LCD with only a resolution of 1280x1024. I'm not going to hold my breathe on resolutions greater then 1920x1200 though with the price mark around $1,200!

    You guys may want to also consider wide-screen resolutions for performance estimates as well. Oddly enough I fired up Warcraft III and it doesn't have a 1920x1200 option though rather 1920x1440? Thanks for the article, it's one of my monthly joys to watch the prices fall. :-)
  • -4 Hide
    Luscious , October 6, 2008 9:02 AM
    Would be nice if you guys included the 9600M GT and 9800M GTS in your hierarchy there, laptops have been shipping with them for the last few months.

    I don't see how you cannot recommend a 4870x2 for folks serious about gaming, especially when $1800 easily gets you a "complete" gaming rig to your door with one of those in it. You may think it's overkill, but with all the newer and more demanding games coming out, you want a video card that can scream framerates and eye-candy, not bog down and force you to upgrade a year from now.
  • 3 Hide
    spaztic7 , October 6, 2008 12:09 PM
    YES!!! GOOD ARTICLE! Thank you so much for including the 4870X2! Although it sounded like you are was being pulled, I am just glade that you guy put it in there.
  • 1 Hide
    romioforjulietta , October 6, 2008 12:19 PM
    the best GPUs for the buck are:
    1-HD4870x2 > 280gtx in SLI in all the games.
    2-HD4870 1 GIG version >280gtx in all the games at 2560.1600 RES.
    3-HD4870 512 version>280gtx at 1680.1050 and 1920.1200.
    4-HD4850 devastating power for 150$>9800GTX+ in what ever you want.
    5-HD4670 >>>>>>>>>>>>>9600GSO for LOVE.









  • 0 Hide
    homerdog , October 6, 2008 12:28 PM
    Minor nitpick: The table for the HD3870 incorrectly states that it's a 128 bit card :-/

    For the record I just ordered a factory OCed GTX260 for $240, $199.99 after rebate! I think I'll actually send this rebate in just say I got a GTX260 for $199.99 :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Leandri , October 6, 2008 1:42 PM
    Good article. Not much change from last month, as expected. I'm also glad to see 4850 CF is still a good choice, I plan on upgrading my rig eventually, just need to get that other 4850.
  • 6 Hide
    Annisman , October 6, 2008 1:49 PM
    Yes, thank you for mentioning the 4870X2 Toms. I hope they continue to include the top ranking card in every "best card for the money" articles, because let's face it: if I have pleanty of money in my pocket, the best card for my money is the best one.
  • -3 Hide
    10boohee , October 6, 2008 2:10 PM
    im probably gonna sound like an idiot but what was the conclusion for the best card?
  • 2 Hide
    computerninja7823 , October 6, 2008 2:16 PM
    what about the gtx 280 core 216? great article though
  • 1 Hide
    computerninja7823 , October 6, 2008 2:18 PM
    the best card 10boohee depends on your price range. i have 8800gt 512mb and i love it! crysis maxed out 1240x768!!!
  • 3 Hide
    cleeve , October 6, 2008 2:41 PM
    Duncan NZ[/nom}Biggest complaint, you put a $340 config in the $350 and up section...


    Not $350 and up... it's ~$350

    "~" means "about"
  • 5 Hide
    cleeve , October 6, 2008 2:45 PM
    LusciousYou may think it's overkill, but with all the newer and more demanding games coming out, you want a video card that can scream framerates and eye-candyhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_candy , not bog down and force you to upgrade a year from now.


    Well... IMHO, two 4850's aren't going to become obsolete notably faster than a 4870 X2.

    But you guys wanted the recommendation, so there it is! Nobody can say I don't listen to the readers. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    BlakHart , October 6, 2008 2:52 PM
    Good to see the 1gb 4870 in there...Just bought one lol. should have it tomorrow.
  • 2 Hide
    cleeve , October 6, 2008 3:03 PM
    Duncan NZBiggest complaint, you put a $340 config in the $350 and up section...


    Ah crap, I see what you mean. i'll fix it.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , October 6, 2008 3:18 PM
    I am surprised you didn't take power consumption into consideration when rating these cards. The HD 4670 is a 60W card so it only needs a standard power supply and no external power connector - that is very appealing for a 75W and requires a non-standard power supply and external power connector - very unattractive at this price point.
  • 4 Hide
    cleeve , October 6, 2008 3:29 PM
    shgamingI am surprised you didn't take power consumption into consideration when rating these cards.


    The monthly list is about performance per dollar. I try to focus on that, I sometimes mention HD video playback or power consumption but those are really side issues when dealing with performance per dollar, IMHO.
  • 4 Hide
    homerdog , October 6, 2008 3:37 PM
    Quote:
    The monthly list is about performance per dollar. I try to focus on that, I sometimes mention HD video playback or power consumption but those are really side issues when dealing with performance per dollar, IMHO.

    Ah, but where I live power costs dollars :hello: .

    Just joshin, I genuinely have no complaints about this month's list... aside from the error in the 3870 specifications table :fou: 
    :) 
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