Unlike our recent look into high-end 3D cards, we know exactly what we have on-hand in the way of budget cards (thank you, Techpowerup's GPU-Z). For AMD's part, we have the Diamond Radeon HD 4850, with updated benchmarks from the numbers we ran in our July review. In Nvidia's camp, we get the EVGA GeForce GTX 9800+ Superclocked edition, an overclocked (for real this time), version of Nvidia's stock GeForce GTX 9800+ card.
While both of these cards debuted this past summer, their prices have dropped slightly since then, creating an affordable little sweet spot for mainstream PC-gaming performance. If you shop at retailers like NewEgg.com and TheNerds.com that tend to have more aggressive pricing, the formerly $200 Radeon HD 4850 card is now available for about $180, and the GeForce GTX 9800+ is down from $225 to around $165. On the one hand, the $15 difference between them now may tip the scale towards the overclocked Nvidia card. On the other, the Diamond card only takes up a single card-expansion slot. The Nvidia card's double-wide design puts some limits on the kinds of systems that will accept it.
Regardless of their physical attributes, the performance of these cards is almost identical. We even found that as long as you stick to a resolution of 1,680x1,050 you get the most headroom for higher image-quality settings, (except on original flavor Crysis, naturally). With very little performance differentiation, we're calling this round an effective draw, as the price and design differences create some situational advantages for each card.
The high-end and the budget-price ranges out of the way, that leaves us with only the midrange, $300 price point left to go. We still have to get our hands on one more card to complete that match-up. Once we do, we'll have those reviews posted as soon as we can.