Things have been quiet on the GPU front for a while now, but there has definitely been activity on the pricing front. With the economy in the toilet, spending on hardware and games has declined; AMD and NVIDIA are fighting for your purchase. Prices are fairly compressed between $100 and $200, and spending just a little more can get you a whole lot of bang. We'll start on the low end and move up as we go. 

We use price and availability at as an indicator of the broader market in order to simplify our data and give more clear recommendations.

Sub $100 Cards

At the lower end of the spectrum, the Radeon HD 4670 can be had for less than $70 USD (down to $50 if you don't mind the rebate hassle). This is a solid card and a good way to go for people who want a well rounded card. It's not the best performer out there, but it offers a good performance boost over built in graphics hardware and leads cheaper add-in cards as well.

ATI Radeon HD 4670
Apollo 256MB $65
ASUS 512MB $68
HIS 512MB $70
Sapphire 512MB $70
Gigabyte 512MB $70

The Radeon HD 4830 has been pushed down in price slightly due to the appearance of the Radeon HD 4770. This puts it in competition with the GeForce 9600 GT, which can't quite match the former's performance. This gives the edge to the 4830 which is quite a step up from the Radeon 4670 if you can afford the extra $20 or so dollars.

ATI Radeon HD 4830
Apollo $83
MSI $90
HIS $93
XFX $105

Sub $125 Cards

It seems like every time we look at the Radeon HD 4850, AMD has raised the bar once again. Performance of this part exceeds that of the Radeon HD 4770 which is still stuck, at best, at the same price it was at launch. Which happens to be the price to which the 4850 has finally fallen. Most 4770 hardware on is actually more expensive than the 4850. And after rebate, the 4850 can even be had for as low as $90. That's simply amazing for the price.

ATI Radeon HD 4850
Sapphire $100
XFX $110
MSI $110
PowerColor $110
HIS $115

The GeForce GTS 250 512MB (aka the 9800 GTX+) typically costs more (though the Galaxy card can be had for the price of a 4770), and is definitely not as good a deal. The 1GB card does have its advantages, but it's price is also much higher.

Sub $145 Cards

While it seems to be declining in availability, the Radeon 4870 512MB drops in at between $125 and $150. At the low end, this is a great deal that competes incredibly well with the previous segment, but the availability of of these parts make it a deal not long for this earth. Certainly, at the low end, it is a much better deal than the GeForce GTS 250 1GB that falls in this range as well (though solidly at $140 with one card hitting $125 only after MIR). Even at the same price, the 4870 512MB is absolutely the way to go. As we've typically recommended, though, if you can spend the extra money, the 1GB option provides more well-rounded performance.

ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB
PowerColor $125
Sapphire $150

Sub $180 Cards

The Radeon HD 4870 1GB and the GeForce GTX 260 core 216 are the first set of cards we come to that were and have been direct competitors in terms of price and performance throughout their life cycles. Since the introduction of the core 216, driver development differences and aggressive pricing, this battle has been a matter of preference for quite a while now. It seems both AMD and NVIDIA are content to keep it that way. The Radeon HD 4870 1GB can have a bit of a price edge, but some of those NVIDIA cards might also have a bit of an overclock that balances it.

ATI Radeon HD 4870 1GB
XFX $150
PowerColor $155
HIS $160
MSI $165
Sapphire $170

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 core 216
MSI $165
Sparkle $170
Zotac $175
PNY $180
BFG $180

Sub $250 Cards

The Radeon HD 4890 and the GeForce GTX 275 are both relatively new parts. The 4890 seems to have fallen in price across the board more rapidly than the GTX 275 and can generally be had for a better price (though there is one GTX 275 model that can be had for the same price as the 4890). If we look at mail in rebate, then the 4890 can have up to a $20 advantage and at $180 is a great deal and definitely worth it if you can afford that extra bit of cash beyond the previous segment (sounds like a trend doesn't it). At these prices, the 4890 is the way to go, especially if you don't have a 2560x1600 monitor. 

ATI Radeon HD 4890
PowerColor $200
XFX $200
HIS $200
MSI $200
Sapphire $200

We should add that for those who like single card dual GPU cards, the Sapphire 4850 X2 2GB is definitely interesting. We tend to prefer single GPU cards as they have more predictable performance characteristics, but this is not a bad price for entry into the multiGPU market. Sapphire has been and still is the only manufacturer to offer a 4850 X2 part. 

ATI Radeon HD 4850 X2
Sapphire $220

$300+ Cards

In this arena, AMD has run out of single GPU parts. NVIDIA has one left with the GTX 285, but with the >$100 price premium over the Radeon HD 4890, there are certainly diminishing returns here. While the Radeon HD 4870 X2 also offers an advantage over the GTX 285, there's another rather large price jump, but if you're going to spend the money then you get more for the jump from the GTX 285 to the 4870 X2 than from the 4890 to the GTX 285 as well.

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285
Sparkle $315
PNY $315
Gigabyte $330
MSI $330
XFX $330

ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2
XFX $380
Sapphire $380
PowerColor $430
VisionTek $480

Way out in the stratosphere is the GeForce GTX 295. Solidly at $530, this one is definitively not a great deal. You pay a high premium for having these two GPUs in a single card, and picking up two GTX 275 cards will be both cheaper and faster. And if you really want to do that, two Radeon HD 4890 cards would be our recommendation there for less money.

Final Words

That's the update from field. It's only been a short time since some of these parts debuted and the market is already compressed like it hasn't been in quite a while. For those who can afford it, buying a video card today will get you a lot for your money.

In any case, there are two standouts today: the Radeon HD 4850 and the Radeon HD 4890. These two are really terrific values.

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  • gochichi - Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - link

    I have a Radeon HD 4850 and it's performance per say is very good. early reviews of the card noted that the card was very hot running. They also noted that it was stable despite the heat.

    This was my experience for a long time (I've had problems for about 3 months and I got the card on the week of its release), but now the stability is gone... just saying, reliability over the long haul is important too.

    Not saying that Nvidia is better, just saying that this "great deal" card 4850 runs hot, and running hot eventually turns into a mess for you over time.
  • Liujia - Wednesday, July 8, 2009 - link

    If u guys can read chinese, u'll find out lots of Nv trolls/GUNs living in each chinese IT BBS, almost everywhere.

    Some guys ask for help in BBS, the trolls never tire of telling ppl that "Nv card is all through much better on playing games, as lots of game companies give software support to Nv", Furthermore,they always termly complain ATI's driver is terrible......

    Sermonize works......most ppl would rather like to choose 95GT,but not 4650; 96GT,but not 4830; 98GT/98GTX/GTS250,but not 4850....... Just a reminder: each group cards as above mentioned almost sell some price in China......

    In addition, in IT market,most shopman also like to recommend buyer Nv cards, because sell one piece of 95GT/96GT/98GT/250/260 is earning more than sell one piece of 4650/4830/4850/4870 in same price.....And most chinese IT web sites' testing results is lean towards Nv, because Nv is richer and gives them more money & advertising budget.

    I hate unfair competition....unfortunately,it's the realistic world.

  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - link

    Maybe the reason is more people in China like Nvidia and more people buy Nvidia *( the latter is a FACT) in China.
    Have you ever thought that might be the case ? Since more people buy nvidia, more people open their yaps claiming to know what is better, and talk up the card they bought, because by golly, "they couldn't possibly have made the wrong purchase" - ya know what I mean ?
    So taking some conspiracy minded idea like "paid operatives" in the text posters area is a bit much, when just the end user numbers can easily account for it.
  • Liujia - Thursday, July 16, 2009 - link

    Thanks for your reply.

    I gotta say the most chinese don't know much about hardware market and performance, and they are simplicity and would like to believe others' recommendation or information from IT web sites.

    I think you didn't get the point. Since most chinese just buy the low-end or mid-end cards, so why not you now tell us directly about 94GT VS 3650; 95GT VS 4650; 96GSO VS 4670; 96GT/98GT VS 4830 and which ones are worth buying?
  • SiliconDoc - Sunday, July 26, 2009 - link

    Right, you've got another big fat conspiracy complaint going. Some day you might look at your fellow men as wiser than you, and see that's why nvidia sells more cards. That's why there's so many "trolls" in the BBS's telling people not to blow it with crummy ati drivers - and that's why ati loses a billion dollars a year on sales barely above that and why vendors can't make any money. JUNK is JUNK, and boy do they know junk in China.
    Maybe facing the truth instead of whining about success is the way to start thinking.
  • gossmann1 - Friday, July 3, 2009 - link

    I have to agree with SiliconDoc to some degree. This is an unfair comparison unless you are in the market for saving between $10-$50. nVidia makes higher performance cards. This is not an opinion but a fact therefore they cost more. Look at any benchmark on almost any web site. The highest end single GPU card ATI makes cant even compare with the GTX 285 and the same with the dual GPU line-up. Do you pay more....of course that's common sense. Just to give a hypothetical comparison that would imply that a Ferrari should cost as much as a Ford Mustang or that AMD makes a processor that competes with an Intel Core i7 which some may argue but results are what show facts not opinions.
  • iandh - Saturday, July 4, 2009 - link

    Wait, what?

    Look at any benchmark on almost any website... the 4890 and GTX 285 are essentially neck and neck. An OC'ed 4890 beats a stock 285, and an OC'ed 285 beats an OC'ed 4890. The difference? A 4890 costs $200, a 285 costs $330... lets see, 5-10% faster for 35% more money? NO THANKS NVIDIA.

    Same goes for the 4870x2/GTX295. The two are essentially identical, and trade blows in different titles and depending on whether using 1920/2560.

    You know what fanboys are best at... making a molehill into a mountain. Only a fanboy could claim that a 5-10% performance difference is "massively faster", while at the same time completely ignoring pricing.

    Saying Nvidia is better than ATI because their high end single GPU is "so much faster", is basically the same as saying a Lambo is better than a Ferrari because the Lambo has a top speed of 190mph and the Ferrari "only" does 180mph.

    Additionally, the fact is that the Phenom II, C2Q, and i7 all get the same exact framerates in high res single or dual card setups, so anyone who buys an i7 instead of a PII/C2Q for a gaming-only system either 1) likes to waste money 2) is a moron 3) is a rabid foaming-at-the-mouth intel fanboy.
  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - link

    Once again, you won't play a PhysX game, you'll have worse drivers, you'll have no forced sli, you have no built in game profiles, no ambient occlusion, the list goes on and on.
    The comparison is more liked a hopped up Golf vs Lambourghini.
    But you'll, as you did, conveniently ignore everything but a price quote you make, with no links, no two free games I see on Nvidia cards with none on the ATI's ( there's a hundred bucks right there ) - so it's really a bunch of endless hogwash from the same side.
    I see a LOT of Nvidia cards at the egg today with TWO FREE $49.99 EACH games. ZERO ati cards with the same.
    So the argument keeps switching, from a few frames at the highest rez for reds, to the next lower rez when the 275 has a 2560 driver that wins for instance, to the price, even $5-%10 instead of 5-10 percent FPS difference, as long as that favors ATI "at the moment of the statement"... then momments later when it does not... some other thing, reversed again.
    Go ahead and buy ATI, they are losing billions with their pricing, and might fold anyway. Might as well grab what you can when you can. Really what are you people going to do when they're just plain gone ?
    How many more years can they be in the red and still survive ?
    You people might want to start asking yourselves that.
  • Resiliant - Wednesday, July 1, 2009 - link

    SiliconDoc, you might try posting like an adult in a calm and mature manner, as it is you come across like an emotionally driven 15 year old who thinks yelling louder than everyone else will make himself heard. Not much constructive in these all these comments here other than stupid bantering back and forth.
  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - link

    Resiliant, anmother complainer who calls names and makes insults, and demands to tell someone else how to post, and you spew your emotrional reaction, but you have ZERO counterpoints. There's plenty of pages and statements, but the problem is not a one of you whiners has the brains to make a counterargument.
    All of you sure do a lot of reading my posts and lot of whining - and lot of "internent insult cleche's" , but not one of you made a counterpoint.
    Oh well, I'm glad you read my posts, as I KNOW the truth has sunk into your skulls, and it will eat away at the bias and lunacy fed you, that you have mindlessly repeated for who knows how long.
    Do yourself a favor and enjoy a PhysX game and some ambient occlusion. Or maybe you cannot.

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