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Top 5 Budget Graphics Cards - August 2009 Edition

written by: Jesma•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 5/24/2011

Whether you're shopping for a very basic video card, or a card designed for optimal 3-D gaming, we point you to the highest value products to fit your particular needs.

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    On a Budget? Join the Club...

    These days I very rarely encounter anyone who has a limitless amount of money to spend on new computer parts. Whereas in the past the term "just give me the best" was a common request of clients wanting new computers, now I more often hear "what is the cheapest?" If you're shopping for a new graphics card on a budget, you're not alone. Thankfully manufacturers and retailers are listening and the crop of very affordable graphics cards available is better than its ever been. Let's take a look at five of the best budget graphics cards in their respective classes.

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    Just Get It Done - For 32.99 USD

    It won't be winning any rewards for 3-D gaming quality, but this Geforce 8400 GS from MSI will get the job of putting pretty pictures on your screen done. Designed to be compatible with newer PCs, this card in many cases offers an alternative to and advantage over onboard graphics found in many new computers. It's low profile, small form factor design makes it ideal for slimline desktops and other similar machines where space is a major concern.

    SpecificationsMSI GeForce 8400 GS Budget Video Card 

    • GeForce 8400 GS
    • 512 MB GDDR2 Video Memory
    • 64-bit Interface
    • PCI-Express 2.0
    • Direct X 10 and OpenGL 2.0
    • 567MHz core clock speed
    • 800MHz memory clock speed
    • VGA, DVI, S-Video ports

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    Everyday Performer with a Side of 3-D Gaming - For 64.99 USD

    It was shocking to find such a nicely fitted card for such a low price. This GeForce 9500 GT from EVGA is packed full of features, the most noticeable of which is a full 1GB of GDDR2 video memory. While hard core gamers are probably going to pass this up in favor of one of the current generation models, it's not a card to be brushed off. Over 200 reviewers have deemed this card worthy of everyday usage and good, reliable performance. Dozens of those reviewers also noted it's surprising capability to run games like World of Warcraft and City of Heroes at maxed out settings perfectly, and newer games like Crysis and Call of Duty World at War on mid settings and native resolution. To top it all off, its SLI-compatible - so get two!

    SpecificationsEVGA GeForce 9500 GT Budget Video Card 

    • GeForce 9500 GT
    • 1GB GDDR2 Video Memory
    • 128-bit Interface
    • PCI-Express 2.0
    • DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.1
    • 550MHz core clock speed
    • 800MHz memory clock speed
    • DVIx2, S-Video ports
    • Supports HDMI with audio via DVI-HDMI adaptor (not included)
    • SLI Ready

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    Built-In HDMI, New Gen Specs - For 94.99 USD

    One of the ATI offerings on the budget graphics card list is this brilliant big performer from Sapphire. While considered "low end" it comes from the latest generation of ATI cards, being a HD 4830. This well rounded card manages to be affordable while providing built-in HDMI support and ample 3-D gaming capabilities. It even comes with a free HDMI cable. With a 256-bit interface and higher GDDR3 memory standard this card is technological leaps and bounds ahead of the first two we've discussed. The Radeon 4800 series of graphics cards is the most popular amongst all consumers - even gamers. If you're looking for an affordable graphics card for a multipurpose computer, it's hard to go wrong with this one.

    SpecificationsSapphire Radeon HD 4830 GT Budget Video Card 

    • Radeon HD 4830
    • 512MB GDDR3 Video Memory
    • 256-bit Interface
    • PCI-Express 2.0
    • DirectX 10.1 and OpenGL 2.1
    • 575MHz core clock speed
    • 900MHz memory clock speed
    • VGA, DVI, HDMI ports
    • Crossfire Ready

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    Bringing Out the Big Guns - For 119.99 USD

    It's mind boggling what you can find these days for just 120 bucks. This card rivals the one I paid 250 for not six months ago, but such is the case with most technology. At this level of specs and performance 3-D gaming is pretty much the only focus in card design, and typically the main concern of consumers (of course, there are exceptions). This Radeon HD 4850 packs a massive 1GB of GDDR3 video memory on the latest 256-bit interface, and is rated to be able to play Crysis and other high-end current 3-D games on maximum settings with around 30 FPS. As an added bonus, it comes with the XFX double lifetime warranty.

    SpecificationsXFX Radeon HD 4850 Video Card 

    • Radeon HD 4850
    • 1GB GDDR3 Vidoe Memory
    • 256-bit Interface
    • PCI-Express 2.0
    • DirectX 10.1 and OpenGL 2.1
    • 625MHz core clock speed
    • 1990MHz memory clock speed
    • DVIx2 and S-Video ports
    • Crossfire Ready

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    Budget Big Daddy - For 159.99 USD

    If you're looking for a video card that will do just about anything other than a song and a dance you don't have to spend any more than 160 bucks. This Radeon HD 4870 from Sapphire not only has top consumer ratings, but the 4870 chipset is #1 on popularity charts at FutureMark - which also lists it in the top 10 best 3-D gaming cards on the market. It also features the latest GDDR5 memory standard on a 256-bit interface. If you're looking for an affordable and reliable top performer you can't go wrong here.

    SpecificationsSapphire Radeon HD 4870 1GB Video Card 

    • Radeon HD 4870
    • 1GB GDDR5 Video Memory
    • 256-bit Interface
    • PCI-Express 2.0
    • DirectX 10.1
    • 750MHz core clock speed
    • 900MHz, 3.6Gbps memory clock speed
    • DVI x 2 and S-Video ports
    • HDMI support via included DVI-HDMI adaptor
    • Crossfire Ready
    • Requires two 6-pin power connectors