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Best Video Cards For The Money: Dec '08

Best Video Cards For The Money: Dec '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 pick the right board, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming cards offered for the money.

November Review and December Updates:

The Radeon HD 4850 X2 became commercially available right after last month’s article was published. The 4850 X2 is a tough card to peg, as its $370 street price is a bit more than the cost of two separate 4850 cards, which can retail for as low as $340. Having said that, the 4850 X2 is equipped with 2 GB of video RAM, while the 4850s with 1 GB of RAM start at $200 each from what we’ve seen. In addition, the 4850 X2 seems to be able to beat Nvidia’s more-expensive flagship GeForce GTX 280 by a small margin. With this in mind, we recommend the Radeon 4850 X2 for those of you with a $370 budget.

Otherwise, the news has been pretty quiet going into the holiday season. Prices keep falling and consumers can’t complain with all of these wonderfully-powerful cards hovering around the $100 mark.

AMD is on the verge of releasing its Catalyst 8.12 driver, which, once installed, should introduce marked performance increases in a number of newer games, as well as adding some new capabilities like a stream computing feature and video encoding acceleration to battle Nvidia’s recent "Badaboom" trial.

On the Nvidia side, we should soon see 55 nm versions of the G200 cards. These should use less power than Nvidia’s current 65 nm GeForce GTX 260/280 cards and make them more overclockable to boot. If this is the case, it’s a safe bet that they’d be ideal for a GeForce 280 GX2 card with two GPUs — just the kind of thing that Nvidia would love to manufacture in order to get the performance crown back from the Radeon HD 4870 X2.

Regardless of what the future holds, lower prices and more performance equal good times right now.

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 on this list are more expensive than what you really need;
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing info, 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 stores, 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 it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
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  • 2 Hide
    dieseldre2k , December 4, 2008 4:49 AM
    just wanted to say thanks for the update for this month =)
  • 1 Hide
    kelfen , December 4, 2008 5:12 AM
    I liked the update thanks
  • 0 Hide
    tigerwraith , December 4, 2008 5:31 AM
    opps sorry didnt know there was a 4850 X2
  • -1 Hide
    randomizer , December 4, 2008 5:34 AM
    tigerwraith4850 X2 dont you mean 4870 X2?

    You're kidding right? Why would they put the same card in the $370 and $400+ categories and with a different description?

    EDIT: Nvm, I'm too slow to respond.

    If the GTX260+ is not labelled any different, then it can't be a different price to the GTX260 can it?
  • 0 Hide
    unreal104 , December 4, 2008 6:01 AM
    Mistake!! RadeonHD 3870 is 256bit
  • 0 Hide
    slomo4sho , December 4, 2008 6:16 AM
    Thanks for the write up.

    Since you are including on-board chipsets on your GPU hierarchy chart, it would be highly appreciated if you could provide detail as to where the Intel on-board GPUs end up on the spectrum.
  • 0 Hide
    ifko_pifko , December 4, 2008 7:21 AM
    Another mistake.... According to my knowledge HD4830 has 16 ROPs.
  • 0 Hide
    troll , December 4, 2008 11:21 AM
    Great article, thanks for the update!
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 4, 2008 11:45 AM
    4850 X2 has higher clock compares with regular 4850?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 4, 2008 11:58 AM
    According to your own charts the 9800GTX+ beats the 4850 in nearly all tests. It has a pretty large lead in the overall FPS of all games in that category too. So using this site as a guide to purchase a 9800GTX+ (which I am very happy with) I now wonder why you say "The Radeon HD 4850 will usually best the GeForce 9800 GTX+."
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 4, 2008 12:23 PM
    http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/gaming-graphics-charts-q3-2008/Half-Life-2-Episode-2,766.html

    There's a typo, but the leading card is the 4850x2 on that chart. HL2 EP2 @ 1680x1050.
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , December 4, 2008 12:37 PM
    Yes please, as Slomo requested, please add the Intel Graphics Media Deccellerator IGPs to the chart, if only to assist laptop buyers to know if they have any hope of playing games. Thanks.
  • 0 Hide
    computerninja7823 , December 4, 2008 12:57 PM
    While the Radeon HD 4830 offers the 8800/8900 GT its first competition in its price class, the card remains a strong contender and is still a viable option. bottom of page 3 typo....last i checked there was no 8900gt...
  • 0 Hide
    computerninja7823 , December 4, 2008 1:20 PM
    one quick thing. Radeon HD 4870 1GB probably is not that good unless you play at high resolutions...you might wanna opt for a 512MB versoin if you play at low resolutions.
  • -2 Hide
    cruiseoveride , December 4, 2008 2:28 PM
    I hate ties
  • 3 Hide
    Onus , December 4, 2008 2:30 PM
    Me too, so fortunately my job doesn't require that I wear one :-D.
  • -2 Hide
    malveaux , December 4, 2008 2:34 PM
    Prices falling for the GTX260 is great. I keep watching it dip below $200. At $150, I'm buying!

    Cheers,
  • 0 Hide
    Huttfuzz , December 4, 2008 2:45 PM
    As usual, very good article, i read it each month and i love it. If there is one thing i'd like to see, it's in the Graphic's Card Hierarchy Chart. I'd like to see SLI'd card against single card of the same force. For example. 8800 GT in SLI on par with a single 4870. (This is an example)
  • 0 Hide
    3lvis , December 4, 2008 3:22 PM
    supertrekieAccording to your own charts the 9800GTX+ beats the 4850 in nearly all tests. It has a pretty large lead in the overall FPS of all games in that category too. So using this site as a guide to purchase a 9800GTX+ (which I am very happy with) I now wonder why you say "The Radeon HD 4850 will usually best the GeForce 9800 GTX+."


    While the Nvidia 9800 gtx+ and the ATI 4850 have similar specs and price points, It is more expensive to run a pair of 9800gtx in SLI then a pair of 4850's in crossfire. This is due in part to the premium price of the Nforce chipset over a comparable P45 chipset. I think this is why they choose ATI over Nvidia.
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