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Best PCIe Card: $170 To $350

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$180 :  Tie

Good 1920x1200 performance

Radeon HD 4870 1 GB
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
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

For a chunk of change more than the 512 MB version, you can have a full 1 GB of video memory on your Radeon HD 4870. Is it worth it? That depends whether or not you play titles that can take advantage of more graphics RAM. This decision might require a bit more diligence on your part, but if you have the budget for it, a 1 GB Radeon HD 4870 isn't a bad buy by any stretch of the imagination.

GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216)
Codename: GT200
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 216
Texture Units: 72
ROPs: 28
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

While these cards might not sport a full 1 GB of RAM like the Radeon HD 4870 does in the same price range, they do offer advantages in titles that run better on the GeForce GT200 architecture. Once again, a little diligence is required on the part of the buyer to find out which card is the best adapted for his or her favorite titles, and once again, whether or not the motherboard supports SLI or CrossFire.

Note that we are recommending the newer "Core 216" version of the GeForce GTX 260, instead of the older version with 192 shader processors. Check the specifications of any card before you purchase.

Best PCIe Card For ~$260 :  Tie

Good 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most titles with some lowered detail

Radeon HD 4850 X2 1 GB or 2x Radeon 4850 in Crossfire Configuration
Codename: 2 x 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

The Radeon HD 4850 X2 is essentially two Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire mode on a single card, and it will beat the similarly priced GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 and more expensive GeForce GTX 280 hands down. It will even put the hurt on the new, more expensive GeForce GTX 285.

We're still quite pleased that the Radeon HD 4850 X2 can now be found on Newegg for $260. At this price, it's the same price as two Radeon 4850 cards, but is more accessible in that it will work with any PCI express motherboard. In either case, that's a lot of performance for the admission price.

2x GeForce 9800 GTX+ / GeForce GTS 250 in SLI configuration
Codename: G92
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 256 (2x128)
Texture Units: 128 (2x64)
ROPs: 32 (2x16)
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 738
Memory Speed MHz: 1,100 (2,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

If you have an SLI motherboard, two GeForce cards are a great option, in this case the GeForce 9800 GTX+ or GeForce GTS 250 models. With the dropping prices on these cards there is also a lot of performance for the dollar here.

Best PCIe Card For ~$330 :  Two Radeon HD 4870 512 MB cards in CrossFire Configuration

Good 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most titles (some with lowered detail)

Two Radeon HD 4870 512 MB in CrossFire Configuration
Codename: 2 x 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: 750
Memory Speed MHz: 900 (3,600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Not too long ago, the Radeon HD 4870 512 MB card was our recommendation at $165. Two of these cards in CrossFire remain a force to behold. Never before has this much performance been available below $350, as a couple months ago this setup would have cost somewhere in the $500 range.

If you're building a fresh system, two Radeon HD 4870s are a great way to go for monster performance on a budget.

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  • -5 Hide
    seboj , March 17, 2009 5:38 AM
    Quote:
    While February didn't really bring any new cards to market, we did see the return of an old favorite with a new name: the GeForce GTS 250, which is essentially a re-branded GeForce 9800 GTX+. Some folks are getting riled up over Nvidia's practice of re-naming old models, but frankly, as long as they offer good performance for the price, I don't have a huge problem with it. I will say re-naming a product is probably confusing for consumers, which is a definite negative, but on the other side of the coin, I can understand why it's important to market products and keep them fresh for the buying public.


    Some people just can't let things go, can they? :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Proximon , March 17, 2009 5:45 AM
    Good deal. Small correction, you say while recommending 4870 512MB CF "The Radeon HD 4870 512 MB card cinched the $165 recommendation..." However you never recommended the 4870 512MB, opting to recommend the slightly more expensive 1GB version instead. (Which we all agree is the better single card deal.)
    I've seen some bad comments on the 4850X2 recently on other sites, complaints about performance from various reviewers. I know nothing for sure, but it makes me a bit nervous about the card.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , March 17, 2009 7:31 AM
    ProximonGood deal. Small correction, you say while recommending 4870 512MB CF "The Radeon HD 4870 512 MB card cinched the $165 recommendation..." However you never recommended the 4870 512MB, opting to recommend the slightly more expensive 1GB version instead. (Which we all agree is the better single card deal.)I've seen some bad comments on the 4850X2 recently on other sites, complaints about performance from various reviewers. I know nothing for sure, but it makes me a bit nervous about the card.


    Thanks Prox. I just re-worded this a little bit for Don. He made a couple of last-minute changes to reflect price adjustments that happened in the last day. Thus, the 512MB card dropped off the list as a single-card solution.
  • 1 Hide
    rags_20 , March 17, 2009 8:02 AM
    Why does the GTX 260 core 216 have 192 shader units? And why 65nm? 55nm version has been released.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , March 17, 2009 8:20 AM
    Ah ha, but you didn't catch the 64 texture units! =)

    Kidding, that table has been fixed as well.
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , March 17, 2009 9:38 AM
    Just got myself a new XFX GTS 250, along with a Corsair VX550W PSU.

    Upgrading from a 8500GT, the leap is huge. It can run every single game except Crysis on max details! It was really worth the price, and it competes well against the 4850.

    Too bad in Canada I had to pay nearly $200 after tax.
  • 0 Hide
    superhighperf , March 17, 2009 10:14 AM
    what happened to the supposed price drop for the ati 4870? when is that going to happen?
  • 0 Hide
    nerrawg , March 17, 2009 10:22 AM
    Good article guys, as for the price drop superhighperf, THG did a news flash on it recently and looks like it might not happen: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/ATI-Radeon-Price-Drop,7252.html , or it might just be in the form of mail-in-rebates. I am curious about this possible new RV740, it might not increase performance over lower end R770's, but will it be much more power efficient I wonder? Maybe R740 CF will cost less at the wall then a single big GPU like the GTX285?
  • 0 Hide
    JeanLuc , March 17, 2009 10:39 AM
    I don't get it. You recommend the HD4870 1Gb for a single card (which I understand and agree with) but you recommend 2x HD4870 512Mb for Crossfire.

    I was under the impression that in a crossfire configuration a game would only be able to address half the available vram. Has this changed with the latest Crossfire technology because only having 512MB available for such a setup would badly bottleneck performance when running games at 2560x1600?
  • 0 Hide
    LightWeightX , March 17, 2009 11:38 AM
    Thanks for the article. You list the Radeon HD 4670 at about $70 however in doing some general checking the average price for the 512 MB model is $82 and $96 for the 1 GB model.
  • 0 Hide
    LightWeightX , March 17, 2009 11:40 AM
    Actually the Radeon HD 4670 1 GB average price is more like $106.
  • 0 Hide
    thedipper , March 17, 2009 12:10 PM
    Newegg has a 3850 up for $54.99, it's in the St. Patrick's special email.
  • 2 Hide
    cleeve , March 17, 2009 1:34 PM
    JeanLucI don't get it. You recommend the HD4870 1Gb for a single card (which I understand and agree with) but you recommend 2x HD4870 512Mb for Crossfire. I was under the impression that in a crossfire configuration a game would only be able to address half the available vram. Has this changed with the latest Crossfire technology because only having 512MB available for such a setup would badly bottleneck performance when running games at 2560x1600?


    I kept the 512MB 4870 because with two cards there's a $30 price spread between two 4870 1GB cards, instead of a $15 price spread as there is with a single card.

    Yes, with CrossFire I believe each card can only address it's own vram. But really, two 512MB 4870's are still going to deliver a heck of a lot of performance and you won;t notice the vram deficit except in extreme situations or with specific titles that are graphics ram dependant.
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , March 17, 2009 1:35 PM
    LightWeightXActually the Radeon HD 4670 1 GB average price is more like $106.


    We look to the bottom end of pricing becauswe that's what we're recommending. We don't recommend spending more.
  • 1 Hide
    cleeve , March 17, 2009 1:38 PM
    nerrawgI am curious about this possible new RV740, it might not increase performance over lower end R770's, but will it be much more power efficient I wonder? Maybe R740 CF will cost less at the wall then a single big GPU like the GTX285?


    THe RV740 looks to perform similarly compared to a Radeon HD 4850, so two of them will likely perform like a 4850 X2 and will likely give the 285 a serious run for it's money. Of course nothin'g official yet but that's the buzz.
  • 1 Hide
    Inneandar , March 17, 2009 1:40 PM
    @ cleeve: quite a moot point to my opinion. if you care for dual card setups, you spend the extra 30$ because you want performance at higher resolutions. Making yourself memory-constrained for saving less than 10% of your budget is quite silly imho.
  • 0 Hide
    Inneandar , March 17, 2009 1:50 PM
    small adittion: post above in answer to the first cleeve post.

    Also, for single card you recommend the gtx 260 core 216, while in the sli setup you say: we recommend the older (192) card for being cheaper, same as for single card...

    Is there actually a paid editor at Toms, or is that too expensive (just as an edit button to avoid double (triple!) posts)
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , March 17, 2009 2:04 PM
    InneandarIs there actually a paid editor at Toms, or is that too expensive (just as an edit button to avoid double (triple!) posts)


    Ouch! Well, it's all my fault for making some last-minute edits to keep the article current and *clearly* not being diligent enough in the cascading consequences of my changes.

    When I wrote the article, the GTX 260 Core 192 was WAYYY cheaper than the Core 216, and the cheapest 4870 I could find was $200 making it difficult to recommend the 4870 1GB.

    I will say I do disagree with you as to your dismissal of the 512MB 4870. In real world situations that extra RAM in the 1GB version doesn't make nearly the diffrence you're implying it does. At $30 cheaper for two, it's a viable option for sure.

    I will look for more flubs though, and thanks for pointing that one out about the Core 192 card.


  • 0 Hide
    raclimja , March 17, 2009 4:03 PM
    CleeveOuch! Well, it's all my fault for making some last-minute edits to keep the article current and *clearly* not being diligent enough in the cascading consequences of my changes.When I wrote the article, the GTX 260 Core 192 was WAYYY cheaper than the Core 216, and the cheapest 4870 I could find was $200 making it difficult to recommend the 4870 1GB.I will say I do disagree with you as to your dismissal of the 512MB 4870. In real world situations that extra RAM in the 1GB version doesn't make nearly the diffrence you're implying it does. At $30 cheaper for two, it's a viable option for sure.I will look for more flubs though, and thanks for pointing that one out about the Core 192 card.




    try to play gta iv with 4870 512MB in crossfire and tell me if it doesnt make any difference with the 4870 1gb in crossfire ^_^
  • -1 Hide
    hellwig , March 17, 2009 4:08 PM
    ArticleBest PCIe Card For ~$260 : Radeon HD 4850 X2
    ...
    The Radeon HD 4850 X2 is essentially two Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire mode on a single card, and it will beat the similarly priced GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 and more expensive GeForce GTX 280 hands down. It will even put the hurt on the new, more expensive GeForce GTX 285.

    We're still quite pleased that the Radeon HD 4850 X2 can now be found on Newegg for $260. At this price, it's still cheaper than two Radeon HD 4850 cards which, at $145 each, didn't make the recommended list this month. But buying the Radeon HD 4850 X2 is the same as buying two Radeon HD 4850s for $130 each, and that's a lot of performance for the admission price.


    The GTX 260 is cheaper than the 4850X2, and was even recommended at the lower price-point.

    I don't get how the 4850X2 can be both cheaper and the same price as two 4850's. Plus the 4850 DID make the recommendation list this month. I think you forgot to delete one of those two sentances.

    Sorry, I don't normally critique the writing here, but I got to that section and had to scratch my head.
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