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AMD vs. Nvidia: 3D card three-way at $300

Midrange 3D cards go head-to-head-to-head.

After much fretting over prices, we can now wrap up our 3D card coverage, at least for now, as we post reviews of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 and the EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked. We call this a three-way because we've also included updated scores for the GeForce GTX 280 from back in June 2008, which now competes in this price range.

Sapphire's Radeon HD 4850 X2 CNET

Prices became a concern for us in this roundup, as our target was initially $300 and less. The GTX 260 fits the bill, but the 2GB Radeon HD 4850 X2 we received from AMD didn't at first, hovering around $340. We thought about aiming lower, but the distance between $250 and the $150ish cards we reviewed last week didn't feel wide enough.

We asked for the 1GB version of the 4850 X2, but by the time we received it it seemed to have disappeared from retail availability. Fortuitously, as the 1GB version disappeared, the price on the 2GB model also came down to $299 at Amazon, and for a day at NewEgg, where it's currently about $319.

EVGA's GeForce GTX 206 Core 216 Superclocked CNET

For Nvidia's part, the GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 started at $299 when we first acquired the product, and then dropped to about $260 by the time we finished, about a month and a half later (holidays, CES, etc.). We also saw that the GeForce GTX 280 started to hover around $320 or so. Thus, our spread here of $260 to $320, between three different cards.

The Asus ENGTX280 we used for comparison CNET

You'll notice we don't include the $240 1GB Radeon HD 4870, nor do we have scores for the $375 Geforce GTX 285. We wanted to stick to the middle ground between the $150 low end and the $475 or so high end. Deviate too far and the lines between categories get blurry.

It's frustrating for review purposes, but it's also extremely confusing when you go to make a purchase. Until you hit the very high end, someone can always suggest that you spend just a little bit more for the next card up. We tried to pick the sweet spots around certain price points. If AMD and Nvidia's incessant thin slicing of the market falls victim to our decisiveness, so be it.

So. Our review of the Sapphire Radeon HD 4850 X2 is here. Our review of the EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked is here. Those reviews have the updated scores for the GTX 280, although you can read our original review of that card from last summer here.

Of the three, the Radeon card gets the nod, not least for its performance, but also because it's the only card with four DVI ports, enabling the pictures in our slide show below. The GTX 260 Core 216 also has some promise, as it was the most power efficient of the bunch. Enjoy.