It's time to take a look at the graphics fall/winter collection for 2008/09. It's a good time to upgrade, Nvidia's GTX200 series has been around for a while, the cards got cheaper and there's a lot of them to choose from. Meanwhile, ATI's HD4000 series has taken both the performance and price/performance crown. In spite of that, the choice of HD4000 cards was rather limited up until a few of weeks ago, when non-reference designs became available.
Let's start on the cheap side, we'll get back to the high end a bit later on. There's a lot of choice in the sub-€100 market segment, and if you're not after top notch stuff, you can get some great cards for peanuts. Last year's must-have-card, the 8800GT, has dropped to as little as €69, but only in the 256MB version. If you want 512MB you'll have to cough up at least €97. For €100 you can get PNY's 9800GT based on the G92b 55nm core and it's probably worth the extra €3.
Reference 9600GT cards retail anywhere from €77 to €90+. Some overclocked non-reference cards retail at well over €100. Not a very good deal compared to G92 based cards, as the price difference is negligible and you'll get significantly better performance for just a few euro more. The cheapest 9500GT cards sell for €49 and could be a nice choice for casual gamers on a budget, although we think there's still not much point in getting them, as an extra €10 will get you an HD3850.
So, it's time to check out ATI's turf. Traditionally well priced in the mid range segment, ATI's HD3000 series cards offer a great price/performance ratio. We've said it dozens of times already and we'll say it again, an HD3850 with 512MB of GDDR3 memory for just €59 is an unbeatable deal in this price segment. An HD3870 with DDR3 memory can be yours for €81 and this sounds like a fair deal too. However, with DDR4 the price climbs to an uncomfortable €97 and you'll be better off getting an 8800/9800GT at the same price.
As you can see I left out quite a few cards from both camps. I just don't see the point in getting any of them. With average prices so low, they're just not worth the bother. You'll end up saving just 10 or 20 euro, but you'll get miserable performance in return. Frankly, if you want a cheap card that can actually run current games, get a G92/G94 or RV670 card and that's the bottom line. If you don't need such performance, or can't afford it, get a dirt cheap HD2400Pro/HD3450 or an 8400GS/9400GT, preferably a passive one. Getting anything in between makes very little sense, due to low prices and an almost insignificant price difference.
Most cards in the sub-€100 region have been with us for quite a while. So, you're not getting state of the art stuff, but there's an upside too. There's a lot of cards to choose from: overclocked versions, non-reference cards with good, quiet coolers or passive ones. The price premium for such spiced up cards is rather small and in many cases worthwhile.
Mid-range and high-end graphics market summary