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The other Radeons in the race
If $79.99 is too rich for your blood, you may be interested in another RV730-derived graphics card, the Radeon HD 4650. We had hoped to include one in this comparison and tried to make arrangements to receive one for testing, but unfortunately, it hasn't made it here yet. Not that it likely matters much. The 4650 is much less powerful than the 4670 due to lower core (600MHz) and memory (500MHz of GDDR2) clock speeds. It will save you ten bucks, though. since they're available for $69.99. The 4650's main appeal to PC enthusiasts may be for use in home theater PCs, since this card draws under 60W max and some versions may offer support for DisplayPort audio, which is a new feature in the RV730. Of course, Radeon HD cards have long supported audio over HDMI, as well.

Say you're willing to really open up the piggy bank and move upmarket a little bit in order to get more performance than the 4600 series can offer. What's next? Well, there are quite a few slightly older video cards hanging around in the market that once cost nearly 200 bucks but now hover not far from $100. These cards are last year's stars, but today they're selling at a generous discount.

A perfect example of such a beast is this Radeon HD 3850 from Diamond. Although the 3850 started out as a cheaper alternative to the Radeon HD 3870, the two products have essentially merged over time. 3850s added larger, dual-slot coolers, went to 512MB of GDDR3 of memory, and gained 3870-like clock speeds. Meanwhile, many 3870s have shed their expensive GDDR4 memory and resorted back to cheaper GDDR3 memory, which is faster clock for clock. This Diamond card is a pretty good example of the breed overall, with a 725MHz GPU clock and 512MB of GDDR3 memory clocked at 900MHz. It's selling for $119.99 at Newegg, along with a $20 mail-in rebate, taking the net price down to either $99.99 or $119.99 plus 20 bucks worth of shattered dreams, depending on the whims of the rebate gods.

The 3850 may be a little bit older, but the premium you pay for this card over the 4670 will net you a higher-end product with a 256-bit memory bus. In fact, the 3850 has nearly twice the pixel fill rate and memory bandwidth of the 4670. Unlike the 4670, you will need an auxiliary PCIe power lead for this card, but its requirements are still quite modest.

We could dilly-dally around with 3870 cards that feature slightly higher GPU core and memory clocks for a little bit more money, but it's difficult to see the point when you have AMD's own Radeon HD 4850 hanging out there for not much more.

Take, for example, this Asus Radeon HD 4850. Not only is it a cornucopia of graphical goodness, with roughly twice the memory bandwidth and shader power of the Radeon HD 4670, but it has an historically implausible archer chick surrounded by rose petals on it. Just looking at it, I feel calm and secure, though slightly aroused. Those feelings are only heightened by its $169.99 list price and $30 mail-in rebate. If the rebate works out, we're talking 140 bucks net for an incredibly powerful graphics card, calling into question the whole rationale for this article because, well, why buy anything else? I dunno, but perhaps Nvidia has an answer.