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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 pick the right board, 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.
In December, the biggest news in the graphics card world was the preview of Nvidia's upcoming GeForce GTX 295 card, which comprises two slightly underclocked GeForce GTX 280 GPUs on a single card with 55 nm dies. Nvidia promises that this card will launch with a $500 manufacturer-suggested retail price (MSRP), putting it in the same ballpark as the Radeon 4870 X2's price point. Preliminary indications suggest that if Nvidia can pull off a solid launch with retail availability during the next few weeks, then the GTX 295 will give the firm back the graphics crown currently held by the Radeon 4870 X2. Only time will tell if Nvidia can get this card to the public in a timely manner, but the launch is targeted for this month.
If the card does launch this month, we can expect a lot of price shifting in a short time—the Radeon 4870 X2 would thus have to become cheaper to remain competitive. Indeed, Nvidia's own GeForce GTX 280 will probably have to drop in price as well. And we might also expect Nvidia to launch some new cards based on the new die-shrunk GPU and perhaps new versions of the GTX 260 and GTX 280.
Another slight change we have made in this month's recommendations is that we now recognize the difference between the 512 MB Radeon 4850 cards and the 1 GB versions we've seen come to market in the past few months. But at the same time, there hasn't been a lot of graphics card news over the holiday season. Prices have shifted slightly for certain product offerings, but the landscape has remained fairly stable, which can be expected after the large price reductions we've seen in previous months. But when the GTX 295 is released, things will likely change fairly quickly.
A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list: