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PCI Express Interface: $0 to $90

Best Video Cards For The Money: Nov '08

Best PCIe Card For Below $50:

Passable 1024x768 performance in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 4350
Codename: RV630
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 80
Texture Units: 8
ROPs: 4
Memory Bus: 64-bit
Core Speed MHz: 600
Memory Speed MHz: 400 (800 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

The Radeon 4350 joins the list not because it’s a great gaming card, but because it can be found for only $40, while the 9400 GT starts at $50.

The cheapest true gaming cards are the Radeon 2600 XT and 9500 GT, but with these cards at the $60 price point they are impossible to recommend due to the fact that the $80 4670 and 9600 GSO are so much superior for just a few dollars more.

So, this round, the 4350 gets the nod as a baseline gaming card for playing at 1024x768. Frankly, though, it’s better suited as an HTPC card for video playback, low power use, and 7-channel audio over HDMI.

Best PCIe Card For $80: Tie

Good 1600x1200 performance in most games

Radeon HD 4670 GDDR3
Codename: RV730
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 320
Texture Units: 32
ROPs: 8
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 1000 (2000 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

The Radeon HD 4670 slaps previous generation high-end performance squarely in the jaw of mid-range pricing. With 320 shader processors, this card means business, and will provide awesome 1600x1200 gaming. Compared to the 9600 GSO, its main advantage is a low power requirement. It doesn’t need an external power cable, which for some upgraders is a really important feature.

GeForce 9600 GSO (aka GeForce 8800 GS)
Codename: G92
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 96
Texture Units: 48
ROPs: 12
Memory Bus: 192 or 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 600
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (1800 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

Previously a high-end card crippled and transformed into a high-to-mid-range card, the release of the Radeon HD 4670 has forced the 9600 GSO to a lower price to remain competitive—which it does. It’s an excellent alternative to the 4670, as long as the buyer compares clock speeds, and makes sure they have one of the desirable models (manufacturers seem to be following the reference speeds very loosely).

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