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Best PCIe Card: $120 To $190

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: May '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$140:  Tie

GeForce 9800 GTX+/GeForce GTS 250 (Check Prices)

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

GeForce 9800 GTX+/GeForce GTS 250
Codename: G92
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 128
Texture Units: 64
ROPs: 16
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 738
Memory Speed MHz: 1,100 (2,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Sure, as long as the frame rates stay the same. Although the GeForce GTS 250 is a re-badged GeForce 9800 GTX+, the falling prices have kept this older, but still powerful graphics technology, very much in the game. The $140 price point allows us to purchase the 1 GB version of this attractive card.

Radeon HD 4850 (Check Prices)

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 4.1

The Radeon HD 4850 hangs in there, competing with the GeForce 9800 GTX+/GeForce GTS 250 twins at the same price point. Each card will claim some victories depending on how well it works with a particular graphics engine, but neither will disappoint. As with the GeForce GTS 250, the $140 price point allows us to purchase the 1 GB version of this card instead of the 512 MB version. If you want to save a few dollars, the 512 MB version of the Radeon HD 4850 can be found for as low as $120.

Best PCIe Card For ~$170:  Tie

Radeon HD 4870 (Check Prices)

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

The Radeon HD 4870 keeps pace with its close rival the GeForce GTX 260. For a few dollars less you can purchase the 512 MB version, and for a few dollars more than the GeForce GTX 260, you can find the 1 GB version. Both are good buys.

GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) (Check Prices)

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. (Ed.: Check out our recent Radeon HD 4890 review, which has numbers for the 512 MB and 1 GB Radeon HD 4870s, along with the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216).

Note that we are recommending the newer Core 216 version of the GeForce GTX 260 instead of the older version with 192 shader processors, which is now becoming hard to find. Regardless, check the specifications of any card before you purchase.

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