Just last month, pricing was much different. Today, those looking for a quality gaming experience can look forward to some great deals. While the low end and midrange has remained pretty fixed in price, cards over $200 have come down quite a bit. This has made some comparisons difficult, but the bottom line is great prices for consumers.

Rather than looking at individual manufacturers, we are going to look at different AMD and NVIDIA SKUs. After we've chosen our recommendation at a specific price, we will look at four of the top PC hardware retailers (newegg, ZipZoomFly, TigerDirect, and Buy.com) and find the best deals on the recommended parts on those sites. These parts might not always be from the same manufacturer, but it will be what we consider the best deal at that retailer. While we feel good about our recommendations, it is important to shop around yourself, as these prices are changing incredibly fast.

To illustrate that point, we had planned on publishing this earlier today, but after looking at the prices one more time we noticed that a lot of changes are taking place every day. From yesterday to today some prices have moved $10 to $20, mostly through the addition of larger rebates. This changed a few of our recommendations and we had to rewrite a bit. The important point to take away is that while we try to keep our recommendations as general as possible, a lot of what matters is price at the time of purchase. And that can fluctuate like crazy. Since Thanksgiving we've seen prices move more than $50 in some cases, and everything is getting more and more competitive and aggressive. Now really is the time to buy.

On each page we will make at least one recommendation based price, performance and features including rebates (both instant and mail-in). This is a little different from our usual recommendations we make based on the general positioning of a card. We normally do this because price fluctuations and overclocking make nailing down a definitive best option very difficult (if not impossible). Today, we are looking at ... well, today. While the general sentiments we discuss remain relevant, the actual recommendations are based on the absolute best price you can achieve today and we even give some leeway to overclocking in a couple cases.

Although we will recommend cards from all four of our selected retailers, we will highlight the one we think is the best deal among the four as well. As some people tend to have a preference for different retailers, we are still allowing for options, but our recommendations will be based on the best deal we can find period rather than something like an average between the retailers.

The Prelude: Sub $75 and $75-$100 Graphics Cards

So this first page, while showing off inexpensive product, doesn't offer really high performance. This page is great for the HTPC crowd, but we aren't going to ignore gamers on a really tight budget. The parts we recommend here will still be the cards that can muster some gaming performance, but low resolutions will need to be run and higher quality settings won't be an option with newer games. Antialiasing is not usually a reasonable method to improve image quality here, and tradeoffs between performance and quality will almost always need to be considered when gaming.

Generally, we need to look at 800x600 and 1024x768 for new games with higher quality settings. Usually running a higher resolution than that requires reduced quality to be playable. If you are monitor limited at a low resolution, or you don't mind running half native resolution on LCD panels, then spending less on graphics hardware is definitely an option. For our HTPC users who still may want to try a game or two, remember that allowing the TV to convert the signal will add delay. If you have a 1080p HDTV, both NVIDIA and AMD now offer GPU accelerated upscaling and can handle rendering at a lower resolution and outputting an upscaled native resolution image.

The competition from NVIDIA in this segment is somewhat lacking with cards either not supporting the features we want or not offering the kind of game performance an AMD alternative can. The GeForce 9500 GT doesn't support 8-channel LPCM audio over HDMI like the Radeon 4550, and it also isn't a good gaming solution compared to the Radeon HD 4670. The GeForce 9500 GT does, however, offer good 24Hz refresh rate performance (useful for HTPCs connected to a 24p display) while AMD struggles a bit here.

While the GeForce 9600 GSO offers competitive gaming performance compared to the Radeon HD 4670, it doesn't offer all the features we want for HTPCs and isn't as quiet. Pushing the $100 boundary is the 9600 GT, which really doesn't have direct competition from AMD, though spending slightly more or finding amazing rebates on the Radeon 4830 is an interesting option.

The lowest performance card we recommend also happens to be great for the HTPC crowd. The inexpensive Radeon HD 4550 can be had passively cooled, and does offer a step up from integrated graphics in terms of game performance. Gaming is not great on the Radeon HD 4550, but being passively cooled and offering 8-channel LPCM over HDMI with adequate video decoding offload is a killer combination for those of you with 7.1 channel speaker setups.


ATI Radeon HD 4550 (Image From newegg.com)

Sub $75 8-channel Audio HTPC Recommendation: ATI Radeon HD 4550

Newegg ZipZoomFly TigerDirect Buy.com
Gigabyte Radeon HD 4550
ASUS Radeon HD 4550
Not Available ASUS Radeon HD 4550
$59 Not Available $60

 

Opting for the NVIDIA solution for its smooth 1080p24 playback is a viable HTPC alternative to the Radeon HD 4550. As an added bonus, the 9500 GT does offer a bit better gaming performance as well (though it can't touch the 4670 in this area, so if it's gaming you're interested in, this isn't the card to get). Some of these recommendations are silent and some aren't, so make sure you check out each vendor before you buy if you have a specific cooling need or dB level.

Basically if you have a 7.1 audio setup and want to play back original Blu-ray discs in full 8-channel glory, go for the Radeon HD 4550. If you've got a 24Hz display and want smooth 24Hz playback, buy the GeForce 9500 GT.


NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT (Image From TigerDirect.com)

Sub $75 1080p24 HTPC Recommendation: GeForce 9500 GT

Newegg ZipZoomFly TigerDirect Buy.com
Biostar GeForce 9500 GT
ASUS GeForce 9500 GT
XFX GeForce 9500 GT PNY GeForce 9500 GT
$54 $50 $70

 

 

If you need to stay inexpensive but still want some gaming performance, the Radeon HD 4670 is really the cheapest viable option. Coming in at about $75, with some holiday special rebate offers dropping that price to $65 (or even $55 in one 24 hour deal at newegg on a gigabyte card), this card is capable of good quality at low resolutions. This one isn't passively cooled, and if the main purpose of the box is for HTPC use then sticking with the 4550 is the way to go here. If you want to build a living room computer with good gaming performance that could also be used as an HTPC where fan noise is acceptable, we recommend stepping further up than the 4670.


The Radeon HD 4670 (Image From newegg.com)

$75 Gaming Recommendation: ATI Radeon HD 4670

Newegg ZipZoomFly TigerDirect Buy.com
Gigabyte Radeon HD 4670
Gigabyte Radeon HD 4670
Sapphire Radeon HD 4670 MSI Radeon HD 4670
$56 $80 $90

 

 

Pushing up closer to $100 the lines get blurry and the 9600 GT becomes more of an option though there's a deal in the next section that sort of negates that advantage. If your target is $100, you'd be better served by spending $10 more dollars to get a better card, but the fastest option for just under $100 today is going to be found on the next page (even though it may only be a very temporary option). Because of this, we don't recommend the 9600 GT as an option.

The People's Performers: $100 - $130 Graphics Cards
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  • SiliconDoc - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    The 9800GTX+ is 149.99 by itself.

    I'm not sure why, with CUDA, and with PhysX, and with overclocking capability, and with using an 8 series for a dedicated PhysX processor, WHY I should buy the 4850 at the same price or worse.

    I guess in this case, the very few games that the 4850 enjoy a advantage in, makes all the difference all of a sudden - in this case NOTHING matters exacpt some " very close gaming scores" and after thinking about that ONLY - choose the 4850.... or so the review goes... because golly... the price COULD be advantageous...

    Yeah, I've HAD IT.
    Reply
  • fofelix - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    I think the HD 4850 X2 is getting interesting because of the recent price cuts.
    In Germany the cheapest HD 4870 512MB costs 187€ ,while the HD 4850 X2 (2x512MB) costs 261€. Nice performance/euro ratio in my opinion.
    Well i don't know the price of the HD4850X2 in the U.S. ,but I assume the relative price difference is similar.

    By the way... You can be a bit jealous living in Europe .
    I knew that hardware is more pricy in Europe compared to the U.S. , but 187€ for the HD 4870 vs Newegg's 180$ deal. Crazy difference ,isn't it ?

    Greetings from Europe
    Felix
    Reply
  • USRFobiwan - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    Well I disagree with the dollar to euro conversion the New egg version is still cheaper.. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    That's what he's saying: those living in Europe can be jealous of Newegg prices. Reply
  • Clauzii - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    ... that AMD/ATI are very strong in the GPU market at the moment. And a 4830 for under $100,-. Simply brilliant. Reply
  • SiliconDoc - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Here's what's "brilliant" - I've heard from AYTI fans for 6 months that the sucky NVidia is ready to collapse because their "huge die" for the 280/260 is raping their bottom line... and by golly ATI is sooooo smart with their smaller 4870 die that saves them so much money....

    OH, BUT THEN IT HIT, RIGHT AFTER ANOTHER REDFAN WHINED IT OUT AGAIN ABOVE...

    Gee, Nvidia keeps it's giant core in the $200+ to $500 privce segments - the 260/192/ 216 on up to the 280 - making sure they GET A LOT OF MONEY FOR THAT TOP CORE OF THEIRS...

    But what does ATI do ? WHAT do they do ? Oh, they've got their TOP CORE in all their 4000 series cards, and although it's half the size of the so expensive NVidia top core - ATI puts their top biggest most expensive core in OODLES OF CHEAP LOW RENT VIDEOCARDS!

    lol - all the 4850 series that barely brag 150 bucks now... and that's the BEST case scenario...

    4350 - $25
    4550 - $58
    4650 $65
    4670 $76
    4830 $110
    __________________________________

    Am I totally wrong or aren't ALL THOSE 4000 series GPU cores JUST AS LARGE AS THE 4870'S ? (even with reduced features... disabled shaders... or whatever)
    __________________________________

    Ahh, the red fans HAVE BEEN LYING AND SNOWBALLING ME FOR 6 MONTHS...

    The review sites have SPEWED that same rhetorical BS, a big fat line of lies... and most have repeated it ad infinitum - how NVidia just can't take it....

    And it takes ME - to point out Nvidia keeps their top core in the $200 dollar to $500 pricepoint while ATI has their MOST EXPENSIVE CORE

    priced at $25 - perhaps a GIGANTIC LOSS for ATI in the 4350...
    _________________________________________________________________

    Oh, but I've been told Nvidia is losing so much they can't do a price war with ATI.... because of the Nvidia gigantic die...

    LOL - BOT HAVE THE LIARS BEEN BAMBOOZLING FOR 6 LONG MONTHS!
    _____________________________________________________________

    I know, I'm not the best writer, so wail away reds.... but you WON'T be responding to the points, nor will the reviewers - it will be ALL SILENT on the red front...

    ( except to perhaps spew about the 400 cores - yes well let me know if the 4350 core die is SMALLER than the 4870 - I'm going to look again RIGHT NOW ).

    Good luck reds, I sure hope this isn't another gigantic lie exposed that you will "deny" by virtue of silence on it, or just scream it makes no sense (your other favorite tactic).
    Reply
  • SiliconDoc - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    Ok, I'll correct myself... my apologies for getting upset.

    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3420">http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3420

    I see the lower end series have smaller dies than the 4870 - BUT the 4850 FITS MY COMPLAINT.
    260mm2

    So ATI is calling "4000 series" chips 4000's but they aren't really at all... they are small knockdowns - THEY'VE BEEN LYING TO US ALL.

    We've heard endless complaints about NVidia RENAMING the SAME SIZED DIES and calling them by a new designation...

    So what ATI does is make a WHOLE 4000 series .... and then only the top 2 are actually the new full die -
    And a whole host of the 4000 series are NOT.

    Deception anyone ?
    Reply
  • Schmide - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    . Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, December 18, 2008 - link

    it works fine for me ... what exactly is the issue? Reply
  • SiliconDoc - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    " Pushing up closer to $100 the lines get blurry and the 9600 GT becomes more of an option though there's a deal in the next section that sort of negates that advantage. If your target is $100, you'd be better served by spending $10 more dollars to get a better card, "

    Yes, so blurry, huh - like $65 bucks is BLURRY.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Sub...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductLi...06793736...

    Let's really SEE, you said you'd include discounts and rebates:

    64.99
    64.99
    74.99
    79.99
    74.99
    84.99
    ___________________________________

    Only in the 1024 ram area does it change, but WE KNOW that doesn't matter - since the 4870 512 IS RECOMMENDED OVER THE 896 RAM GTX260 -
    So 512 is just fine and makes the 9600GT the big winner.
    Reply

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