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Best PCIe Card: $200 To $420

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: June '09
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Best PCIe Card For ~$220: Radeon HD 4850 X2 1 GB
or Two Radeon HD 4850 512 MB cards in CrossFire mode (Check Prices)

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

Radeon HD 4850 X2 1 GB or 2x Radeon HD 4850 512 MB in CrossFire
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: 625
Memory Speed MHz: 993 (1,986 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 10.1/SM 4.1

The Radeon HD 4850 X2 is essentially two Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire mode on a single card, and it will beat the more expensive GeForce GTX 280. It will even put the hurt on the new, more expensive GeForce GTX 285.

We're surprised that two Radeon HD 4850 512 MB cards can be purchased for as low as $210, and with the single-card Radeon HD 4850 X2 1 GB for a similar price, this recommendation covers folks with CrossFire motherboards as well as systems with a single PCIe slot. In either case, that's a lot of performance for the admission price.

Check the lowest price we could find on a Radeon HD 4850 X2


Best PCIe Card For ~$320: None

A lot of folks ask why I'm not recommending the GeForce GTX 285 for those who don't have CrossFire or SLI motherboards, so I'll address that here: the Radeon HD 4850 X2 is a single card and doesn't require a special motherboard and it provides superior performance compared to the GeForce GTX 285 for more than $100 less.

Past the point of reason:

With rapidly-increasing prices over $220 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 for the money spent, unless you play at higher resolutions than 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 ~$340: 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-compatible motherboard, the decision becomes a no-brainer as two GeForce GTX 260 cards are a serious force with which to reckon. As with the single cards, we recommend the newer Core 216 versions, thanks to the similar price and enhanced performance.

Check the lowest price we could find on a GeForce GTX 260


Two Radeon HD 4870 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 mode to save the cash. Just make sure you have a CrossFire-compatible motherboard in order to use them.


Best PCIe Card For ~$380: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 4870 X2 (Check Prices)

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

Radeon HD 4870 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 (3,600 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.

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