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Best PCIe Card: ~$80 To $130

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: November '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$80:

GeForce 9600 GT (Check Prices)

Good 1680x1050 performance in most games

GeForce 9600 GT
Codename: G94
Process: 65nm
Universal Shaders: 64
Texture Units: 32
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 650
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (1,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

The GeForce 9600 GT is a great performer, thanks, in part, to its high-end 256-bit memory interface and speedy DDR3 memory. It's a great choice on an $80 budget, even if the architecture on which it centers is showing its age. Certainly, this card's continued presence here is a testament to Nvidia's engineering work dating back almost two years ago.

Best PCIe Card For ~$100:

Radeon HD 4850 512MB (Check Prices)

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

Radeon HD 4850 512MB
Codename: RV770
Process: 55nm
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 takes the price/performance crown. Nvidia's GeForce GTS 250 can now be found for only $10 more than the Radeon HD 4850. However, the powerful Radeon HD 4870 is priced too closely at $125 for the GeForce to be a recommended buy.

If you're considering this graphics card, buy it while you still can. Availability is waning, and these products won't be around much longer now that the Radeon HD 5750 has arrived. On the other hand, bear in mind that the Radeon HD 5750 supports DirectX 11, Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD Master Audio, and three monitor outputs. Its value might very well be better if gaming isn't your only concern.

Best PCIe Card For ~$125:

Radeon HD 4870 512MB (Check Prices)

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games

Radeon HD 4870 512MB
Codename: RV770
Process: 55nm
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 $125 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.

The parade won't last forever, though. The Radeon HD 4870 is clearly being groomed for extinction to make way for the new Radeon HD 5770. So, if you're interested, get them while you still can.

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    dirtmountain , November 5, 2009 5:32 AM
    The 2 monthly articles by Mr. Woligroski (Best Graphic Cards for the Money and Best Gaming CPUs for the Money) are some of the best and most informative articles here at THW and should be required reading for anyone posting questions about a new gaming build or an gaming upgrade.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    wintermint , November 5, 2009 5:08 AM
    Ahh the article finally came out :D 
  • 14 Hide
    dirtmountain , November 5, 2009 5:32 AM
    The 2 monthly articles by Mr. Woligroski (Best Graphic Cards for the Money and Best Gaming CPUs for the Money) are some of the best and most informative articles here at THW and should be required reading for anyone posting questions about a new gaming build or an gaming upgrade.
  • 2 Hide
    Onyx2291 , November 5, 2009 5:39 AM
    Finally another! Was wondering when it'd come out. November is a good month to take a look at this.
  • -7 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , November 5, 2009 5:40 AM
    A year and a half ago when I upgraded my 8800gt to a 9800gtx+ that card was considered one of the best and most efficient at a pricing/preformance standpoint. Now that card or any of its counterparts are nowhere to be seen..... Good job Ati for putting out the dismal 4850.....
  • 0 Hide
    noob2222 , November 5, 2009 5:46 AM
    would also be noteworthy to mention that the 58xx cards can be xfired for even better futureproofing. Honorable mention at 5850 290, recommended at $580 imo since its considerably faster than the 295 for $120 extra.
  • 1 Hide
    avatar_raq , November 5, 2009 6:11 AM
    It makes sense to put the 5800 cards as honorable mentions, after all they are extremely hard to find online..I'm waiting to see their performance in DX11 games, probably I'll wait for the 2Gb version of 5870.
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , November 5, 2009 6:37 AM
    Isn't the 8600M GT a mobile variant?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 5, 2009 6:40 AM
    To Nivdia.

    ATI
    .....
    .......
    .........
    ...........
    .............
    ..
    ..

    Merry Xmas from ATI, 2009
  • -6 Hide
    coonday , November 5, 2009 6:52 AM
    Honorable mentions are lame.
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , November 5, 2009 7:35 AM
    Thanks for the great article as usual! This time around it was more fun to read than the other times for some reason.

    I also caught one typo in the hiearchy chart: HD 485?
  • 0 Hide
    Samamba , November 5, 2009 9:10 AM
    Typo in last page
    Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 485, HD 5750

    **HD 4850**
  • 1 Hide
    manwell999 , November 5, 2009 10:07 AM
    September's hierarchy had the GTX295 one level above the 4870x2, this month they are on the same level.
  • 1 Hide
    xizel , November 5, 2009 11:16 AM
    typo also in last page third tear mistake on the 4890
    Discrete: HD 4870, HD 489, HD 5770
  • 0 Hide
    skora , November 5, 2009 11:18 AM
    Great article again. The ever changing GPU market keeps us on our toes.

    Is there any merrit to suggesting CF setups with the note of minimum PCIe lanes? I know once you get into the boards that really start to saturate the lanes, you're in a budget that shouldn't be using x8/x8, but it might be worth noting when that happens.

    Typo?
    The 9600GSO is listed with a 256bit memory bandwidth. Never seen anything higher than 192.
  • 3 Hide
    coconutboy , November 5, 2009 11:30 AM
    Hey Don, question/comment. It's great to have mobile and integrated chipsets added to the hierarchy chart, but the huge amount of added text saying "discrete" makes things less readable. I think a good compromise would be to have a note at the top or bottom of the chart saying that all parts listed are assumed to be discrete unless otherwise noted. This will have the added benefit of making it easier to spot the mobile/integrated chipsets for those who are actually interested.
  • -6 Hide
    donovands , November 5, 2009 11:45 AM
    Ok, how likely is it that we'll be seeing exclusive DX11 games anytime in the next five years? The 5800 series gets a mention here because of their DirectX11 compatibility as 'Futureproofing'. I strongly suspect that even if games are released with DX11 support, they will run just fine on 9 and 10. That being said, we're probably better off with a pair of 4890's rather than a single 5870.
  • -9 Hide
    donovands , November 5, 2009 11:56 AM
    4890 x2 not on the list. Should be tier 1.
  • 1 Hide
    Zenthar , November 5, 2009 12:28 PM
    I'd like to point out that for really high resolution like 2560x1600, the limited 512MB of the 4870 in crossfire could be a limiting factor. Then again, if you were planning on spending only 250$ on a card to play at that resolution, you might be delusional :p .
  • 2 Hide
    Zenthar , November 5, 2009 12:32 PM
    donovands4890 x2 not on the list. Should be tier 1.

    The chart only include single cards, the X2 presents are for dual-GPU cards. Since there is no dual-gpu card based on the 4890, it isn't present. But if you are eager to see ATI on top, wait for the 5970 (aka 5870X2 ;) ).
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , November 5, 2009 1:41 PM
    manwell999September's hierarchy had the GTX295 one level above the 4870x2, this month they are on the same level.


    You noticed that, huh? :) 

    Yes, I went and ran a ton of cuurent results through a spreadsheet. To my surprise, there was less than a 5% performance spread between the 295 and the 4870 X2. Looks like ATI's drivers have pushed the card in the past months, or maybe I just assumed a bigger performance spread between the two cards. In any case, I tweaked the heirarchy to reflect that.

    The sad part is, based on availability it looks like the 4870 X2 is being end-of-lined. :( 
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