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PCIe Interface: $250 And Up

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: Jan. '09
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Best PCIe Card For $250: Tie

Good 1920x1200 performance

GeForce GTX 260+
Codename: GT200
Process: 65 nm
Universal Shaders: 216
Texture Units: 72
ROPs: 28
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 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. While 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 have been increased from 192 to 216, which are 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 does, but for much less money. It even beats the GTX 280 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.

Radeon HD 4870 1 GB
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 800
Texture Units: 40
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3,600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.0

It turns out that the Radeon 4870, when equipped with a whole gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, can up the ante to compete against the GeForce GTX 260+ in some titles. As usual when it comes to these two tough competitors, it pays to look at the benchmarks and see which title you play more, as they tend to trade blows depending on the game.

Best PCIe Card For $300:

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles with some lowered detail

2x Radeon HD 4850 512 MB in CrossFire Configuration (Or Radeon 4850 X2 1 GB)
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600
Texture Units: 80
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 625
Memory Speed MHz: 993 (1986 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.0

In the 4850 CrossFire benchmarks we’ve seen so far, we’ve found that AMD has really learned to squeeze the performance out of its new cards. Two 4850s in CrossFire mode will beat the dual-GPU GeForce 9800 GX2—and even put the hurt on the more expensive GeForce GTX 280.

Best PCIe Card For $330:

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles with some lowered detail

2x Radeon HD 4850 1 GB in CrossFire Configuration (Or Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB)
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600
Texture Units: 80
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 625
Memory Speed MHz: 993 (1,986 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.0

A full 2 GB of RAM will allow these options to outperform Nvidia’s flagship GeForce GTX 280 for less money. Two 4850s in CrossFire mode will do the trick and those of you without a CrossFire-compatible motherboard will find the 4850 X2 2 GB more convenient (just make sure your case and power supply can accommodate either option).

Best PCIe Card For $500:

Good 2560x1600 performance in most games, some with lowered detail

Radeon HD 4870 X2
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600
Texture Units: 80
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3,600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

In this author’s opinion, with exponentially increasing prices over $350 offering smaller and smaller performance boosts, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than two Radeon HD 4850s. While the 4870, GTX 260, and GTX 280 perform impressively in multiple-card configurations, there’s just not enough of a gain compared to a Radeon 4850 X2, unless you play at resolutions beyond 1920x1200.

Then again, while we often recommend against purchasing any graphics card that retails for more than $330 from a value point of view, there are those of you for whom money might not be much of an object, who can afford a 30” LCD monitor, and who require the best possible performance money can buy. For those of you, we recommend the $500 Radeon HD 4870 X2, the fastest video card on the planet.

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  • 1 Hide
    kyeana , January 7, 2009 8:14 AM
    Really no change sense Decembers review. I wonder how much the GTX 295 will change things up?
  • -2 Hide
    fudgeboy , January 7, 2009 8:50 AM
    would be interesting to have a dual card section in the hierarchy chary and go back over the older models to see how they shape up (where applicable). i'd love to see where my 7600gt would sit as compared to a single card...
  • 7 Hide
    V3NOM , January 7, 2009 9:31 AM
    i think they should reformat it... pick a bunch of resolutions and show us the best cardsssssssss fpr low, medium and high settings for the majority of the games. or three different pric ranges for a specific res.
  • 1 Hide
    xsamitt , January 7, 2009 11:10 AM
    Quote"It turns out that the Radeon 4870, when equipped with a whole gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, can up the ante to compete against the GeForce GTX 260+ in some titles".

    Interesting way of wording it.......Since it was the nvida card that was beefed up to the Radeon card,which by the way was out first.

    All in the wording isn't it?
  • -4 Hide
    Pei-chen , January 7, 2009 11:56 AM
    A few days too early. GTX 285 will lunch on January 9th. It's basically a die shrank version of 280 with higher clock speed.
  • 0 Hide
    Lans , January 7, 2009 12:37 PM
    A report by Fudzilla shows it is questionable that the GTX 295 will actually debut at the $500 MSRP... Early indication is closer to $600.

    Good news is there are signs that the prices of GTX 280 are dropping and as mentioned in article, others will likely to follow with the actual launch of the GTX 295 (and the GTX 285). :-)

    Yeah, I am going to have to stay tuned for Feb. charts. :-)
  • 0 Hide
    theblade , January 7, 2009 1:28 PM
    It would be nice to have some numbers to inform the readers further about the average performance per dollar of each card recommended, also to have the best bang for the buck at the targeted resolution and in general.
  • 1 Hide
    smirnovovich , January 7, 2009 1:47 PM
    I believe this to be the first time Tom's acknowledge the existence of the 4870 1GB end even now it is being acknowledged as "It turns out that the Radeon 4870, when equipped with a whole gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, can up the ante to compete against the GeForce GTX 260+ in some titles."

    I think it would be better if you would turn this around because GTX 260+ was only launched to match the 4870 1GB.

    (btw, i am no fanboy cause i am gonna sell my 4870 to get a 260+ because it is slightly better :) )
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , January 7, 2009 2:03 PM
    The GTX 280 is only $315 on newegg I think it should be on the list between the 4850 x2s.
  • 3 Hide
    cleeve , January 7, 2009 3:03 PM
    The GTX 280 is certainly looking better, as prices have dropped sharply in the last week. Clearly they're getting rid of the stock to set up the soon-to-be-here 285.

    UNfortunately, that's the nature of this article - it's a 'snaphot', and on a month like this when new products are coming out, things are going to change quite a bit.
  • 1 Hide
    JonnyDough , January 7, 2009 3:26 PM
    Pei-chenA few days too early. GTX 285 will lunch on January 9th. It's basically a die shrank version of 280 with higher clock speed.



    Shrank ain't a word cuz my teacher said it ain't. I think you meant shrunk, which happens to be the past tense of the word shrink.
  • -1 Hide
    drixle45 , January 7, 2009 3:48 PM
    V3NOMi think they should reformat it... pick a bunch of resolutions and show us the best cardsssssssss fpr low, medium and high settings for the majority of the games. or three different pric ranges for a specific res.


    I agree. I have always felt that there could be a better way of formatting these articles but didn't know what to suggest. I would make my decision based on quality, not price. V3NOM's idea bears consideration as an alternative.
  • -4 Hide
    badagliacca , January 7, 2009 4:32 PM
    Any recommendations for non-gamer applications? Text[crispness], video editing, etc.
  • 5 Hide
    Pei-chen , January 7, 2009 4:42 PM
    JonnyDoughShrank ain't a word cuz my teacher said it ain't. I think you meant shrunk, which happens to be the past tense of the word shrink.

    Thank you.
  • 2 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , January 7, 2009 4:42 PM
    So...finally we see the end of the AGP section (sorry Cleeve, someone had to bring it up :)  ). I'm actually surprised you kept it this long, but from someone who has read your "Best Gaming Cards For The Money" articles since you were putting them in the forums--heh, brings back memories...

    ...Okay I'll shut up now.
  • 2 Hide
    jerreece , January 7, 2009 4:47 PM

    Have to agree. Would be nice to a also see the performance differences visually, along with pricing. Would be a cool addition to these monthly reports.
  • 2 Hide
    cerulean , January 7, 2009 5:12 PM
    V3NOMi think they should reformat it... pick a bunch of resolutions and show us the best cardsssssssss fpr low, medium and high settings for the majority of the games. or three different pric ranges for a specific res.


    I was thinking the same thing as I was reading through this article. The format of this article is the same month after month and that's great if you know exactly how much you want to spend on a video card--but it tells you nothing of how good each card's performance is relative to the others in adjacent price ranges. For instance, a card might be the best within a particular price range, but if it's just slightly faster than a card, which is $50 less, it might not be justified to some buyers.

    I would like to see these articles formatted differently and, as per V3NOM's suggestions, rate the cards based on their overall performance per dollar at different resolutions using a standard set of benchmarks. As new benchmark apps and new hardware are introduced, you can change your standard set of benchmarks and add a date/revision so we have a reference point to compare the results. This will allow the readers to rate the cards not only on their price but on their relative performance.
  • 3 Hide
    marraco , January 7, 2009 5:29 PM
    This series of articles are great, but the last page "GRAPHICS CARD HIERARCHY CHART" needs some performance comparison orientation.

    Also, it would be more useful to include Crossfire/SLI setups.
  • -7 Hide
    theubersmurf , January 7, 2009 5:37 PM
    GTX 265 is the name, not GTX 260+.
  • 5 Hide
    cleeve , January 7, 2009 6:24 PM
    I'll address some of your comments here:

    - This article will never have benchmarks for a direct performance comparison. Why? Because this is an editorial article based on my knowledge and experience, it's purpose is to provide quick refrence for people who don't want to look at mountains of data. To add a ton of benchmarks would be in direct conflict with the purpose and spirit of this article; if you're not satisfied with this general overview or are curious about how a specific card performs, google a review of that particular card.

    - I hesitate to add Crossfire and SLI to the heiarchy. Why? Multi-card performance can be very inconsistant. Truth be told, I'm not even 100% comfortable with the dual-GPU cards on the chart, but it's important to have them there so I do the best approximation I can muster.

    - ubersmurf, I'm not talking about the upcoming 265 (if there is an upcoming 55nm version of the 260), I'm talking about the newer versions of the 260 with more stream processors than the original 260 had. Hence, the unofficial designation "260+".
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