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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: June '09

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: June '09
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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 card, 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.

May Review and June Updates:

Last month's big news was the launch and initially-great availability of the new Radeon HD 4770, which upped the ante of the $100 price point to notably higher levels of performance compared to what the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT offer. While the Radeon HD 4770 was in stock when we wrote last month's article, its low price and great performance contributed to it quickly selling out, and inventory was low all month, making it difficult to find and purchase.

In May, there weren't any new graphics card launches of note, but we did get something almost as good: falling prices on a massive scale. In fact, we ended up removing the Radeon HD 4770 from our recommended list, not just because of poor availability, but because the Radeon HD 4850 512 MB can be had for as little as $105 online. If this weren't enough to shake things up, the 1 GB version of the Radeon HD 4850 can be found for as low as $130. This is a crippling blow to the GeForce camp, as the Radeon HD 4850's competition (the GeForce GTS 250) starts at $150 for both the 512 MB and 1 GB versions, oddly enough.

At these prices, Radeons show up as the best buys at most price ranges. There are still some compelling GeForce products, like the GeForce 9600 GSO and GeForce GTX 260, but prices for the GeForce GTS 250 ($45 more than a Radeon HD 4850 512 MB) and GeForce GTX 295 ($90 more than two Radeon HD 4890 cards in CrossFire mode) are going to have to come down to reasonable levels in order to take back a solid recommendation.

Because of these price changes, there has definitely been some shifting around on our recommended list, so have a look.

On a side note, I'd like you folks to know that due to forum requests, I will be adding Intel graphics solutions to the hierarchy chart, hopefully for next month's article. Stay tuned!

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, then the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need.
  • The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI mode, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a case with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card requires and will likely produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision. In most cases, if we have recommended a multiple-card solution, we try to recommend a single-card honorable mention at a comparable price point for those who find multi-card setups undesirable.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information, 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 represent a good deal, but it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
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  • 5 Hide
    ColMirage , June 10, 2009 6:14 AM
    Oops!

    Copy paste error @ Radeon HD 4850 1 GB.
  • 0 Hide
    xg4mer , June 10, 2009 6:40 AM
    In "Mención Honorífica: Radeon HD 4870 X2, in the pic is the 4850 x2" xD

    Thx for review!
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , June 10, 2009 7:58 AM
    It is really annoying to have the "see more products" table before the previous page/article index/next page selection. Its like you are trying to trick people into clicking on them. shady.
    Also just a fyi, for best cards for $455 you state it is 2 4890's in crossfire, but your table directly underneath says 4850 X2 2 GB.
  • 1 Hide
    Proximon , June 10, 2009 8:22 AM
    Even better and clearer than before. Keep up the good work!
  • 0 Hide
    t-train , June 10, 2009 8:49 AM
    If you were able to purchase 2 4770s, which you still recommend the now cheaper 4850s? Even with 1GB per card, they still seem to lose to 2 * 4770s

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/video/display/radeon-hd4770-crossfirex.html

    Seems like you getting a bad deal paying an extra 2 * $30 for 4850s that consume more power and perform similarly.

  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , June 10, 2009 9:30 AM
    t-trainIf you were able to purchase 2 4770s, which you still recommend the now cheaper 4850s? Even with 1GB per card, they still seem to lose to 2 * 4770s http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/v [...] firex.htmlSeems like you getting a bad deal paying an extra 2 * $30 for 4850s that consume more power and perform similarly.


    Feel free to check out this one, as well: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/radeon-4770-crossfire,2288.html

    If you already bought the 4770s, then you got a great deal--probably in the neighborhood of $99 apiece. Unfortunately, they've since gone up in price to reflect current supply.

    This month's recommendations reflect the current state of the market, where you have to take into account few, if any, 4770s available for purchase and a load of 4850s that were beaten down in price as a result of the 4770s and actually *are* available. =)
  • -1 Hide
    manitoublack , June 10, 2009 9:33 AM
    I swear I've read that article before. A little copy here and a little paste there. That said when not much changes, there's not much point in changing a good article.
  • -6 Hide
    shreeharsha , June 10, 2009 10:35 AM
    Thanks for the Updates, though these prices don't tally to prices in India.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , June 10, 2009 11:17 AM
    I don't see how there can be a "tie" between 4650ddr3 and 9500gt.4650ddr3 is quite a bit faster than 95gt.
  • -4 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , June 10, 2009 11:48 AM
    So since 4850 has replaced 4770 I've got to ask - do versions of this card exist, that clock down in 2d mode like the 4770? or are all of those 'better' cards 4 times as hungry in idle mode?
  • 5 Hide
    scook9 , June 10, 2009 11:59 AM
    yay my GTX 275 SLI made the list finally. You don't have to tell me about falling 4850 prices, it's killing me because I got a pair I am selling now. Bought for 160 each, 30 MIR each, trying to sell for 85 each!

    Its a sad reason, but I am pretty much upgrading because:
    1) I can
    2) I play Crysis a lot and need more than 4850 CF
    3) I play Crysis a lot on a 24" monitor

    Have to enjoy being a kid as long as I can ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    avatar_raq , June 10, 2009 12:56 PM
    Nice article as usual. I wish I live in the states! If only you guys know the prices here..:sigh:
  • 2 Hide
    glawk , June 10, 2009 1:38 PM
    "We acknowledge that recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI mode, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a case with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card requires and will likely produce more heat than a single card."

    If you acknowledge it, how can you continue to recommend 2 cards when there are so many intangibles regarding total cost? Even single-card SLI solutions are not without their issues as well (microstutter, buggy performance and support in some games).
  • 0 Hide
    gwolfman , June 10, 2009 2:32 PM
    Quote:
    ...as the Radeon HD 4850's competition (the GeForce GTS 250) starts at $150 for both the 512 MB and 1 GB versions, oddly enough.
    Really? I just bought a GTS 250 for someone else and it was only $129. No rebate required.
  • 6 Hide
    gwolfman , June 10, 2009 2:40 PM
    Thanks for adding the alternating colors on the hierarchy charts again! Makes it so much easier to read. :D 
  • -3 Hide
    duckmanx88 , June 10, 2009 2:53 PM
    whenever people criticize TH, I just think about how great the video card articles are, and how wrong the critics are. can someone tell me which GeForce cards have an HDMI on them?
  • 2 Hide
    frozenlead , June 10, 2009 3:24 PM
    duckmanx88can someone tell me which GeForce cards have an HDMI on them?

    All of them. Even if they don't have the port, DVI is the same as HDMI, and you can purchase (and most of the time they come with the card) an adapter between the two interfaces.

    Nice article. Over time you've seemed to manage to accommodate everyone - fanboys, single pci-e's, and duals. I think these are written well and well thought out.
  • 1 Hide
    frozenlead , June 10, 2009 3:25 PM
    frozenlead DVI is the same as HDMI

    Well, DVI lacks audio. But they're electrically compatible, both digital and such. Hopefully you know what I mean.
  • 3 Hide
    Kill@dor , June 10, 2009 3:38 PM
    Can't complain, i still have my 8800GT and its working flawlessly. The only thing i hate about it is the fan...very inadequate cooling. Raising the fan speed makes it loud, but i'm used to it now. It plays everything from Cysis, GTA4, Assassins Creed and tons more perfectly ^_^
  • 2 Hide
    geofelt , June 10, 2009 3:44 PM
    This list is about price/performance tiers. To that end, you neel to include ALL the costs. The sli/cf solutions initially look good because they do not include all the costs. I would suggest that those entries be adjusted by the extra costs associated with dual cards:
    1)PSU upgrade $30.
    2)mobo with dual pci-e slots/sli license. $20.
    3)increased case cooling $20.
    ------total about $70.
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