Gamers will often find that there is a wide range of graphics cards to choose from, especially when buying a mid-range product that sits below the $200 price mark. However the trouble comes in determining just how much they need to spend in order to play the games they love and then reserve a bit of legroom for the titles to come.
The sub-$200 graphics card market is particularly strong at the moment, with products such as the Radeon HD 4850 and GeForce 9800 GTX+ existing well within this price bracket. There is also the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT graphics cards priced at $120 and $130, respectively. Those wishing to spend even less have the Radeon HD 4670 at just $80 and the GeForce 9600 GT for a little more at $100.
Further down the pipe we have the Radeon HD 4650 costing just $70, while the GeForce 9500 GT is slightly cheaper at around $65. It's still also possible to purchase the older Radeon HD 2600XT and GeForce 8600 GT/GTS graphics cards for around the same prices, not that we would suggest doing so anyway.
So if you plan to spend less than $200 on a current generation graphics card, which is the best value option today?
It should be noted that the mid-range GeForce 9 graphics cards are still considered "current generation" as Nvidia has yet to release a GTX series product in this segment. This leaves the GeForce 9800 GTX+, 9800 GT, 9600 GT and 9500 GT as the key Nvidia mid-range/budget parts, all of which are included in this round-up.
The current generation ATI Radeon 4000 series does include a number of mid-range and budget parts. Here we have the Radeon HD 4850, 4830, 4670, and 4650, all priced well below $200. In fact, just recently AMD started selling the Radeon 4870 (512MB) graphics card for $200, which is an amazing offering at this price. Still, today we are focusing on graphics cards carrying a price tag below $200, and since this Radeon has only recently been reduced we have not included it in this comparison review.
|$150-200||GeForce 9800 GTX+||Radeon HD 4850|
|$100-150||GeForce 9800 GT||Radeon HD 4830|
|~$100||GeForce 9600 GT||Radeon HD 4670|
|Below $80||GeForce 9500 GT
GeForce 8600 GT/GTS
|Radeon HD 4650
Radeon HD 2600XT
In total we will be testing eleven graphics cards in twelve different games, each at three different resolutions. From top to bottom, the first battle will take place between the Radeon HD 4850 and the GeForce 9800 GTX+, a fight that has been taking place for about six months now. Those of you with photographic memory will remember that originally it was the GeForce 9800 GTX meant to go against the Radeon HD 4850; the "plus" version stepped in a month later to help pick up the slack. You may also recall that the original GeForce 9800 GTX was launched last March, less than a year ago, and sold for $300+. As we pointed out earlier, it is a good time to pick up a mid-range graphics card.
The GeForce 9800 GT and Radeon HD 4830 will be another interesting battle, as both of these graphics cards represent excellent value at a little over $100.
The Radeon HD 4830 is actually a latecomer to the party that was officially released late last month. Although review samples have been floating around for a lot longer than that, actual retail availability is only starting to pick up now. Therefore we'll be interested to see if the Radeon HD 4830 is worth your time and money, or should those looking at spending a little over $100 stick with the GeForce 9800 GT? Let's move forward and find out.