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Best PCIe Card: $310 And Up

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: May '09
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Past the point of reason:

With rapidly-increasing prices over $260 offering smaller and smaller performance boosts, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than the Radeon HD 4850 X2. While more expensive solutions perform impressively in multiple-card configurations at ultra-high resolutions, there’s just not enough of a gain compared to the Radeon HD 4850 X2, unless you play at resolutions beyond 1920x1200.

Then again, while we often recommend against purchasing any graphics card that retails for more than $300 from a value point of view, there are those of you for whom money might not be much of an object, who can afford a 30” 2560x1600 LCD monitor, and who require the best possible performance money can buy. For those of you, we recommend the following cards:

Best PCIe Card For ~$350: Tie

Two GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) cards in SLI Configuration (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles (some with lowered detail)

Two GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216) cards in SLI Configuration
Codename: 2 x GT200
Process: 55/65 nm
Universal Shaders: 432 (2 x 216)
Texture Units: 144 (2 x 72)
ROPs: 56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

As we noted with the single-card recommendations, two GeForce GTX 260 cards in SLI offer advantages in titles that run better with the GeForce GT200 architecture. If you have an SLI motherboard, the decision becomes a no-brainer as two GeForce GTX 260 cards are a serious force to reckon with. As with the single cards, we recommend the newer Core 216 versions, thanks to the similar price and enhanced performance.

Two Radeon HD 4870 1 GB cards in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

Two Radeon HD 4870 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

Two Radeon HD 4870 cards are a powerful combination, especially when equipped with gobs of memory. With the price of a Radeon HD 4870 X2 running over $400, we recommend two Radeon HD 4870 cards in CrossFire to save the cash. Of course, if you don't have a CrossFire or SLI motherboard, the single-card solution Radeon HD 4870 X2 looks a lot more attractive.

Best PCIe Card For ~$410: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 4870 X2 (Check Prices)

Good 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most titles with some lowered detail

Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB
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 (3,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Two separate GeForce GTX 260 cards in SLI or two Radeon HD 4870 cards in CrossFire are slightly cheaper than a single Radeon HD 4870 X2, which gives those dual-card configurations the recommendation. Having said that, the Radeon HD 4870 X2 is a single card and is therefore viable for those of you with a single PCIe slot on your motherboard. For this reason, the 4870 X2 gets an honorable mention.

Best PCIe Card For ~$520: GeForce GTX 295 (Check Prices)

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance in most games, 2560x1600 in most titles (some with lowered detail)

GeForce GTX 295
Codename: 2 x GT200b
Process: 55 nm
Universal Shaders: 480 (2 x 240)
Texture Units: 160 (2 x 80)
ROPs: 56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus: 448-bit
Core Speed MHz: 576
Memory Speed MHz: 999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10/SM 4.0

Nvidia's GeForce GTX 295 with SLI-on-a-card is the most powerful single graphics card on the planet. With two attached GeForce GTX 275 cards that have been merged, the GeForce GTX 295 offers very notable gains over the Radeon HD 4870 X2 in the great majority of game titles. Even more impressive is that it does so while consuming less power than ATI's flagship card does, which is no small feat.

This is the fastest single graphics card you can get. To get more performance, you'd have to look to extreme solutions such as multiple GeForce GTX 280s in SLI or Radeon HD 4870X2s in CrossFire, but unless you have a 30" monitor, that would likely be a gratuitous waste of money.

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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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