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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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