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PCIe Interface: $150 to $300

Best Video Cards For The Money: Dec '08
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Best PCIe Card For $160:

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games, some with lowered detail

Radeon HD 4850
Codename: RV770
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 800
Texture Units: 40
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 625
Memory Speed MHz: 993 (1,986 effective)
DirectX / Shader Model DX 10.1 / SM 4.0

The Radeon HD 4850 is the new people’s champion, instantly bringing yesterday’s $300 performance level down to the mainstream $160 price point. This card has a lot of potential when used on its own, and becomes a devastating force when paired with a second 4850 in a CrossFire configuration.

Best PCIe Card For $215: Tie

Good 1920x1200 performance

Radeon HD 4870 512 MB
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 4.0

The Radeon HD 4870 offers the same architecture that the 4850 series does, paired with its secret weapon: brand-new GDDR5 memory. This technology provides about twice as much throughput as the GDDR3 does, so its 900 MHz clock speed is comparable to a 3,600 MHz effective memory speed. This edge allows the 4870 to up the ante and offer a very compelling level of performance for the price, even competing with the more-expensive GTX 280 in some titles.

GeForce GTX 260
Codename: GT200
Process: 65 nm
Universal Shaders: 192
Texture Units: 64
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

The GeForce GTX 260 offers a compelling level of performance now that its price has been reduced to $220, allowing it to trade blows with the Radeon HD 4870 on its own turf. This is one of those situations where a buyer really should look at which card is best for the games he or she plans to play (although you really can’t go wrong with either card).

Best PCIe Card For $265: Tie

Good 1920x1200 performance

GeForce GTX 260+
Codename: GT200
Process: 65 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

We designate the new version of the GeForce GTX 260 with a “+” symbol to differentiate it from its identically-named older sibling. Even though there is no official difference between the two cards, the new GTX 260+ has some very tangible performance increases over the original version. For example, the number of shaders have been increased from 192 to 216, which are within spitting distance of the GeForce GTX 280’s 240 shaders. ROPs have been increased from 64 to 72, once again approaching the GTX 280’s 80 ROPs.

The result is a card that performs almost as well as the expensive GeForce GTX 280, for much less money, and it even beats the GTX 280 when overclocked! You must carefully search for the GeForce GTX 260+ by looking hard at the specifications, but it is certainly worth the price premium over the original GTX 260.

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 4.0

It turns out that the Radeon 4870, when equipped with a whole gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, can up the ante to compete against the GeForce GTX 260+ in some titles. As usual when it comes to these two tough competitors, it pays to look at the benchmarks and see which title you play more, as they tend to trade blows depending on the game.

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