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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July '09

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July '09
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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 card, 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.

June Review and July Updates:

The most interesting update we've made this month is the addition of Intel's integrated graphics processors to the hierarchy chart. People have been asking for this for some time and I finally got off my duff and added them. For those of you who aren't yet acquainted with just how badly these integrated GPUs perform, the hierarchy chart will serve as a rude awakening.

Aside from this, June has been quiet on the graphics front, with no new products released or announced. With information about Nvidia's and AMD's next-generation graphics processors hard to come by, the brightest star on the horizon is the upcoming integrated Radeon HD 4200, which should up the ante for integrated graphics by another notch or two. If the rumors are true, this might even be the first integrated graphics solution that can actually play modern games at 1024 x 768. So let's keep our fingers crossed.

Although there have not been any new products introduced, there has been an incredible amount of price movement. It seems like the Radeons keep getting discounted and the GeForces follow suit. This is nothing to complain about from the perspective of the consumer, to be sure.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need.
  • The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI mode, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a case with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card requires and will likely produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision. In most cases, if we have recommended a multiple-card solution, we try to recommend a single-card honorable mention at a comparable price point for those who find multi-card setups undesirable.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information, 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 at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list–they might represent a good deal, but it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    rdawise , July 21, 2009 8:22 AM
    Funny, I was thinking to myself yesterday "It's almost August and no best graphics cards articles" and look what we have today. Maybe I should play the lottery today...

    Anyway, good article. Even included intel IGPs this time.

    coondayI cant help but feel like this article is showing me information that I have already seen several times before.


    It's a glitch in the matrix...
  • 10 Hide
    Onus , July 21, 2009 1:15 PM
    How can Intel even SAY "Graphics Media Accelerator" and keep a straight face? Epic FAIL is right.
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    doomtomb , July 21, 2009 6:37 AM
    I'm a little surprised that you consider the HD4850 as giving "Good 1920x1200 performance in most games"

    This card is good but definitely meant for 1680x1050. I don't see this card playing Far Cry 2 or any moderately new game on anything past medium on 1920x1200.
  • -1 Hide
    haplo602 , July 21, 2009 6:39 AM
    Radeon HD 4730? I found out about that card by accident. It seems to be a harvested 4870 (at least some sites report that).

    Will there be a review of this card (the Powercolor version seems better). Or is this too much low end for Tom's ???
  • 7 Hide
    masterjaw , July 21, 2009 6:40 AM
    Nice article you have there. Kudos!

    Intel IGPs are total wreck. They aren't even worth mentioning. :p 
  • -3 Hide
    masterjaw , July 21, 2009 6:43 AM
    haplo602Radeon HD 4730? I found out about that card by accident. It seems to be a harvested 4870 (at least some sites report that).Will there be a review of this card (the Powercolor version seems better). Or is this too much low end for Tom's ???


    I think this card is a mess. I've read a review somewhere that it performs like a 4670 but consumes power like 4870.
  • 1 Hide
    one-shot , July 21, 2009 7:29 AM
    It's tempting to get another GPU, but most games run so well on just one GTX 260 C216 I may just get a new Intel SSD instead. :) 
  • -1 Hide
    eddieroolz , July 21, 2009 7:40 AM
    Wow, it's a good time to buy a new graphic processor...I don't even see my GTS 250 recommended anymore, and that was only a month or two ago! Pace of innovation is fast, I say....
  • 3 Hide
    Ramar , July 21, 2009 8:07 AM
    doomtombI'm a little surprised that you consider the HD4850 as giving "Good 1920x1200 performance in most games"This card is good but definitely meant for 1680x1050. I don't see this card playing Far Cry 2 or any moderately new game on anything past medium on 1920x1200.


    Eh, if you're on that tight of a budget you can stand 20 fps or medium settings.

    @anyone tempted to buy now:
    Don't spend too much, you'll just be upgrading in six months anyway for a shiny new tessellation unit.
  • -6 Hide
    coonday , July 21, 2009 8:20 AM
    I cant help but feel like this article is showing me information that I have already seen several times before.
  • 14 Hide
    rdawise , July 21, 2009 8:22 AM
    Funny, I was thinking to myself yesterday "It's almost August and no best graphics cards articles" and look what we have today. Maybe I should play the lottery today...

    Anyway, good article. Even included intel IGPs this time.

    coondayI cant help but feel like this article is showing me information that I have already seen several times before.


    It's a glitch in the matrix...
  • 3 Hide
    juliom , July 21, 2009 9:45 AM
    masterjawI think this card is a mess. I've read a review somewhere that it performs like a 4670 but consumes power like 4870.

    Nope. It performs AND consumes in betwenn a 4870 and a 4670. Pretty good card, if you ask me.
  • -1 Hide
    skora , July 21, 2009 11:48 AM
    Not that I would ever buy one, but since you do address the enthusiast market, does the GTX 295 Hydro justify the cost over the vanilla 295?

    And since you also carve out some of the same GPUs with varying ram size, does the same type of performance increase with IGP? MSI has 1gb DDR3 sideport on their 790gx board available.

    And agreeing with doomtomb, can we get definitions of what good/exceptional performance is for the varying resolutions? I wouldn't but a 4850 up to 1920x1080. Maybe the 1 gb card, but the 512 is going to choke along the way, and I wouldn't consider that good performance.
  • -1 Hide
    scook9 , July 21, 2009 12:12 PM
    wow. FAIL at Intel Graphics department

    Nice to see my GTX 275 SLI are still being recommended :)  Now we just needs to see something new come out in the next month before my 90 day step-ups run out.....been a slow summer on the graphics front
  • 4 Hide
    San Pedro , July 21, 2009 12:36 PM
    Can't believe how good performance you can get for the money right now. It's unbelievable.

    I was pretty happy when I got my 4870 512mb for $250, and now it's almost half the price. Hopefully these prices will help grow the PC gaming market. Another $150 to most computers sold now give you a good gaming computer pretty much.
  • 2 Hide
    JeanLuc , July 21, 2009 12:53 PM
    masterjawNice article you have there. Kudos!Intel IGPs are total wreck. They aren't even worth mentioning.



    There so bad a lot of Intel's IGP can't even run Vista Areo Interface (Microsoft have already had a pop at Intel for the lack of Areo support)! It's almost as if Intel went all out the produce the crappiest video chipset they could possibly make.

    The Radeon HD 4870 1Gb is such as good deal at the moment it's hard to believe this was the 2nd best performing card on the market just sitting behind the GTX280 last summer. I'm tempted to get one to replace my 8800GT but the Radeon DX11 cards are just around the corner it seems almost pointless getting one now.
  • 10 Hide
    Onus , July 21, 2009 1:15 PM
    How can Intel even SAY "Graphics Media Accelerator" and keep a straight face? Epic FAIL is right.
  • 6 Hide
    gxpbecker , July 21, 2009 1:26 PM
    newegg has 4850s in the $80-$90 range, I dont think you can beat that bang for your buck.. I am hoping this is a sign of the soon to come 5xxx series >=D

    Side note: Where is the 2009 CPU Chart BTW?????
  • 0 Hide
    xsamitt , July 21, 2009 1:57 PM
    Yes ...Just where is that chart?
  • 0 Hide
    eyemaster , July 21, 2009 2:13 PM
    Funny looking at the chart. I went from Rage 128, GE Force 256, X850 Pro, to my current card the x1950 pro AGP. Next card will probably be HD 4870 X2.

    I really don't upgrade often! :) 
  • -1 Hide
    thebatman , July 21, 2009 2:15 PM
    xsamittYes ...Just where is that chart?


    This. From this point on, this comment thread will now be about petitioning that toms updates the CPU chart.
  • -1 Hide
    gxpbecker , July 21, 2009 2:24 PM
    xsamittYes ...Just where is that chart?


    .. -1 for my observational skills
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