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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July '08

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July '08
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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 make the right decision, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware Guide have come to your aid, with a simple list of the best gaming cards available for the money.

June Review and July Updates:

The graphics card landscape changed tremendously in June, with the introduction of the Geforce GTX 260 and GTX 280 cards, and ATI’s counterattack with the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870. And let’s not forget Nvidia’s counter-counterattack with the Geforce 9800 GTX+!

Let’s start with the brand new Geforce cards. The Geforce GTX 280 is now the most powerful single video card that money can buy, usually beating out even the dual-GPU equipped Geforce 9800 GX2! It is also the most expensive, starting at $650. Its smaller brother, the Geforce GTX 260, offers very impressive performance just below that of the 9800 GX2, for a much more reasonable $400.

On the ATI side of things, the new flagship is the Radeon HD 4870. Its performance is generally a little below that of the Geforce GTX 260, although there are specific game titles that it performs very well in, even beating the Geforce GTX 280 by a small margin! The real attraction of this card is the price: at $310, it really gives the new Geforce cards a run for their money.

The Radeon HD 4850 is the 4870’s little brother, with the same hardware but reduced clockspeeds. At $200, this card is an absolute steal, but its real strength shows when paired with another 4850; for $400, two Radeon HD 4850 cards in a Crossfire configuration will easy surpass the $650 Geforce GTX 280 flagship when it comes to performance.

Nvidia has done its best to offer a viable alternative to the Radeon HD 4850, with a refreshed version of the Geforce 9800 GTX called the 9800 GTX+. With its GPU built on the more efficient 55 nm process, allowing for increased clockspeeds, and a greatly reduced sticker price of about $230, the Geforce 9800 GTX+ has a lot of potential. However, ATI’s 4850 seems to be quite capable of keeping up to the 9800 GTX+ for less money, especially when eye candy like anti-aliasing is applied.

Of course, prices have been impacted across the board because of the new world order; as a result, much of the best cards for the money list has changed. Now, to the recommendations!

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, the cards in this list are more expensive than you need.
  • Prices and availability changes on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail, your mileage will most certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open box cards are in the list; they might be a good deal, but that’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
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  • 16 Hide
    morfinx , July 7, 2008 8:08 AM
    Airborne11bBiased much? This was posted today, and newegg has had the GTX 260 for $300 for a while now.best bang for your buck right now is neck and neck with either Nvidia 260 or the ATI 4870.

    Looks like the cheapest GTX 260 in stock at NewEgg now is $330. It's 6% more expensive and on average 6% slower. I think the choice is pretty clear here.
Other Comments
  • -7 Hide
    djcoolmasterx , July 7, 2008 8:00 AM
    Not everyone can have sli/crossfire graphics cards, maybe spliting the catagories would be more usefull to those who don't wish to buy a new motherboard - defeating the entire point of a value list.
  • 16 Hide
    morfinx , July 7, 2008 8:08 AM
    Airborne11bBiased much? This was posted today, and newegg has had the GTX 260 for $300 for a while now.best bang for your buck right now is neck and neck with either Nvidia 260 or the ATI 4870.

    Looks like the cheapest GTX 260 in stock at NewEgg now is $330. It's 6% more expensive and on average 6% slower. I think the choice is pretty clear here.
  • 3 Hide
    wrazor , July 7, 2008 8:15 AM
    Clearly it would be stupid if ati didnt make 4850X2 this time :o  I mean for 450$ it would be a steal. BTW I heard on other websites, 4870X2 is 20% faster than 2 4870s in crossfire. Well if 4850X2 could show similar benifits, it would rock @ 400$ price point. BTW, how much do you think is a fair price for 4870X2 and 4850X2.
  • 6 Hide
    randomizer , July 7, 2008 9:14 AM
    Airborne11bThe 260 sells for 299, and the 4870 sells for 299. When you calculate in the Step up program from eVGA, the best bang for your buck in my opinion is the 260 from eVGA. Untill Radeon brands start offering a simular program, Nvidia will be the only way to go.

    Unfotunately not everyone lives in the US.
  • 2 Hide
    chechnyan , July 7, 2008 9:32 AM
    i liked this sentence
    and becomes a devastating force when paired with a second 4850 in a Crossfire configuration.
  • 1 Hide
    stridervm , July 7, 2008 9:52 AM
    I agree with randomizer. Believe it or not, 8600GTS here still costs about $120, which is the same price as the Radeon 3850 here. And.... I thought the 4870 was generally faster than the GTX260?
  • 1 Hide
    Noya , July 7, 2008 10:39 AM
    Why does Tom's not go with "street pricing" in these...suggestions? Is this just to try to screw the noobs who visit this site into buying old/overpriced hardware? I mean come'on, this is an ENTHUSIAST site = best value for the dollar (or bleeding edge price is no object for the rich few).

    For instance, with a small rebate, Newegg has: a 256mb 8800GT for $77, 8800GT 512mb for $120, HD 4850's for $145-165 w/promo code and rebate, 9800GTX for $175.

    And here's one that's even more pathetic and that I never thought I'd see, BestBuy beating the Egg on the upper-mid-range 4870 ($299 free shipping vs $310 + $9 shipping)...pathetic NewEgg.
  • 0 Hide
    morairtym , July 7, 2008 10:39 AM
    Yea i agree the 4850 are priced at 200 but you can get them for less then 160 why even talk about a GeForce 8800 GT 512MB @ 160 when its a bad choice from the start.
  • 2 Hide
    morairtym , July 7, 2008 10:43 AM
    The GeForce 8800 GT 512MB is a $120 Card and its 256mb friend is a 100 card but hey that's for people who are running at low res and don't have the money to spend on a decent card.
  • 5 Hide
    romulus47plus1 , July 7, 2008 10:48 AM
    Ah.. so many nVidia fanboys trolling around...
  • 4 Hide
    Fragille , July 7, 2008 10:57 AM
    I wonder if some of the peoples that make comment even bother to read the 1st page...
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , July 7, 2008 11:01 AM
    This is really funny. I swear Americans think they live in the only country in the world. :lol: 
  • 6 Hide
    Malovane , July 7, 2008 11:29 AM
    We do. Everything else is just future states.
  • 5 Hide
    cynewulf , July 7, 2008 11:44 AM
    There do appear to be quite a lot of Nvidia zealots sticking their fingers in their ears, closing their eyes and going 'La la la la! I can't hear you! This is not happening!'
  • -4 Hide
    cynewulf , July 7, 2008 11:50 AM
    MalovaneWe do. Everything else is just future states.

    Is this some sort of misplaced post-Independence Day zeal?
    You do know that the only reason you won is because you teamed up with the *French*?
  • 3 Hide
    randomizer , July 7, 2008 11:52 AM
    MalovaneWe do. Everything else is just future states.

    That's commendable. You acknowledged the existance of another world. Maybe one that doesn't have Newegg and MIRs even? :o 
  • 1 Hide
    NinjaRigger , July 7, 2008 12:01 PM
    ^haha, agreed.
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