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PCI Express Interface: $150 to $300

Best Video Cards For The Money: Nov '08
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Best PCIe Card For $160:

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games, some with lowered detail

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 $160 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 $230: Tie

Good 1920x1200 performance

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. This technology provides about twice as much throughput as GDDR3, so 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, even competing with the more expensive GTX 280 in some titles.

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 its price has been reduced to the $220 price point, allowing it to trade blows with the Radeon HD 4870 on its own turf. This is one of those situations where a buyer really should examine the game titles he or she plans to play, and do some research into which performs better for them (although you really can’t go wrong with either card).

Best PCIe Card For $290:

Good 1920x1200 performance

GeForce GTX 260+
Codename: GT200
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 216
Texture Units: 72
ROPs: 28
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1998 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10 / SM 4.0

We designate the new version of the GeForce GTX 260 with a “+” symbol to differentiate it from its identically named older sibling. Even though there is no “official” difference between the two cards, the new GTX 260+ has some very tangible performance increases over the original version. For example, the number of shaders has been increased from 192 to 216, within spitting distance of the GeForce GTX 280’s 240 shaders. ROPs have been increased from 64 to 72, once again approaching the GTX 280’s 80 ROPs.

The result is a card that performs almost as well as the expensive GeForce GTX 280, for much less money, even beating it when overclocked! You must carefully search for the GeForce GTX 260+ by looking hard at the specifications, but it is certainly worth the price premium over the original GTX 260. Its biggest problem is its price, which comes a little close to that of a pair of Radeon 4850s in Crossfire (which would be much more powerful). However, if you wish to avoid multiple card configurations for whatever reason, the 260+ is a great option.

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