The Best Graphics Card for the Money?
There is quite a bit to cover here so lets start with the top two contenders: the Radeon HD 4850 and the GeForce 9800 GTX+. As it's been often the case when comparing two competing products from both camps, certain games tend to favor Nvidia GPUs while others seem to like Radeon cards better.
For example, the Company of Heroes results strongly favored the GeForce 9800 GTX+, though if we had made heavy use of AA/AF this may not have been the case. Doing so would have totally written off the other budget cards, particularly at the higher resolutions. But we inevitably had to decide on certain settings that were good to test the whole pack of cards and we went with a configuration that would at least see the mid-range cards delivering playable performance.
Having that said, the 9800 GTX+ was clearly faster in CoH: Opposing Fronts using our test configuration. The Crysis performance was evenly matched at lower resolutions, but the 9800 GTX+ raced ahead at 1920x1200. Crysis Warhead appeared to favor the 9800 GTX+ even more. Sacred 2 and World in Conflict were another two games where the 9800 GTX+ was significantly faster than the Radeon HD 4850.
Other games also favored the 9800 GTX+ but by much smaller margins like Devil May Cry 4, Far Cry 2 and F.E.A.R: Perseus Mandate. Then in Supreme Commander and Unreal Tournament 3 both cards were about even. The Radeon 4850 only saw a clear advantage in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and X3: Terran Conflict by a smaller margin.
Overall the GeForce 9800 GTX+ was able to take on the Radeon HD 4850. Current pricing puts the 4850 at $160 and the 9800 GTX+ at about $180, so gamers are likely to pay a slight price premium for the GeForce graphics card. Still, in most cases it proved to be worth the additional cost, rewarding us with higher average frame rates.
However those that do not have $160+ to spend on a graphics card may be more interested in the GeForce 9800 GT or the Radeon HD 4830. This match up was quite different as the Radeon was found to be leading the better portion of the tests we conducted. The Radeon 4830 was also a bit cheaper at around $120, but in the past few weeks while we were preparing this article we saw how GeForce 9800 GT products have begun to match those prices. Still, the performance edge is there and our vote goes to the Radeon HD 4830 as the best sub-$150 gaming graphics card.
|Price||TS Editor's Choice|
|$150-200||GeForce 9800 GTX+|
|$100-150||Radeon HD 4830|
|Below $100||Radeon HD 4670|
|Below $80||None for gaming|
The GeForce 9600 GT did not perform poorly but it's stuck at the middle of the road at roughly $100. This makes it just a fraction cheaper than the Radeon HD 4830, while being significantly slower in most cases.
The Radeon HD 4670 was the next step down in performance, costing ~$80 and offering decent gaming performance. In general we found that anything slower/cheaper than this would be fairly worthless for any serious PC gaming. For example, the Radeon HD 4650 is priced at around $70, yet it delivered considerably less performance. For the most part the GeForce 8600 GTS/GT, 9500 GT, and Radeon HD 2600XT were also slower than the Radeon HD 4650.
Therefore, as we see it, gamers looking to spend as little as possible need to shell out at least $80 for a Radeon HD 4670. If you can afford something faster we recommend to skip the GeForce 9600 GT and head straight for the Radeon HD 4830, which can be easily had for $120. Then for cards above the $150 mark, the Radeon HD 4850 is selling for $160 or the GeForce 9800 GTX+ ($180) which we consider to be the better choice if you can stretch the budget.