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Best PCIe Card: ~$190 To $300

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: April 2010
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Best PCIe Card For ~$210-$230: Tie

2 x Radeon HD 4850 in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

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

2 x Radeon HD 4850 in CrossFire
Codename: 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

Two Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire continue to offer a combination of high performance and reasonably low cost, making them a good choice for a gaming enthusiast on a budget. Two hundred dollars will get you a couple 512MB cards, while $230 should score a duo of 1GB models. You'll need a CrossFire-compatible motherboard of course, but that's not a problem for most folks with Intel- or AMD-based platforms.

2 x GeForce GTS 250 in SLI Configuration (Check Prices)

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

2 x GeForce GTS 250 in SLI
Codename: G92
Process: 65 nm
Universal Shaders: 256 (2 x 128)
Texture Units: 128 (2 x 64)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 738 / 1,836
Memory Speed MHz: 1,100 (2,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

Just like the Radeon HD 4850s, two GeForce GTS 250 cards combined in SLI mode make a very powerful combination for a very reasonable price. The combination you choose will probably depend on your motherboard. If you're rocking an Nvidia-based platform, SLI support is likely included. X58- and most P55-based boards also support a pair of Nvidia GPUs. AMD-based chipsets do not include that functionality.

Honorable Mention:
Radeon HD 5830 (Check Prices)

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

Radeon HD 5830
Codename: RV870
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,120
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 1,000 (4,000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5

The new Radeon HD 5830 delivers Radeon HD 4890-class performance for $240, but includes all of the Radeon HD 5000-series value-adds to go with it.

From a pure value standpoint, a pair of CrossFired Radeon HD 4850's are much faster, and so is a single Radeon HD 5850. However, with the disappearance of the Radeon HD 4890 and GeForce GTX 275 from the market, the Radeon HD 5830 is the only single card left standing at this price point. For this reason, it scores an honorable mention for users who don't have the luxury of a CrossFire-capable motherboard.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5830 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$290:

Radeon HD 5850 (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

Radeon HD 5850
Codename: RV870 "Cypress"
Process: 40nm
Universal Shaders: 1,440
Texture Units: 72
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 725
Memory Speed MHz: 1,000 (4,000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

Fortunately for value-seekers, the Radeon HD 5850 recently dropped back under the $300 price point. Despite competition from Nvidia's GeForce GTX 470, the Radeon HD 5850 remains a superb performer for the price. It doesn't need a CrossFire-compatible motherboard, it sips power at idle, and the card sports DirectX 11 and Eyefinity capabilities. If sub-$300 price tags fit your budget, the Radeon HD 5850 is an obvious recommendation.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 5850 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Honorable Mention: 2 x Radeon HD 5770 in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

Radeon HD 5770
Codename: RV840 "Juniper"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units: 80 (2 x 40)
ROPs: 32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus: 128-bit
Core Speed MHz: 850
Memory Speed MHz: 1,200 (4,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0

A pair of Radeon HD 5770s in CrossFire is a very effective high-end configuration for the dollar, sometimes besting even the Radeon HD 5850 on the performance front. The extra expense required by CrossFire manifested in high-end motherboards and power supplies prevents a clean recommendation, but this setup remains a viable option.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5770 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    nottheking , April 19, 2010 11:14 AM
    Really, I think that you give the GTX 400 series a bit TOO much benefit of the doubt. Especially when it comes to the GTX 470, given that it often LOSES to the 5850, seemingly more than it wins, it makes it a head-scratcher at $60US more; how could it get an honorable mention for slightly inferior performance with a ~20% higher price? And when the 470 does win, it tends to be a very narrow margin; compared to an often-wide margin when it loses.

    The GTX 480 isn't quite as bad off; it USUALLY wins over the 5870, but then again, it can be quite questionable to ask for the nearly $100US pemium over the Radeon; certainly a more questionable premium than jumping straight to the 5970, which at times seems to offer better price/performance than the 480.

    Similarly, it makes it another head-scratcher that you went out of your way to list the 470/480 on separate, higher tiers than the 5850/5870. With the former of each pair, the 470 most certainly CANNOT be argued to be outright superior; at best it is really on a par. As for the latter, while the 480 shows itself to be typically stronger than the 5870, It's relatively small margin most of the time.

    neiroatopelccQuestion about graphics.....Do you think we'll see non-flat floors in a game any time soon? tesselation is for non important stuff right? and bump mapping doesn't properly work on floors - even the crysis 2 screenshots very clearly show a flat floor with objects placed on it. I'm soo looking forward to the day where the geometry doesn't feature painted on grass or shader grass on flat surfaces (that was good in oblivion, but that's ages ago).

    First off, Oblivion's grass wasn't all that complex an implementation; it simply was a procedural-generation routine that on-the-fly populates the ground with grass "clumps," with the chance, color/texture, and size of them appearing determined by the ground texture(s) used for that vertex.

    As far as the floor surfaces, what they look like is largely determined by the programmer; if one wanted, one could readily apply paralax mapping (or even a more complex shader) to ground surfaces, it's just that they typically don't. I honestly don't quite know why, (perhaps Cleeve would) but my two hyptheosis are that it could be a design choice to distinguish "walkable" terrain, or that it could be a limitation of the terrain-heightmap subsystem. (possibly calculating it over very large surfaces?)
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    matt314 , April 19, 2010 6:18 AM
    Yay finally up :)  thanks Tom!
  • -4 Hide
    Annisman , April 19, 2010 6:19 AM
    What ?
  • 8 Hide
    touchdowntexas13 , April 19, 2010 6:35 AM
    Another great overview. I think next month's(or the month after that) should prove to be a bit more exciting though. Nvidia's cards will be on the market, and hopefully not too scarce. Maybe we can see some price drops from ATI, followed hopefully by Nvidia though I think it's less likely.

    Just my thoughts anyways.
  • 8 Hide
    triculious , April 19, 2010 6:43 AM
    I'm still waiting for the Nvidia cards to be available... once they are the price war should start shortly after... then shopping for cards will become interesting

    Also, one request here: would it be too much to ask the hierarchy chart to show the standings of dual card configurations?
  • 5 Hide
    knowom , April 19, 2010 6:49 AM
    G92 is the little engine that could I'm actually hoping Nvidia gives it another steroid shot from a die shrink to 40nm and maybe even make a 40nm X2 that's SLI capable version a good design has so much lasting power just look at Intel's Atom that's basically just a highly refined P3 essentially.
  • 4 Hide
    Silluete , April 19, 2010 7:26 AM
    dammit my 4650 ddr2 not even in list anymore *sob*
  • -5 Hide
    IronRyan21 , April 19, 2010 7:47 AM
    IMO, I wouldn't have included Nvidia's GTX 470/480 Not even available. They've only release like 8000....
  • 1 Hide
    nirdinur , April 19, 2010 8:21 AM
    giving a single card a honorable mention makes sence because not everyone has xfire/sli mb but I don't understand the reason behind giving it to 2 5770 setup compared to a single 5850. Even if you have a xfire mb and performance is a better a single card at the same price is a better choice because you have a good upgrade option later adding another card.
  • 3 Hide
    micky_lund , April 19, 2010 8:47 AM
    5770 CF can beat 5870 in some titles. surely it should be given some consideration, specially as they are much more available than most of the 58**s
  • -1 Hide
    XxOsurfer3xX , April 19, 2010 9:17 AM
    Waiting for the price drops! I want my 5870!
  • -3 Hide
    mitch074 , April 19, 2010 9:22 AM
    I'm feeling mighty good: my 2 yo 4850 is still a recommended product! ... If I hadn't had to change the HSF for an aftermarket one. And tinker with its VBIOS base frequencies.

    Well, maybe I could try and overclock it, now - the HSF I got seems a wee bit oversized.
  • 2 Hide
    jkcajkca , April 19, 2010 9:44 AM
    adbatStill missing are the "Intel® HD Graphics"


    do you have any idea on what you are talking about?
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , April 19, 2010 10:03 AM
    The HD4670 section still points to the 9600 as superior alternative. Didn't you mean 9800? (5 bucks more expensive in your list)

    Anyway. Cleeve. Question about graphics.....

    Do you think we'll see non-flat floors in a game any time soon? tesselation is for non important stuff right? and bump mapping doesn't properly work on floors - even the crysis 2 screenshots very clearly show a flat floor with objects placed on it.

    I'm soo looking forward to the day where the geometry doesn't feature painted on grass or shader grass on flat surfaces (that was good in oblivion, but that's ages ago).
  • 15 Hide
    nottheking , April 19, 2010 11:14 AM
    Really, I think that you give the GTX 400 series a bit TOO much benefit of the doubt. Especially when it comes to the GTX 470, given that it often LOSES to the 5850, seemingly more than it wins, it makes it a head-scratcher at $60US more; how could it get an honorable mention for slightly inferior performance with a ~20% higher price? And when the 470 does win, it tends to be a very narrow margin; compared to an often-wide margin when it loses.

    The GTX 480 isn't quite as bad off; it USUALLY wins over the 5870, but then again, it can be quite questionable to ask for the nearly $100US pemium over the Radeon; certainly a more questionable premium than jumping straight to the 5970, which at times seems to offer better price/performance than the 480.

    Similarly, it makes it another head-scratcher that you went out of your way to list the 470/480 on separate, higher tiers than the 5850/5870. With the former of each pair, the 470 most certainly CANNOT be argued to be outright superior; at best it is really on a par. As for the latter, while the 480 shows itself to be typically stronger than the 5870, It's relatively small margin most of the time.

    neiroatopelccQuestion about graphics.....Do you think we'll see non-flat floors in a game any time soon? tesselation is for non important stuff right? and bump mapping doesn't properly work on floors - even the crysis 2 screenshots very clearly show a flat floor with objects placed on it. I'm soo looking forward to the day where the geometry doesn't feature painted on grass or shader grass on flat surfaces (that was good in oblivion, but that's ages ago).

    First off, Oblivion's grass wasn't all that complex an implementation; it simply was a procedural-generation routine that on-the-fly populates the ground with grass "clumps," with the chance, color/texture, and size of them appearing determined by the ground texture(s) used for that vertex.

    As far as the floor surfaces, what they look like is largely determined by the programmer; if one wanted, one could readily apply paralax mapping (or even a more complex shader) to ground surfaces, it's just that they typically don't. I honestly don't quite know why, (perhaps Cleeve would) but my two hyptheosis are that it could be a design choice to distinguish "walkable" terrain, or that it could be a limitation of the terrain-heightmap subsystem. (possibly calculating it over very large surfaces?)
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , April 19, 2010 12:33 PM
    This is to those who are into buying a 9800gt. Avoid every thing that says eco or green and don't be tinder footed about it plus the cards with the 6 pin connector are able to clock much higher any way as for power consumption you wont notice one. I own two 9800gt 1gb editions. If they are just a little to pricey over eco and green crap go buy a gts250 its far better any way.
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , April 19, 2010 12:49 PM
    notthekingFirst off, Oblivion's grass wasn't all that complex an implementation; it simply was a procedural-generation routine that on-the-fly populates the ground with grass "clumps," with the chance, color/texture, and size of them appearing determined by the ground texture(s) used for that vertex.As far as the floor surfaces, what they look like is largely determined by the programmer; if one wanted, one could readily apply paralax mapping (or even a more complex shader) to ground surfaces, it's just that they typically don't. I honestly don't quite know why, (perhaps Cleeve would) but my two hyptheosis are that it could be a design choice to distinguish "walkable" terrain, or that it could be a limitation of the terrain-heightmap subsystem. (possibly calculating it over very large surfaces?)

    I didn't mean to imply that the grass was implemented very well. Merely that back then this method was okay, as it was a very good improvement over the painted on surface that it replaced. The point is, that now we're two generations of directx and 5 generations of gpu hardware futher down the road, and no more improvements have been made.
    The edges and flat surfaces of the used geometry are still very visible, and somehow every developer seems to focus more on lighting and shadows than the finished product. It doesn't seem to matter to them that all those fancy soft shadows are cast on flat layers of painted on gravel and flat walls with bumpmapped tiles.
  • 7 Hide
    eyefinity , April 19, 2010 1:33 PM
    I think this list needs to return to the days when being a good card got you on the list, not being one that was recently released.

    As for the 470 and 480, there is no justification for having those on the list at all. I remember you removing the 4850 and 4770 from previous lists because they were in scant supply, but I'd be willing to bet that they have always been in far better supply that the non-existent gtx 470 and especially 480.
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