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Best PCIe Card: $175 To $300

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$195: Tie

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles (some with lowered detail)

Radeon HD 4890 (Check Prices)

Radeon HD 4890
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 800
Texture Units: 80
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 850
Memory Speed MHz: 975 (3,900 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

The Radeon HD 4890 is essentially an overclocked Radeon HD 4870 on a tweaked die that allows for much greater overclocking headroom. However, it's probably not worth the $45 price premium over the Radeon HD 4870 unless you plan to overclock it.


GeForce GTX 275 (Check Prices)

GeForce GTX 275
Codename: GT200b
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 240
Texture Units: 80
ROPs: 28
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 633
Memory Speed MHz: 1,134 (2,268 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

The GeForce GTX 275 performs neck-and-neck with the Radeon HD 4890, although it doesn't have the same overclocking headroom. It's still a powerful card though, and while most GeForce GTX 275s tend to be more expensive, we did manage to find one at Newegg for under $200.


Best PCIe Card For ~$220: 

Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB (Check Prices)

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

Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB
Codename: 2 x RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units: 80 (2 x 40)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 625
Memory Speed MHz: 993 (1,986 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

The Radeon HD 4850 X2 is essentially two Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire mode on a single card, and it will beat the more expensive GeForce GTX 280. It will even put the hurt on the new, more expensive GeForce GTX 285.

The Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB card remains cheaper than a pair of 1 GB Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire, which is a little surprising. The single Radeon HD 4850 X2 card can be used with any PCIe motherboard, as well.


Best PCIe Card For ~$260-$310: Tie

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles (some with lowered detail)

Two Radeon HD 4870 cards in CrossFire configuration  (Check Prices)

Two Radeon HD 4870 in CrossFire Configuration
Codename: 2 x RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units: 80 (2 x 40)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3,600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Two Radeon HD 4870 cards are a powerful combination, especially when equipped with gobs of memory. However, with the price of a Radeon HD 4870 X2 at $370, we now recommend two Radeon HD 4870 cards in CrossFire mode to save the cash. You can spend as little as $260 on two 512 MB cards, or spend $300 and go all out with the 1 GB cards. Just make sure you have a CrossFire-compatible motherboard and a good power supply in order to use them.


Two GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) cards in SLI configuration (Check Prices)

Two GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) cards in SLI Configuration
Codename: 2 x GT200
Process: 55/65 nm
Universal Shaders: 432 (2 x 216)
Texture Units: 144 (2 x 72)
ROPs: 56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

If you have an SLI-only motherboard your options are limited - you will be spending the full $310 because there is no $130 GeForce GTX 260 available. For that price you will get a pair of very powerful graphics cards, however. As we noted with the single-card recommendations, two GeForce GTX 260 cards in SLI offer advantages in titles that run better with the GeForce GT200 architecture.  As with the single cards, we recommend the newer Core 216 versions, thanks to the similar price and enhanced performance.

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