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.
July Review and August Updates:
August sees the introduction of AMD's 785G chipset and its integrated Radeon HD 4200 IGP, but our high hopes for it were dashed when we learned that it's really no more powerful than the integrated Radeon HD 3200 IGP that preceded it. Unfortunately, we'll have to be patient and wait even longer for an integrated graphics processor good enough to game at 1280x1024.
Aside from this, the only hard news on the graphics front has been a continued price war in front of next-generation GPUs, with AMD's high-end Radeon cards at prices that keep on surprising us; we're still surprised that AMD's former flagship Radeon HD 4870 is available for $130. With it's sister card, the Radeon HD 4850, widely available at $100, AMD has really sewn up the $100-$150 sweet spot in the market with some powerful hadware.
Of course, at $165, Nvidia fights back against the 1 GB Radeon HD 4870 with its GeForce GTX 260, and at $200 it answers the Radeon HD 4890 with its impressive GeForce GTX 275. But between $100 and $130, AMD's Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 512MB undercut Nvidia's GeForce GTS 250 and GTX 260.
That's the news, folks. Not much, I know. We're all waiting patiently for the next-gen stuff to arrive, rumored to be later this year, and we might even see a refresh or two. I'll be sure to brief you once the information gets a little more concrete.
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. We've added a reference page at the end of the column covering integrated graphics processors, which is likely more apropos.
- 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, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a chassis with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card needs, and will almost certainly 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 base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices from our PriceGrabber engine, for your reference.
- 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.