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Best PCIe Card: ~$300 To $400

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$310: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5850

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most titles

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

The new Radeon HD 5850 has some definite advantages over a pair of GeForce GTX 260s in SLI or a pair of Radeon HD 5770s in CrossFire. It doesn't need a CrossFire-compatible motherboard, it uses a lot less power thanks to its 40nm manufacturing process, and it sports DirectX 11 capabilities (plus Eyefinity).

Unfortunately, scant availability forces us to relegate the Radeon HD 5850 to Honorable Mention status until it can be purchased without having to fight for it.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$330: Tie

At approximately the same price,  these options retain the same advantages of their single-card counterparts: two GeForce GTX 260s offer SLI compatibility, PhysX, and GeForce 3D Vision support, and two Radeon HD 5770s offer DirectX 11, Eyefinity, and high-def audio bitstreaming to CrossFire-compatible motherboard users. A good case can be made for either of these options, and none of them are a poor choice. Just pick your poison.

2 x GeForce GTX 260 in SLI (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, good 2560x1600 performance in most titles

2x GeForce GTX 260 in SLI
Codename: 2 x GT200b
Process: 55nm
Universal Shaders: 432 (2 x 216)
Texture Units: 144 (2 x 72)
ROPs: 56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

Nvidia doesn't have a DirectX 11-class architecture yet, so if you're going to sink $300+ into DirectX 10 hardware, do so knowing that there are competing DirectX 11 boards available in the same price range.

A pair of Radeon HD 5770s won't offer quite the same level of performance as two GeForce GTX 260s in SLI; that's the trade-off for more modern functionality, though.

2 x Radeon HD 5770 in CrossFire (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, good 2560x1600 performance in most titles

2x Radeon HD 5770 in CrossFire
Codename: 2 x RV840 "Juniper"
Process: 40nm
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

The new Radeon HD 5770 sports added benefits over its GeForce GTX 260 competition: DirectX 11, triple display outputs, and the ability to bitstream high-definition audio content from Blu-ray movies contribute significant value to ATI's newest mainstream graphics cards. For those seeking long-term DirectX 11 compatibility, this might be the more attractive option.

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

Best PCIe Card For ~$400:

Two Radeon HD 4890 cards in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

2 x Radeon HD 4890 in CrossFire Configuration
Codename: 2 x RV770
Process: 55nm
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: 850
Memory Speed MHz: 975 (3,900 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Two Radeon HD 4890 cards should, on average, perform on par or better than a single GeForce GTX 295, and will definitely beat out a single Radeon HD 5870. Plus, these Radeons cost less than either option. If you have a CrossFire-compatible motherboard and want some serious performance at high resolutions, this route is the way to go.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 4890 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    cleeve , December 7, 2009 1:42 PM
    juliomThe bias from Tom's favouring Nvidia is more clear with each passing day... How I miss Tom's from the old days...


    I've been writing this article since it started, Juliom. I didn't see you complaining that AMD was being favored unfairly when I gave the 4850 got top honors at $100 for months on end.

    Now that the prices have changed I suppose you'd consider it more 'fair' if I recommended AMD cards at every price point even though other cards offer better value? How does that work?

    Everytime price/performance shifts from one vendor to the other I get fanboys crying foul.

    These aren't sports teams, they're graphics card vendors. If you want a blind biased report that always recommends one vendor over the other, you probably won't like my stuff. Find a writer who only gives props to your favorite team.
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    knightmike , December 7, 2009 5:37 AM
    Thanks for this wonderful article. I look forward to it every month. I was able to pick up a PNY GTS 250 1GB for $73. It's connected to an Acer 21.5" 1920x1080 monitor I got for $84. I paired it with an AMD 240. I'm currently playing Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Left 4 Dead getting a smooth 60 FPS on all three games at high settings.
  • -9 Hide
    WINTERLORD , December 7, 2009 6:08 AM
    why 2 5770 in crossfire with the slow bandwidth bus? 3d and faster refresh screens will be here soon and kinda wondered bout that
  • 7 Hide
    shubham1401 , December 7, 2009 6:12 AM
    Nice to see Old 9800GT and HD4830 in the recommended list.

    I'm surprised how much time 9800GT/8800GT have remained in the recommended list.
  • 3 Hide
    rutoojinn , December 7, 2009 6:52 AM
    tacoslavei lol'd when i saw the 295 as an honerable mention. By the way where is this 5890 they mention?


    There is no 5890, and yes how ATi label their models is kinda confusing but it goes to this order 5770, 5870, 5970 and replace the 70 with a 50 for the 2nd tier of that group.
  • -2 Hide
    rutoojinn , December 7, 2009 6:54 AM
    Sorry for double post but there is no 5950 lol.....
  • 5 Hide
    falchard , December 7, 2009 8:27 AM
    Lack of research alert. You listed a $200 card for $150. I mean seriously, did you need to create all those new categories so you can squeze in a nVidia. Since nVidia still hasn't dropped prices its only logical in 1 price segment, $100~$130.
  • 5 Hide
    basket687 , December 7, 2009 9:11 AM
    Good Article, but I have two comments:
    1- Shouldn't you switch the GT 240 GDDR5 and DDR3 positions in the list?
    2- Why do you consider the GTX 280 to be of the same level of HD 5850 (in the list), isn't the 5850 significantly faster?
  • 7 Hide
    jj463rd , December 7, 2009 9:53 AM
    Yeah HD5970 is at the TOP of the graphics card hierarchy chart and GTX 295 bumped into the second tier sobbing.
  • 8 Hide
    Syndil , December 7, 2009 9:53 AM
    I fail to see how a non-DX11 card ties with a DX11 card. If the two offer similar performance at a similar price point, but one offers more future-proofing, then there is a clear winner.
  • 2 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , December 7, 2009 10:27 AM
    It gets a little confusing with so many categories.
  • -4 Hide
    grimjester , December 7, 2009 10:47 AM
    falchardLack of research alert. You listed a $200 card for $150. I mean seriously, did you need to create all those new categories so you can squeze in a nVidia. Since nVidia still hasn't dropped prices its only logical in 1 price segment, $100~$130.


    "Like many cards, the GeForce GTX 260 is becoming very hard to find, and may soon be end-of-life'd"

    The prices have changed heavily since the article was written. Presumably someone who bothers to read articles like this knows enough not to pay $200 for a GTX260 anyway. Agree that Nvidia needs to drop prices, but it needs to be added that the 295 is still very competitive.
  • 0 Hide
    ubernoobie , December 7, 2009 10:49 AM
    error with the 4670, 1000(4000) effective? it's gddr3 not 5
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 7, 2009 10:52 AM
    There really isn't much to see here. HD 5000 are fast but they are so scarce that their impact on the mainstream gamers is small.
  • 0 Hide
    cinergy , December 7, 2009 11:35 AM
    This watch artificially pushes geforces to every random price point. 9600GT @ $85, GTS250 @ $110, GTX295 @ $465. What is this best card for $123.45 logic? Why not mention e.g. HD4870x2 ~$429?
  • 0 Hide
    huron , December 7, 2009 11:39 AM
    Thanks again for the article. I always check it out each month, even if I won't be in the market to purchase.

    It's amazing to me that even though it has been awhile, the 8800GT/9800GT and the GTS 250 (rebadged 8800GTS/9800GTX, etc) still make the chart and do OK.

    I guess it's not quite time to upgrade (still playing OK).

    Thanks again for the article.
  • -1 Hide
    juliom , December 7, 2009 11:54 AM
    The bias from Tom's favouring Nvidia is more clear with each passing day... How I miss Tom's from the old days...
  • -1 Hide
    cinergy , December 7, 2009 11:57 AM
    basket687Good Article, but I have two comments:1- Shouldn't you switch the GT 240 GDDR5 and DDR3 positions in the list?2- Why do you consider the GTX 280 to be of the same level of HD 5850 (in the list), isn't the 5850 significantly faster?



    HD5850 IS faster than GTX285 no matter how they put it. Well, if they bench Last Remnant, Last Remnant and Last Remnant, then perhaps not.
  • 8 Hide
    superpowter77 , December 7, 2009 12:15 PM
    4890 is currently the top dog for conscious gamers under $200, no point discussing here a fact already proven on tomshardware article a few days ago. I currently own a 3870, 9800Gtx+, gtx 260 core 216, gtx 275, 4890 and a gtx 295(yes, I'm a freaking maniac) and just realized how overpriced the gtx 200 series are with the sole expection of the fantastic and unique for its price/performance ratio: gtx 295. If you don't have an Icore 7 you are wasting your money on gtx 200 series cards(Including the amazing gtx 295), simply because nvidia cards don't scale properly on heavy games as farcry 2 and crysis warhead(with very high settings) . I was checking prices today at newegg trying to find 4870x2 and saw a EVGA OC gtx 275 for a ridiculous price of $349. 4890 and gtx 275 are basically on same league and just got my 4890 for $169(on sale), why we need to spend almost double or at least $100 more on a video card which perform identical to 4890. people need to start reading and checking specs on real games with real configuration based on their current CPU/GPU combination to get the most of it. Currently nvidia gtx260,gtx 275 and gtx 285 are a rip off for customers.
  • 6 Hide
    eaclou , December 7, 2009 12:23 PM
    Quote:
    Unfortunately, scant availability forces us to regulate the Radeon HD 5850 to Honorable Mention status


    should be "relegate"
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