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Best PCIe Card: $100 To $190

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$100:

Radeon HD 4850 512 MB (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1680x1050 performance in most games, 1920x1200 in most games with some lowered detail

Radeon HD 4850 512 MB
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 800
Texture Units: 40
ROPs: 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

With Radeon HD 4850 512 MB prices dropping to a surprisingly low $100, this card easily takes the price/performance crown from the Radeon HD 4770 (which is still about $115 due to availability issues). With generally-better performance compared to the Radeon HD 4770 and comparable performance with the more expensive GeForce GTS 250, the pressure is on Nvidia to drop prices in order to compete.

Of course, we're wondering how e-tailers feel about hacking down the prices for the Radeon HD 4850 in response to the Radeon HD 4770, only to see 4770 inventory levels evaporate. Ouch.


Best PCIe Card For ~$130:

Radeon HD 4870 512 MB (Check Prices)

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games

Radeon HD 4870 512 MB
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 4.1

This is the sweet spot, folks. If someone told us the Radeon HD 4870 would be marked down to $130 four months ago, we'd have laughed in their face. Well, who is laughing now? Gamers are, with this very powerful card and its fast GDDR5 memory available at bargain-basement prices.


Best PCIe Card For ~$150-$165:  Tie

Radeon HD 4870 1GB (Check Prices)

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games

Radeon HD 4870 1GB
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 4.1

For $20 more than the 512 MB version, you can have the 1 GB Radeon HD 4870. For a few dollars less than the GeForce GTX 260, the Radeon card offers a little more RAM and comparable performance.

GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) (Check Prices)

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games

GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216)
Codename: GT200
Process: 55 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

While these cards might not sport a full 1 GB of RAM, they do offer advantages in titles that run better on Nvidia's GT200 architecture. Once again, a little diligence is required on the part of the buyer to find out which card is the best adapted for his or her favorite titles and whether or not the motherboard supports SLI or CrossFire. (Ed.: Check out our recent Radeon HD 4890 review, which has numbers for the 512 MB and 1 GB Radeon HD 4870s, along with the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216).

Note that we are recommending the newer Core 216 version of the GeForce GTX 260 instead of the older version with 192 shader processors, which is now becoming hard to find. Regardless, check the specifications of any card before you purchase.

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