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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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  • 4 Hide
    boudy , May 20, 2009 6:23 AM
    Hmmm, ATI has the majority of honorable mentions and best cards (for the price point). I wonder how/if Nvidia will respond to such great deals.

    Great article, keep it up.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , May 20, 2009 6:29 AM
    Without reading any further than the cover page, this article sounds out of date for its glowing praise of the 4770's value. 4770s are going for $110 on Newegg right now, meanwhile the lowest priced 4850s are getting as low as $95 after MIR. Are these 4850 prices just a temporary blowout or will the 4770 soon be available for cheaper?
  • 6 Hide
    cangelini , May 20, 2009 6:54 AM
    Well, they're actually going for as little as $99, but that's not the problem. The real issue is that nobody seems to have them in stock right now. I've sent a note to ATI asking for an official response and will tie that into this piece tomorrow morning, hopefully. I'd rather have a 512MB 4770 vs. a 512MB 4850, FWIW. Also, we don't count MiRs when we look at pricing. Think of that as icing on the cake, if you actually send it in!
  • 2 Hide
    doomtomb , May 20, 2009 7:03 AM
    Good list. I think the Crossfire 4770s is the best deal in a long time.
  • 0 Hide
    IronRyan21 , May 20, 2009 7:35 AM
    cangeliniWell, they're actually going for as little as $99, but that's not the problem. The real issue is that nobody seems to have them in stock right now. I've sent a note to ATI asking for an official response and will tie that into this piece tomorrow morning, hopefully. I'd rather have a 512MB 4770 vs. a 512MB 4850, FWIW. Also, we don't count MiRs when we look at pricing. Think of that as icing on the cake, if you actually send it in!


    I was on Newegg recently lookin for the 4770s, they were all out of stock. Newegg has a habit of also announcing new products and featuring them promenintly on home page.... like the 4890s or Phenom II etc...
    IMO seems they would like to advertise these cards. At least I would.
  • 3 Hide
    tacoslave , May 20, 2009 7:39 AM
    oooh i love ati upping the game and lowering prices.
    remember the days when spending $150 got you something that can barely game and now (thanks to ati) we can get beasts for that price.
  • -1 Hide
    scook9 , May 20, 2009 7:57 AM
    I know you all like recommending the 4850x2 (exclusively by saphire), but you all need to mention case compatibility, not just motherboards. That card is well OVER 11 inches long. Making it one of the longest cards ever. MOST cases will not fit that without some modification. The cooling on it is also not ideal due to the fan type note getting needed air if another card is next to the graphics card - you all said this yourself. Despite what is said this month, I am still looking forward to my GTX275 SLI setup on the way (since I can get them for $230 each before MIR - thanks to an employee program).

    Oh ya, and PLEASE stop referencing the GTX 280, it is dead. Refer to the better and same priced GTX 285.
  • 0 Hide
    PanSola , May 20, 2009 8:05 AM
    I would like to see a Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB included on the Gaming Graphics Chart 2009, if possible.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , May 20, 2009 8:13 AM
    scook9I know you all like recommending the 4850x2 (exclusively by saphire), but you all need to mention case compatibility, not just motherboards. That card is well OVER 11 inches long. Making it one of the longest cards ever. MOST cases will not fit that without some modification. The cooling on it is also not ideal due to the fan type note getting needed air if another card is next to the graphics card - you all said this yourself. Despite what is said this month, I am still looking forward to my GTX275 SLI setup on the way (since I can get them for $230 each before MIR - thanks to an employee program).Oh ya, and PLEASE stop referencing the GTX 280, it is dead. Refer to the better and same priced GTX 285.


    I count seven GTX 280 SKUs still selling on Newegg for as low as $259 and 16 GTX 285 SKUs selling for as low as $319, just FYI.

    I'll let Don comment on the Radeon HD 4850 X2, as I've never had the chance to test the card myself and couldn't give it a thumbs up or down.

    With that said, a pair of GTX 275s is also a sweet setup, as suggested in this piece right here.
  • 5 Hide
    morpheas768 , May 20, 2009 11:35 AM
    In the Honorable Mentions of the 4890 and 4870x2 there are 2 errors;
    Memory Speed for the 4890 is 975 (3900 effective not 3750).
    Memory Speed for the 4870x2 is 900 (3600 effective not 3200).

    Great and very useful article as usual!
  • -4 Hide
    morpheas768 , May 20, 2009 11:35 AM
    In the Honorable Mentions of the 4890 and 4870x2 there are 2 errors;
    Memory Speed for the 4890 is 975 (3900 effective not 3750).
    Memory Speed for the 4870x2 is 900 (3600 effective not 3200).

    Great and very useful article as usual!
  • 3 Hide
    terr281 , May 20, 2009 11:38 AM
    A mention that the 4770 is just about the best "high performance" card to put in smaller cases could also be added.

    The inverse to the comment about the 4850 X2 being too long, all of the other "high performance" cards are over 9 inches in length. I recently built 2 systems where the number 1 requirement was that they be built in a "larger desktop" style case. (As opposed to a mid-tower.)

    Luckily, I found a case that could support a full size ATX MB, but even it could not handle any video cards longer than the 4770.
  • 3 Hide
    cynewulf , May 20, 2009 11:48 AM
    Can't wait to see what ATI come up with next on the 40nm process.
    This is getting interesting!
  • 3 Hide
    avatar_raq , May 20, 2009 12:58 PM
    I admire this series of articles. They were the ones that brought me to Tom's. They helped make numerous decitions for me and my friends. Keep'em coming!.
    One thing I dislike is the notes "good ????x???? performance......some with lowered details". I believe they give false impression since they don't apply to all or even "most" games. In fact, games vary so much in their requirements.
  • 0 Hide
    copperfox , May 20, 2009 1:03 PM
    Radeon 4890 is not $235. I purchased mine (Sapphire) for $220 in late April, and that also includes a $20 MIR, making the final price 200. It's a great performer, despite being bottle-necked by my Pentium 4 (single core).
  • 6 Hide
    gwolfman , May 20, 2009 2:36 PM
    Suggestion: How about alternating the colors (white/gray) again on the hierarchy chart? Too hard to see where one section starts/ends. Thanks!
  • 4 Hide
    Onus , May 20, 2009 2:42 PM
    Ok, since the HD4670 was [again] recommended at its price point, please add it to the recently updated graphics card performance charts. Thank you.
  • 5 Hide
    glawk , May 20, 2009 2:45 PM
    How about separate articles for single vs. multi-gpu cards? Does Tom's even acknowledge "micro stutter" (god, I hate that term) as a potential issue in SLI/CrossFire setups?

    A few articles on micro stutter:

    http://www.pcgameshardware.com/aid,653711/PCGH-proves-micro-stuttering-on-the-Radeon-HD-4870-X2/Practice/

    http://www.overclockers.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4420:microstutter&catid=60:videocards&Itemid=4266

    http://www.pcgameshardware.de/aid,631668/Video-proof-Micro-stuttering-may-destroy-the-performance-gains-from-current-multi-GPU-technologies/Grafikkarte/Test/

  • 4 Hide
    esquire468 , May 20, 2009 3:02 PM
    Can anyone explain to me how 2 4770s can even be considered as "Best PCIe Card For ~$200"? I understand Tom's current infatuation with the card, especially with two in crossfire, and I do not dispute their performance or their value in such a configuration. However, I thought the whole point of this article is to rank the cards individually by performance at specific price points. I understand to a certain extent the intent is still there (best bang for the buck), but to me recommending multiple cards in either CFX or SLI setups changes the parameters and purpose of the article, i.e., best "card" in performance at specific price points. Putting multi-card setups into the fray fails to take into consideration whether most users can even install such a configuration on their motherboard. It does not take into consideration the number of available PCIe slots, whether they'll run in 16x/16x mode or if the mobo chipset will even support the configuration (CFX vs. SLI; 790FX vs. 790SLI vs. X58 etc.) Moreover, it doesn't even touch upon whether the PSU is adequate, both in power and number of available connectors. When you factor in these additional considerations, and the possibility that the configeration may require additional upgrades (new mobo; new psu), it sort of defeats the whole purpose of the article, in my opinion.

    I want to see what is the best available card in one slot, even if it s a multi-GPU card (GTX 295; 4870X2; 4850X2). Leave the multi-card setups for the specialty articles, such as the recent "GTX 295 vs. GTX 275 SLI" article.
  • 1 Hide
    hixbot , May 20, 2009 3:46 PM
    Amen. Why can't we see single cards evaulauted seperately? There are many reasons people want to know the best value of single GPUs at different price points. Dual cards, and multi GPU cards still suffer from microstuttering!
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