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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August '09

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August '09
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Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great—that is, if you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, what a gamer needs is the best graphics card within a certain budget.

So if you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right card, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming cards offered for the money.

July Review and August Updates:

August sees the introduction of AMD's 785G chipset and its integrated Radeon HD 4200 IGP, but our high hopes for it were dashed when we learned that it's really no more powerful than the integrated Radeon HD 3200 IGP that preceded it. Unfortunately, we'll have to be patient and wait even longer for an integrated graphics processor good enough to game at 1280x1024.

Aside from this, the only hard news on the graphics front has been a continued price war in front of next-generation GPUs, with AMD's high-end Radeon cards at prices that keep on surprising us; we're still surprised that AMD's former flagship Radeon HD 4870 is available for $130. With it's sister card, the Radeon HD 4850, widely available at $100, AMD has really sewn up the $100-$150 sweet spot in the market with some powerful hadware.

Of course, at $165, Nvidia fights back against the 1 GB Radeon HD 4870 with its GeForce GTX 260, and at $200 it answers the Radeon HD 4890 with its impressive GeForce GTX 275. But between $100 and $130, AMD's Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 512MB undercut Nvidia's GeForce GTS 250 and GTX 260.

That's the news, folks. Not much, I know. We're all waiting patiently for the next-gen stuff to arrive, rumored to be later this year, and we might even see a refresh or two. I'll be sure to brief you once the information gets a little more concrete.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need. We've added a reference page at the end of the column covering integrated graphics processors, which is likely more apropos.
  • The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a chassis with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card needs, and will almost certainly produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision. In most cases, if we have recommended a multiple-card solution, we try to recommend a single-card honorable mention at a comparable price point for those who find multi-card setups undesirable.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices from our PriceGrabber engine, for your reference.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list–they might represent a good deal, but it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
Display 54 Comments.
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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    KT_WASP , August 24, 2009 1:50 PM
    HD 4870.. best buy, hands down. But, that said, I would wait if you were buying, at least until the next gen DX11 cards come out.


    OT... Toms.. Please, oh please, get rid of that God forsaken Gate.com ad. That thing is the most annoying ad I have yet to come across on this site, it drops down into every article and page I'm trying to read.. gets old real quick.
  • 12 Hide
    frozenlead , August 24, 2009 6:46 AM
    Bunch of old cards bumped down to lower price brackets.

    Bring on the new cards, ATI & Nvidia!
Other Comments
  • 12 Hide
    frozenlead , August 24, 2009 6:46 AM
    Bunch of old cards bumped down to lower price brackets.

    Bring on the new cards, ATI & Nvidia!
  • 1 Hide
    MiamiU , August 24, 2009 7:29 AM
    the review states the HD 4870 X2 has exceptional 1920x1200 but 2 HD 4890's in crossfire only have good 1920x1200?? if this is true why would anyone pay more for less?
  • 6 Hide
    masterjaw , August 24, 2009 7:36 AM
    Nothing new. Almost the same as the previous article last month. I hope it would differ next month with the intro of dx11 cards.
  • -3 Hide
    Windaria , August 24, 2009 8:08 AM
    For me, AMD's discontinuing Linux support for cards as recent as 1 year old as being "antiquated" has caused me to lose all respect for them. After all, you can't just upgrade a laptop card, if you could, I would. But since not, I'm sorry, I have lost all confidence in them. After all, you could buy a card from them now, and have them cease support for it in a mere year. They screwed us once, what is supposed to make me believe they may not do it again, with my x1700?
  • 7 Hide
    bucifer , August 24, 2009 9:05 AM
    WindariaFor me, AMD's discontinuing Linux support for cards as recent as 1 year old as being "antiquated" has caused me to lose all respect for them. After all, you can't just upgrade a laptop card, if you could, I would. But since not, I'm sorry, I have lost all confidence in them. After all, you could buy a card from them now, and have them cease support for it in a mere year. They screwed us once, what is supposed to make me believe they may not do it again, with my x1700?


    LoL, you sir are an idiot! You don't need the latest drivers for your card to work! Even if they would support your card they won't bring any performance gains after a year. Drivers are generally focused to fix and improve performance on new models with no effect on the old ones.
    So stop crying like a baby and use the drivers that worked best for you. Be informed next time you start to state such childish whines and stay on topic!

    About the article, indeed pretty much the same thing as last month with some price drops. It has been stated on Tom's that ATI would launch its new generation on Sept 11th. No mention of that in the article?
  • -3 Hide
    barmaley , August 24, 2009 10:32 AM
    Anyone knows when Nvidia is going to announce their cards to counter ATI's launch in near future?
  • 5 Hide
    haplo602 , August 24, 2009 11:37 AM
    buciferLoL, you sir are an idiot! You don't need the latest drivers for your card to work! Even if they would support your card they won't bring any performance gains after a year. Drivers are generally focused to fix and improve performance on new models with no effect on the old ones. So stop crying like a baby and use the drivers that worked best for you. Be informed next time you start to state such childish whines and stay on topic! About the article, indeed pretty much the same thing as last month with some price drops. It has been stated on Tom's that ATI would launch its new generation on Sept 11th. No mention of that in the article?


    way to shoot yourself in the foot ... using old ati linux drivers means you are stuck with old linux kernels and old X versions. the OSS drivers do realy not provide enough 3D support to be viable for other than X compositing.

    next time try to learn a bit about linux before commenting ...
  • 14 Hide
    KT_WASP , August 24, 2009 1:50 PM
    HD 4870.. best buy, hands down. But, that said, I would wait if you were buying, at least until the next gen DX11 cards come out.


    OT... Toms.. Please, oh please, get rid of that God forsaken Gate.com ad. That thing is the most annoying ad I have yet to come across on this site, it drops down into every article and page I'm trying to read.. gets old real quick.
  • -2 Hide
    doomtomb , August 24, 2009 1:54 PM
    I can't believe the prices some of these cards have dropped to. 4870 1GB for $150?? Was $300 not too long ago.

    We've been waiting for new cards from Nvidia and ATI for ages......
  • 4 Hide
    RazberyBandit , August 24, 2009 2:29 PM
    KT_WaspHD 4870.. best buy, hands down. But, that said, I would wait if you were buying, at least until the next gen DX11 cards come out.OT... Toms.. Please, oh please, get rid of that God forsaken Gate.com ad. That thing is the most annoying ad I have yet to come across on this site, it drops down into every article and page I'm trying to read.. gets old real quick.


    Firefox + Adblock Plus add-on would solve your problem.

    Having recently purchased 3 video cards for different systems (4670, 4850, and 4890), I didn't truly need this article to tell me they were the "bang-for-buck" cards in their price bracket, but it's a great resource none the less. For me, the list at the end of the article is the true gem within it.
  • 3 Hide
    thearm , August 24, 2009 2:41 PM
    buciferLoL, you sir are an idiot! You don't need the latest drivers for your card to work! Even if they would support your card they won't bring any performance gains after a year. Drivers are generally focused to fix and improve performance on new models with no effect on the old ones. So stop crying like a baby and use the drivers that worked best for you. Be informed next time you start to state such childish whines and stay on topic!About the article, indeed pretty much the same thing as last month with some price drops. It has been stated on Tom's that ATI would launch its new generation on Sept 11th. No mention of that in the article?


    YOU sir, are an idiot for calling someone an idiot. Your ingnorant for your way of thinking. Most of the time, a new version of a driver is specifically released to address flaws in new games. There are many many reasons to upgrade your video card driver to the latest version and that is just one of them.
  • 8 Hide
    esquire468 , August 24, 2009 2:54 PM
    KT_WaspOT... Toms.. Please, oh please, get rid of that God forsaken Gate.com ad. That thing is the most annoying ad I have yet to come across on this site, it drops down into every article and page I'm trying to read.. gets old real quick.


    +1

    Please get rid of that crap.
  • 1 Hide
    meatwad53186 , August 24, 2009 3:01 PM
    @ Don Woligroski, author of the article:

    I feel that the wording in these articles needs to be defined, and/or redone. First of all, what do you mean when you say that a single HD 4850 gets good performance on 1920X1200 in most games? From looking at the benchmarks, I was looking for good 1920x1200 performance, so I bought an HD 4890 and would not have even considered a 4850. Also why does it say that two HD 4870 1GB cards in Crossfire gives exceptional 1920x1200 performance, and two HD 4890's in Crossfire only offer good performance at 1920x1200?
  • 1 Hide
    saint19 , August 24, 2009 3:22 PM
    Always the same conclusion...with the same words...exactly the same words...
  • 0 Hide
    Shadow703793 , August 24, 2009 3:48 PM
    For the $50 bracket, wouldn't the 9600GSO be a better choice than 4650?
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814121320
    $40 after MIR.
  • 2 Hide
    cleeve , August 24, 2009 3:52 PM
    miamiuthe review states the HD 4870 X2 has exceptional 1920x1200 but 2 HD 4890's in crossfire only have good 1920x1200?? if this is true why would anyone pay more for less?


    Thanks, fixed!

    Remember, those resolution recommendations are general guidelines, not perfect rules that apply to every game out there.
    I put them in so that folks with a 1280x1024 monitor would know that it was a waste to go and buy an ubercard like a 4870 X2 or GTX 295.
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , August 24, 2009 3:53 PM
    Shadow703793For the $50 bracket, wouldn't the 9600GSO be a better choice than 4650?http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6814121320$40 after MIR.


    Absolutely! From the article:

    "Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices from our PriceGrabber engine, for your reference."
  • 1 Hide
    doomtomb , August 24, 2009 4:28 PM
    KT_WaspHD 4870.. best buy, hands down. But, that said, I would wait if you were buying, at least until the next gen DX11 cards come out.OT... Toms.. Please, oh please, get rid of that God forsaken Gate.com ad. That thing is the most annoying ad I have yet to come across on this site, it drops down into every article and page I'm trying to read.. gets old real quick.

    That thing is annoying as hell.
  • 3 Hide
    caamsa , August 24, 2009 4:56 PM
    In your "Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart" you should add crossfire and SLI configurations it would make for a nice quick reference.
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