Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great—that is, if you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, what a gamer needs is the best graphics card within a certain budget.
So if you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to make the right decision, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming cards offered for the money.
September Review and August Updates:
As soon as we released last month’s “Best Cards for the Money” article, the mid-range Radeon 4600 series was released and turned the sub-$100 video card market on its ear.
ATI pulled a real coup with the 4600 series by releasing a GPU essentially as powerful as its previous high-end champion, the Radeon 3800 series—the 4600 series has the same number of stream processors (320!) as the 3800 series and has twice the number of texture units (32 vs. 16). To save costs and to keep the 4600 from embarrassing the 3800 series, it was neutered with half of the ROPs and memory interface: 8 ROPs and a 128-bit memory interface. Despite these trade offs, the Radeon HD 4670 series is one hell of a powerful graphics card for $80 and trades blows with the 3800 series cards. The 4670 generally performs between the 3850 and 3870, showing especially well when anti-aliasing is applied. Add to this support for eight-channel LCPM over HDMI audio just like the 4800 series and the 4670 looks like a real people’s champion.
Of course our friends at Nvidia can be counted on to give us a viable alternative at any price point, and that’s exactly what it did by lowering the price of the 9600 GSO to within spitting distance of the 4670. This former lowest-of-the-high-end cards is now priced firmly in the midrange, and performs well opposite the 4600 series. The only concern is that the 9600 GSO cards in the wild are of varying specifications: some are 128-bit cards and some are 192-bit cards, and they have wildly varying clock speeds. So do some comparison shopping if you look at the 9600 GSO.
Other than that, the low-end Radeon 4350 and 4550 were released as well. These cards aren’t quite in stores yet but it’s likely we’ll see them before October ends. With 80 stream processors the new 4300-4500 cards have twice as much shader power as their Radeon 2400-3400 forbears, but they don’t compare well to the 120 stream processors in the Radeon 2600-3600 series. As a result their performance lies between the older mid-range and low-end parts, making them unsuitable for gaming rigs. They do hold quite a bit of potential for low-power home theater PCs though, and we’ll definitely test them in that capacity at Tom’s Hardware in the future.
Some Notes About Our Recommendations
A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list include:
- This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, the cards in this list are more expensive than what you really need;
- Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing info, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest;
- The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or retail, your mileage will most certainly vary;
- These are new card prices. No used or open box cards are in the list—they might be a good deal, but it’s out of the scope of what we’re trying to do.