Yesterday we talked about Nvidia's Christmas lineup, bargains, or rather lack of them, here. Today it's ATI's turn, and things are looking good for the Canadian outfit, although considering what it's up against, this is hardly a surprise.
Let's start cheap and work our way up the ladder. At €33+ you can get the HD4350, while HD4550 prices start at €46. Don't let the numbers fool you, both are based on the RV710 core and differ in memory size and type (256 MB DDR2 vs. 512MB DDR3). While we can recommend the HD4350 for undemanding users, or HTPC builders, the HD4550 doesn't look like a good deal. Here's the catch, for just seven euros more you can get the HD4650, an RV730 card with 512MB of DDR2. The DDR3 version of the RV730, branded HD4670, costs €69.
In the same price range you'll find ATI's top value card of yesteryear, the HD3850. The cheapest one comes from MSI, and sells for €56. It's overclocked, but has just 256MB of memory. If you need more, you can get Sapphire's HD3850 with 512MB card for €69. HD3870 cards sell for €87+, and non-reference versions still cost over €100. Nvidia's G92 based 8800/9800GT cards have slipped into this price range, not to mention the HD4830, and both offer better performance. An overclocked dual GPU HD3870 X2 from MSI costs €174. It still packs quite a punch, and the price is reasonable.
So much for the RV670, let's move on to Nvidia's nemesis, ATI's RV770 based cards. The lineup starts with the HD4830, probably the best bang for buck card on the market at the moment. The cheapest ones come from HIS and Sapphire, and sell for €99. In our tests the HD4830 managed to outperform an overclocked 9800GT, not to mention the old HD3870, so even this crippled RV770 card packs quite a punch. As for the HD4850, it currently sells for €122+, a fair price, while the cheapest HD4870 costs €189. The latter seems a bit overpriced, especially following Nvidia's revamp of the GTX260 216 and the launch of new 180 Forceware drivers.
The R700 was never meant to be a budget card, but in recent weeks it's gone up in price, not down. Thank the weak euro and the bankers who led us straight into a recession for that. The cheapest one now costs €418, whereas three months ago it was selling for €30 less. The good news is that someone in ATI finally realized that the HD4850 X2 has potential, and what's more, they also realized that it can't be sold for €350. This, along with the two month delay, was the trouble with this rare card from the start. It was supposed to be a more sensible version of the R700, but it ended up costing almost as much as the regular one. Not anymore. As of today you can get the HD4850 X2 for €271 and it's finally starting to make sense.
ATI truly managed to steal Christmas this year, from the low-end, through the mid-range, all the way to the top, it dominates the market with affordable, yet powerful products. A year ago, Nvidia couldn't even meet demand for its G92 based cards, forcing ATI to fight for scraps, but the tables have turned and we can only hope Nvidia makes a comeback soon