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The Short List: the Best Gaming Videocards for the money

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December 23, 2005 2:49:33 PM

No further changes to this post will be made and it is well out of date. Check the Tom's Hardware main site each month for updates to the "best card for the money" list.

50% of the people who visit this forum want to know what the best card for the money is. Well, this thread is for those people, and is updated whenever a card can be commonly found in the price segment that takes the crown from the previously posted card.
Note the two sections: one for PCI-Express, and the second for the AGP bus:

Note that since this is now a monthly article on Tom's, I'm simply listing the recommended cards here - you can read the detailed explanation on the live article here:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/Best-Graphics-Card,...



BEST GAMING VIDEOCARDS FOR THE MONEY:
PCI-E video cards, September, 2008

BEST PCI-E CARD FOR ~$60:
Radeon 2600 XT

BEST PCI-E CARD FOR ~$120:
GeForce 8800 GT

BEST PCI-E CARD FOR ~$170:
Radeon 4850

BEST PCI-E CARD FOR ~$3000: 3 WAY TIE
Radeon 4870
Geforce 260
Geforce 9800 GX2

BEST PCI-E CARD FOR ~$340:
Two Radeon 4850 in Crossfire


BEST GAMING VIDEOCARDS FOR THE MONEY:
AGP video cards, September 2008

BEST AGP CARD FOR ~$80:
Radeon 3850

BEST AGP CARD FOR ~$100:
Radeon 2600 XT

BEST AGP CARD FOR ~$135:
Radeon 3850



WHAT ABOUT THIS OTHER CARD THAT'S NOT ON THE LIST? HOW DO I KNOW IF IT'S A GOOD DEAL?
This will happen! It's guaranteed to happen, actually, as stock changes fast. Prices change fast too. So how do you know if that card you've got your eye on is a good buy in the price range?

You can use this heiarchy to compare pricing between two cards to see which is a better deal. You can also see if an upgrade is worthwhile. I personally don't recommend upgrading unless the card you plan to upgrade to is at least three tiers higher on the chart. If it's less than three tiers higher than your current card, the upgrade is somewhat parralel and you probably won't notice a worthwhile difference in performance.

VIDEOCARD HEIARCHY CHART:
http://www.tomshardware.com/2007/12/03/best_graphics_ca...


SUMMARY
So there you have it folks, these are the best cards for the money this month. Now all that's left is finding them in retail, and that part is up to you. They will almost certainly be cheapest online, but sometimes large retail outlets might surprise you with a good sale.
Don't worry too much about which brand you choose because all of the cards out there stick pretty close to Nvidia and Ati's reference. Just pay attention to price, warranty, and the manufacturer's reputation for honoring that warranty if something goes wrong.
Remember also that the stores don't follow this list, we follow them! Things will change over the month and you'll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to changing prices. Good luck!
a b U Graphics card
December 23, 2005 3:50:56 PM

Quote:
Well, I propose we make this thread a sticky and modify it as things change.


I second that, if required....
December 23, 2005 3:55:32 PM

If there is enough positive replies (agreement), then we can make it a sticky ... let's see how it plays 1st ... :?
Related resources
December 23, 2005 4:10:04 PM

Lowest cost to purchase top end cards Dec 23, 2005.
The 7800GTX 256MB version costs $460 and is widely available.
The 7800GTX 512MB version costs $750 and is hard to find.
The X1800XT 512MB version costs $500 and is widely available.
The X1800XT's performance falls in between the 7800GTX and the expensive 7800GTX 512MB version.

That $40 difference gets you better performance, quality and AVIVO features. Definitely the videophile's top card of choice, IMO.
December 23, 2005 4:30:39 PM

Just a suggestion. You make a list of overall best buys and then separate lists for different chip manufacturers? Just my opinion but I personally do not like ATI, the reason does not matter in this topic BUT not everyone might be willing to switch from their favorite brand to another, also you should specify card manufacture, such as MSI or PNY ect., even if the chip is the same, the card and drivers can change everything. Just a suggestion if this really is to become a sticky and stay around and to be updated regularly.
December 23, 2005 4:33:54 PM

Quote:
Just a suggestion. You make a list of overall best buys and then separate lists for different chip manufacturers? Just my opinion but I personally do not like ATI, the reason does not matter in this topic BUT not everyone might be willing to switch from their favorite brand to another, also you should specify card manufacture, such as MSI or PNY ect., even if the chip is the same, the card and drivers can change everything. Just a suggestion if this really is to become a sticky and stay around and to be updated regularly.

Agree, evga make a bunch of 7800 gt
December 23, 2005 4:45:33 PM

I refuse to dilute's the purpose of the list because of brand preference, Zanko.

The best card for x dollars is the best card for x dollars, plain and simple.

If two cards in the same segment are equals that's one thing, they'll both get mentioned; but if a competing GPU isn't as good I'm not going to give it a recommendation because of brand flag wavers. If someone's a brand fenatic and want's a card that doesn't perform as well for their money, they can do their own research. I'm not here to placate fanboys.

Drivers are irrelevant, manufactrers sometimes rebrand drivers as their own but they are still the reference drivers. I have never seen a company's branded drivers make a notable difference, not to say that's never happened in the past but it is certainly a rare exception and not the rule.

As far as manufacturers, I think that's out of the scope of this thread. Besides, I wouldn't recommend someone get a BFG fx 5900 over a Powercolor X800 XT. Brand should be a final and separate decision after you've decided on your GPU, not a mitigating factor.

But as I said, if you have a personal brand/manufacturer preference or a link to a deal, feel free to offer it in this thread.
December 23, 2005 4:49:28 PM

You know rich, the impression I've gotten from the benches I've seen is that the X1800 XT isn't all that much above the 7800 GT in alot of titles.

But having said that, I can reconsider them a tie unless popular opinion says otherwise. I'll editorialize appropriately.
December 23, 2005 5:09:14 PM

ATI's AVIVO, driver 5.13 and upwards.
The ATI R520 based cards can encode movies five times faster than FX57.
also, ATI's new driver takes advantage of dual-core processors, offering up to a 5% advantage over the single core equivalant processors. As more games are coded to take advantage of this, this advantage should increase.

Quote:
Some AVIVO 5.13 notes from ATI's website:
H.264 Hardware Acceleration
Catalyst® 5.13 software suite introduces H.264 hardware acceleration for the ATI Radeon® X1800, X1600, and X1300 product line. H.264 is advanced video coding that provides significant reduction in bit-rate compared to standards such as MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. The ATI Radeon® X1800, X1600, and X1300 products provide hardware acceleration for the playback of high-definition content that is encoded using H.264. Using the Catalyst® software suite 5.13, along with the Cyberlink H.264 decoder available free from http://www.ati.com/technology/h264.html provides H.264 hardware acceleration.
December 23, 2005 6:02:10 PM

Make it a sticky.
December 23, 2005 6:09:01 PM

Good thread. Definitly Sticky!!!!
December 23, 2005 9:11:39 PM

Sticky deffinetly!
December 23, 2005 10:08:38 PM

Hello,

I would recommend the PowerColor X800XL. They are getting kind of rare. However they are faster than the X800GT/GTO and even some of Nvidia's 6600/6800 cards. Has all 16 pipes. DX9.0c/ GL 2.0. Fan is very silent. Good OC. Newegg has it for under $199.

Now if you want to spend a little more. Then x1800xt or 7800gt would be good as well.
December 24, 2005 1:36:42 AM

Great thread.. Make it sticky!!!
December 24, 2005 1:53:51 AM

Quote:
50% of the people who visit this forum want to know what the best card for the money is...................

and


............Honorable mention in this segment is the Radeon X800 GTO2, a 12-pipeline card that is basically guaranteed to become a full fledged 16-pipeline X850 XT with a simple BIOS flash.
Nice post over all but I don't care for the wording of these two statements.

You can't realy know at any givin instant what percentage of people come here for a givin reason. Please consider using the word "Many" in place of 50%.

There is no guarantee that a bios update is going to make a x800 as good as a x850. If there was a guarantee you could RMA the card if the extra pipes didn't come on. There may be a very good chance that a x800 upgraded to basically be a x850 but there is no guarantee. Sorry to be nit picky but if you are going for a sticky the post might as well be as perfect as possible. Please consider using "has a very good chance" in place of "basically guaranteed".
December 24, 2005 6:01:20 PM

Cleeve, to make it a sticky, you have to PM steve_sa , the forum tech to do this for you.

Also, might clean it up and edit first post or just create a new ammended version and repost and PM Steve at same time.
December 24, 2005 6:05:18 PM

No this is not my review.
I am installing my system this weekend.

But I just found this and thought it could be of info to someone considering the X1800, looks like the X1800's are matureing.

Review

Quote:
While the Radeon X1800 XT got off to a lackluster start at launch, the situation has improved dramatically in ATI’s favor in more recent months. As you just saw in our performance benchmarks, the Radeon X1800 XT 512MB has not only pulled even with the GeForce 7800 GTX 256MB in OpenGL benchmarks, it actually outperforms NVIDIA’s 7800 GTX – in some cases by some pretty surprising margins! OpenGL performance has been a thorn in ATI’s side for quite some time now, so this is huge news for ATI.
December 25, 2005 1:46:48 AM

Quote:
You know rich, the impression I've gotten from the benches I've seen is that the X800 XT isn't all that much above the 7800 GT in alot of titles.

But having said that, I can reconsider them a tie unless popular opinion says otherwise. I'll editorialize appropriately.


Actually, the 7800GT beats the X800XT in almost everything.



Sticky it!!!
December 25, 2005 1:56:34 AM

Quote:


Actually, the 7800GT beats the X800XT in almost everything.



Really, read review 2 posts up that I linked.

Try Quake 4


Or what about FEAR!
December 25, 2005 1:58:52 AM

Or Call of Duty



Or HalfLife 2

December 25, 2005 2:29:01 AM

Some of you are getting you x800's mixed up with x1800's. Let's all get on the same page before we start arguing about something we already agree on.
December 27, 2005 7:50:34 PM

Quote:

BEST PCI-E CARD FOR +$500: NOT AVAILABLE
Geforce 7800 GTX 512mb
Codename: G70, 11 micron technology
24 pipeline
256-bit memory bus
55 Mhz core, 850 Mhz Memory

Just me being nit picky again. I can't wait to get one of these new cards when they come out. That 55Mhz bus is going to be awesome!
December 28, 2005 12:44:10 PM

Thanks Admiral... forgot the X800 XL was still available. The list has been changed accordingly.
December 28, 2005 12:49:00 PM

Quote:
You can't realy know at any givin instant what percentage of people come here for a given reason. Please consider using the word "Many" in place of 50%.

There is no guarantee that a bios update is going to make a x800 as good as a x850... Please consider using "has a very good chance" in place of "basically guaranteed".


Hi Lakedude,

I appreciate your concerns however my comments are editorial in nature and I'll stand by them as listed.

The first comment was an impression I've gotten from being here as long as I have.

As far as "basically guaranteed", you're asking me to change something without offering up any proof to the contrary. If you can show me sufficient evidence that there are X800 GTO2's out there that will not flash, please provide a link.
But since the BIOS flash is a selling point for Sapphire, I would imagine they are testing the 16 pipes at the factory to ensure a good name for the product. Like I said though, prove that otherwise and I'll modify accordingly.
December 28, 2005 12:51:43 PM

Quote:
Actually, the 7800GT beats the X800XT in almost everything.


My apologies for the slip of the keyboard, of course I meant the X1800 XT.
My post has been modified accordingly.
December 28, 2005 1:26:13 PM

I love the idea of this thread, but I think it would be infinitely more useful to also post the graphic-intensive games it plays fluidly at "x" resolution.

Because a lot of people not only want to know what the best card for $200 is, but also "can it play game "x"?", "How well can it play game "x" at 1900x1200??", etc.

Because it's not easy finding reviews that match what your monitor is spec'd at. Just look at Tom's nVidia 7-card roundup. There was only 1 bench graphic for FEAR that showed FPS for 1280 resolution. Doesn't help me if I have a 24" WS Dell at 1900.
December 28, 2005 1:50:19 PM

Be careful... all this talk about making the thread sticky is liable to attract wingy.

Doesn't this thread more-or-less just summarise the Buyer's guide though? Might end up confusing people if the two don't quite agree (which would probably only be through one being updated before the other of course..)

I'll throw my vote in for the stickyness, what the hell.
December 28, 2005 2:11:24 PM

Good point, chipdeath. I never thought of that.

My apologies to Spitfire, I'm not trying to step on the toes of his sticky. I just thought there's some value to a concise "short list", as the best-for-the-buck can change so quickly in this hardware segment.

dukeofcrydee, that's a neat idea but kind of hard to implement. How many FPS qualifies a game as "playable"? Do we update numbers everytime a new driver is introduced? I'm not trying to make an extensive review of what each card can specifically do, just a quick guideline of what you should be looking to buy if you have, say, $200 in your hand.
December 28, 2005 3:01:11 PM

Quote:

dukeofcrydee, that's a neat idea but kind of hard to implement. How many FPS qualifies a game as "playable"? Do we update numbers everytime a new driver is introduced? I'm not trying to make an extensive review of what each card can specifically do, just a quick guideline of what you should be looking to buy if you have, say, $200 in your hand.


I said "fluidly" not "playable". A 5 FPS slideshow is technically playable. ;) 

I was under the impression that the majority of folk would consider an avg. 60 FPS the benchmark as to rarely seeing any hiccups during play.

I understand wanting to keep things simple, but generally that $200 in their pocket is being spent because they can't play a game, or because they know they have to upgrade for "x" that's about to come out.

Rather than caring what's fluid or not fluid, maybe just boil things down to something really simple. Pick 1 of the latest big-graphics games, and mark their best FPS score, average FPS score, ore 1 FPS score at a given setting.

So each card would only have something like this attached to it:

-FEAR (4AA/2AF) - 1024x768 - 60 FPS
-FEAR (4AA/2AF) - 1280x1024 - 50 FPS
-FEAR (4AA/2AF) - 1900x1200 - 40 FPS

Just to give a little taste as to what that best card for your money will actually get you.
December 28, 2005 3:16:58 PM

A 5 fps slideshow is *not* playable if you're playing an online first person shooter...

Well, that's a noble aim and you're welcome to offer that info in this thread, but it's beyond the scope of what I've set out to do, myself.
December 29, 2005 5:50:16 AM

I nominate the PowerColor x800 GTO 16/256 PCI to replace:

BEST PCI-E CARD FOR $150 - $200:

Radeon X800 GTO
Codename: R430, 13 micron technology
12 pipeline
256-bit memory bus
400 Mhz core, 490 Mhz Memory

It is the same card as you suggest except the pipes are already unlocked at the factory so the PowerColor GTO 16 has 16 pipes instead of 12. Newegg has em for under $200:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1681...
December 29, 2005 6:05:59 AM

Nice find. Are these widely available, or are they limited edition cards like Sapphire's GTO2s?
December 29, 2005 9:14:16 AM

Nice work. It definately deserves to be a sticky. But then there would be two very similar stickies, which is not necessary. Recently I haven't been able to give much time for the stickies. So reducing one sticky from me would be a better idea. You should take out TheGreatGrapeApe & priyajeet's brand guides, and other stuff from my sticky and make it complete THGC Graphics Card Buyers' Guide v2.0.
a b U Graphics card
December 29, 2005 8:44:02 PM

Yeah something like that would be interesting.

Having spent some time looking over the brands again there's been so much change that it would once again change from generation tot generation.

Now that almost all the boards are made by Celestica (in Toronto) and Foxconn (Taiwan), it's changed alot of things, especially for Foxconn's longest running mfr/distribution partner Tul (aka Powercolor/ColourPower) and then also GeXpuke errr Cube.

It is hard to keep it current and I just don't have the time to do the reasearch I'd want to.

It'd be nice to have it be multiply updatable so no one person is responsable or feel beholden to keeping it current.
a b U Graphics card
December 29, 2005 8:50:43 PM

Quote:
A 5 fps slideshow is *not* playable if you're playing an online first person shooter...


And that's the problem, 'what's acceptable'?

Far too many times we've had this discussion. But I will say this, even for a slow creeper game like SplinterCell 5 FPS avg is way too slow.

The only thing I'd be sure to consider if making a list is don't just look at max frames etc, look at the areas that would most likely play to these cards. Mid range to me says 16x12 no AA/AF or 1280x1024 w/ AA/AF because those would be the CRT and LCD resolutions I would expect to see from those consumers. For the top I'd expect it to be closer to the WS resolutions of the Dell/HP/Sony LCDs or the 19x14+ resolutions of high end CRTs.

Anywhoo, it's difficult enough to have to defend everything, but as long as there's wiggle room in the recommendations then it works, but keeping them current for drivers is a big issue IF there are major developments (like the sudden overtaking of AVIVO past PureVideo, or the boosts to some games using dual core or more memory, etc)
January 3, 2006 5:12:09 PM

Anybody find the 6800 GS AGP in retail yet?
January 5, 2006 10:54:52 PM

Quote:

There is no guarantee that a bios update is going to make a x800 as good as a x850. If there was a guarantee you could RMA the card if the extra pipes didn't come on. There may be a very good chance that a x800 upgraded to basically be a x850 but there is no guarantee. Sorry to be nit picky but if you are going for a sticky the post might as well be as perfect as possible. Please consider using "has a very good chance" in place of "basically guaranteed".



While the GTO2 is guaranteed to unlock to 16 pipelines and have the R480 core, you are correct that not all will reach XT PE speeds. BUT, you are pretty much guaranteed to reach 500mhz core, so it would would be accurate to say that you would be guaranteed to reach x800xt xpeeds :D 

I purchassed a sapphire Gto2 today. Shoudl arrive within a week, i'll post my overclocks once i get it
a b U Graphics card
January 5, 2006 11:55:18 PM

The 6800GS AGP is easy to find now online in the USA. Problem is that 350MHz core like in Grapes link. Considering they run about $230 for us, and Buy.com has a AIW X800XT for $230 after $30 rebate and $15 instant coupon code, the 6800GS is way too liitle and way too late. 6 months ago I would have bought one, but not at these prices.
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2006 12:03:05 AM

OT, but had to ask. Did you know the 9700 pro name has also been tarnished? Believe it or not, there are now 9700 pro's with a 128-bit mem interface. :x

Computer geeks had one new for $70+shipping(geek special couple days ago), but it said 64-bit mem. I almost ordered two, but first I looked it up on the (whoever they are)official site to see it was a typo, but still crippled at 128-bit.

http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=ATI-9700P-128TV...

http://alastor.info/9700pro.htm


Ugh, how I hated all that specifying memory interface crud while recommending 9800 pros. Now it's not safe to jump on a cheap 9700 pro either. Worst of all, this should be a 9500 pro OC, as it's simply a 25MHz OC on the core over the 9500 pro. Why in the world would ATI let them sell a 300/540 128-bit card under the 9700 pro name????
January 6, 2006 12:08:37 AM

Quote:
OT, but had to ask. Did you know the 9700 pro name has also been tarnished? Believe it or not, there are now 9700 pro's with a 128-bit mem interface. :x

Computer geeks had one new for $70+shipping(geek special couple days ago), but it said 64-bit mem. I almost ordered two, but first I looked it up on the (whoever they are)official site to see it was a typo, but still crippled at 128-bit.

http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?invtid=ATI-9700P-128TV...

http://alastor.info/9700pro.htm


Ugh, how I hated all that specifying memory interface crud while recommending 9800 pros. Now it's not safe to jump on a cheap 9700 pro either. Worst of all, this should be a 9500 pro OC, as it's simply a 25MHz OC on the core over the 9500 pro. Why in the world would ATI let them sell a 300/540 128-bit card under the 9700 pro name????



It should be false advertising, because with a 128bit memory interface, its NOT a 9700pro. Seriously, there should be laws protecting consumers from lies such as this. Because it is a blatant attempt to take ADVANTAGE of people.GRRR it really ticks me off too!
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2006 4:07:23 AM

That's gotta be a typo!

Why would they even bother making it 128bit at this point?

You're right it'll be an R9500P if true and not just ignorant copy person.
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2006 11:46:01 AM

Can your order one ASAP and let me know? :wink: If it's clocked normal and is 256-bit, I want at least one. Now that the price is up a few dollars, I really don't want to spend $80 on a 9500 pro.

Otherwise, did ATI pass all the leftover lemon 9700 chips on to this no name company? who then clocked them low and shoved it on as cheap a card as they could throw together, hoping to make a few more dollars off the aging 9700 pro name? If so, that's a lame way of saying goodbye to a legendary card.
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2006 11:48:11 AM

Wow, where have you been? Kinda amazing to see a familar name post back as lately 9/10 posts seem to come from strangers & noobies.
January 6, 2006 1:37:32 PM

Yeah, the 6800 GS AGP is staying off the recommended list for now, mostly because of the old NV40 core, 13 micron and limited overclockability. Stock, the X800 GTO is probably the better bet, but I wish someone would bench the things against each other. Nobody benches AGP cards so much anymore.

If the 6800 GS becomes known to unlock to 16 pipes on a fairly regular basis then it'll probably get an honorable mention in the list as well.
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2006 4:18:40 PM

I'm sure digit-life will get around to benching this card for their digests. Problem with them is the lack of various settings used, making it hard to seperate the higher end cards.

It would be nice if [H] jumped on this GS launch and tested $200 AGP cards for us.
a b U Graphics card
January 6, 2006 5:16:54 PM

Quote:
I'm sure digit-life


Unfortunately I doubt it, Digit-life just did their big AGP list for the Novemeber Digest. It will likely be a while before another appears unfortunately.

Quote:
It would be nice if [H] jumped on this GS launch and tested $200 AGP cards for us.


YEp, I like the hystograms at [H].

Firignsquad however will likely beat both of them as they seem to just be reviewing cards left right and centre.

For the biggest picture of all though I'd expect either Digit-Life eventually to do another multi-card frefresh review, or Xbit to do another 27 games with whatever series of cards.

PS, no I will not buy that R9500Pro cripple! :tongue:
January 6, 2006 5:39:59 PM

Quote:
Wow, where have you been? Kinda amazing to see a familar name post back as lately 9/10 posts seem to come from strangers & noobies.


Ive been around! hehe. im a lurker/stalker :twisted:
January 6, 2006 5:51:13 PM

Interesting... in my desperation to see if the AGP flavor of the GS would be a good buy, I've looked at some reviews of BFG's 6800 OC (which is basically an AGP 6800 GS with slower memory), and some reviews of the plain 6800 that's been overclocked.

Even though the memory is nowhere near the 500 Mhz of the AGP GS, the 6800 OC holds its own against the X800 PRO. I think it's safe to assume the AGP 6800 GS is a good buy, just not nearly as good as the PCI-e version.

As such, it deserves an inclusion with the X800 GTO in the sub-$200 price category for AGP.
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