Let's Get Ridiculous: $130 - $180 Graphics Cards

This is arguably the most important market segment in this entire list. At $150+ the price isn't going to break the bank compared to other graphics hardware, and the performance we can expect is great for gaming at widely used resolutions like 1280x1024 and 1680x1050. This is the lowest performance card anyone who calls him or herself "gamer" will want in their system (though sometimes it is necessary to get by with a little less), but don't mistake that qualification for anything that implies disappointment. Those who need more than what can be had at this price only need it because 1) they are professional gamers, 2) they have large (high resolution) monitors or 3) want it real bad (not all decisions have to be logical, I understand and even identify).

Okay, maybe I'm generalizing a bit much here, but seriously, $150 gets you a lot these days. These cards won't run the highest settings at the highest resolutions in all games, but they will run the highest settings in most games at decent resolutions. They can muster 1920x1200 with reduced quality if you need to push it that high to connect with an HDTV or something.

The midrange segment is populated with what used to be high end hardware from NVIDIA. The GeForce 9800 GTX/GTX+ are priced between $150 and $200 depending on the vendor and whether or not the hardware is overclocked. At the lower end of this price spectrum, this competes with the Radeon HD 4850 from AMD, which happens to be our pick for the best midrange graphics option this holiday season. The AMD solution is generally the same performance or better than the GeForce 9800 GTX, and is more easily found at lower prices (and with rebates can even be found for less).

Beyond the performance and price of the Radeon HD 4850, the card is much smaller, quieter and doesn't require as much power. Because of this, while not the ideal HTPC card, the 4850 does offer a compelling hybrid solution for the living room that can provide an okay HTPC experience (it will be louder than cheaper cards that are designed for HTPCs) as well as a decent gaming experience on an HDTV in the living room. Sure, game consoles are the king of this space, but even this modest card offers multiples of the performance of the graphics hardware in either the XBox 360 or the Playstation 3.

The beloved RV770, the Radeon HD 4850 (Image From newegg.com)

Recommendation: ATI Radeon HD 4850

Newegg ZipZoomFly TigerDirect Buy.com
PowerColor Radeon HD 4850
ASUS Radeon HD 4850
Diamond Radeon HD 4850 Diamond Radeon HD 4850
$132 $130 $182
The People's Performers: $100 - $130 Graphics Cards Movin' On Up: $180 - $220 Graphics Cards
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  • JonnyDough - Sunday, December 21, 2008 - link

    I'm a bit confused about the budget cards for an HTPC, although this article did help me a bit. It's something I've been looking into. I have a projection t.v. with HDMI that runs 1080P. With the desire for multi-channel hi-def sound figured in, I would assume I should go for an AMD 4670 or a 4830 card. But I also want to make sure it's producing good hi-def picture too. If it won't give me the same quality as a Blu-Ray player I don't want to bother with it. Right now I'm using an HD-DVD player for upscaling my movies, and I have a chassis, Windows XP MCE, and some older systems for an HTPC. All that's left is the right card and a Blu-Ray drive/software.

    This card will likely be paired up with an old Athlon X2 running at 2.0ghz or a single core Pentium4 2.2ghz.

    If I can get away with an even cheaper card, let me know. I'd like to do some light gaming on it (TF2, etc @ LAN parties) but the gaming is a distance second in importance to watching movies.

    What's the cheapest reasonable solution for a good movie experience when pairing a card with an old processor, 2GBs of RAM, and a huge tv? Sound isn't really an issue, as I have an X-Fi that can do the job - although I'd prefer to keep that with my gaming system.
  • marc1000 - Monday, December 22, 2008 - link

    your card would be the 4670 or maybe even the 4550 if gaming is not important. but sound is a issue, for sure. because you can not play blu-ray content without a "secure channel" for the audio. of course, you can always use the lower-quality sound channels, but I remember reading something about the hi-quality sound on blu-ray discs and special software and hardware needs. browse some articles here at anandtech and you will find the answer. BUT if your display is 24hz then the only options are the 9500gt or 9600gso.
  • teohhanhui - Saturday, December 20, 2008 - link

    It points to the 4830...
  • Noobnugget - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    Nothing like be horribly inaccurate by quoting mail in rebates(which you may not even get back) as the actual price you pay. When will people learn..?
  • JonnyDough - Sunday, December 21, 2008 - link

    Seconded. I made the same statement on Tom's Hardware I think (or else it was here) for using rebates as a buying decision factor. Don't purchase MIR items unless you're ready to pay full price for what you're buying. Rebates are a way to steal money from consumers. Nothing more than a cheap gimmick to rob you.
  • BLaber - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link


  • JonnyDough - Sunday, December 21, 2008 - link

    From everything I've read I have to agree. Unless you're doing memory specific work or games that require more memory bandwidth, there's no reason to upgrade from a Core2Duo or Core2Quad to i7 yet. Maybe with the next tick or tock (I don't keep track of which is which) then it will be more worth upgrading. Wait for i7 to be seasoned a bit (new proc revisions) before bothering with a change from a Core2 system. Not many modern games really make good use of multiple cores yet anyway. I'm looking forward to GPUs made on smaller dies and Windows 7. PC gaming may make a come back. But these $300 GPU's that create massive amounts of heat and run up my electric bill, and a lack of solid SSD support for XP and Vista make me want to wait a year or two to upgrade my PC from my old socket 939 Athlon X2 systems.
  • kevinkreiser - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    any opinions on the best single slot gpu? i'm looking to make a small computer that can do graphics intensive work, but i'm limited to using up only 1 slot). maybe i could water cool a dual slot to make it a single slot? no idea. suggestions welcome. thanks.
  • SiliconDoc - Tuesday, December 30, 2008 - link

    How about an EVGA 9800GT

    How about this one with a free full game

    Single slot superclocked core

  • marc1000 - Friday, December 19, 2008 - link

    that would be the radeon 4830, because it runs cooler than the 4850 and these are the only high-end single-slot gpus today... or you could stick with older hardware.

    anyway, who will be REALLY jealous is the people overseas and below the equatorial line... i live in Brazil and we have no such price wars here. the cards stay with the initial price for their lifetime... i mean, a 4670 that was 130USD when it debuted, still cost 130USD today over here... and the 4830 that launched later have a "premium tag" because the 4670 costs 130USD... so the sellers charge the 4830 for 150USD... and these prices will not fall. that is really something to be jeaulous about. (PS: of course our currency is not dollars, i'm converting the values here)

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