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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2010

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2010
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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, then 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.

December Review and January Updates:

With no new cards introduced in December, the biggest news was the increased availability of the new Radeon HD 5800-series in the second half of the month. Sourcing one of these cards seems to be fairly easy now, and we're glad to see that the 5850 and 5870 cards haven't strayed into vaporware territory (unfortunately, both models are still priced well above where ATI launched them in 2009). Hopefully this means that TSMC has had some good luck ironing out its difficulties with the 40nm process.

On another positive note for ATI, Radeon HD 4850 cards seem to have resurfaced at the sub-$110 price point, bringing back some competition for the GeForce GTS 250. On the flip side, availability of other models remains scant, and the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970 remains difficult to find at retail. Some GeForce cards, such as the GTX 275 and GTX 295 are also hard to find, even though they are still officially in production (and we'd argue that, overall, they're more available now than they were a month ago).

Prices have fluctuated a bit, and the new Radeon HD 5700-series cards are about $5 more affordable. Meanwhile, the GeForce GTX 260 seems to have been bumped up a few dollars. As a result the Radeon HD 5770 stands alone in the ~$155 space that used to be a battleground between the Radeon HD 4870 and GeForce GTX 260. In addition, the majority of GeForce GTX 285 models seem to have suffered a significant price increase that puts them too close to the superior Radeon HD 5850.

What surprises does the start of 2010 hold for us? Well, according to the roadmaps that AMD has supplied us with for the 5800- and 5700-series launches, we should be expecting their low-end GPUs in the near future, the 'Redwood' and 'Cedar' models. It will be interesting to see how they will improve on the Radeon 4600- and 4770-series cards.

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.
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Top Comments
  • 11 Hide
    shubham1401 , January 11, 2010 5:22 AM
    Nice article as usual.

    Nvidia has nothing to compete after GTS 250.

    Though I like that they call 9800GT LEGENDARY.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 11:42 AM
    You're an idiot notty, the 5850 is at least 20% and more like 30-40% faster than the gtx280. The gtx295 is about 5-10% faster than the 5870 in selected titles.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 12:00 PM
    Notty = absolute tool. He is logging on his forum alts and giving people thumbs down. Randomizer caught him logging on forum alts last night too.

    IP ban this sad tool please.
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    shubham1401 , January 11, 2010 5:22 AM
    Nice article as usual.

    Nvidia has nothing to compete after GTS 250.

    Though I like that they call 9800GT LEGENDARY.
  • 7 Hide
    WheelsOfConfusion , January 11, 2010 5:52 AM
    The "Best PCIe Card For ~$155" says it's a Tie, but only lists the 5770.
  • 5 Hide
    The Lady Slayer , January 11, 2010 6:03 AM
    Australians might be interested to know that MSY have backstock of 512Mb 4850s that they're clearing out at
  • 5 Hide
    The Lady Slayer , January 11, 2010 6:04 AM
    ...clearing out at under $90 per card.
  • 0 Hide
    skora , January 11, 2010 6:23 AM
    Have you done any benchmarking of the 5770 in CF? Seems like the low 128bit bus might stifle performance too much if trying to run it hard at 1920 or at all at 2560.

    Great article, thanks for keeping this updated every few months!
  • 3 Hide
    skora , January 11, 2010 6:25 AM
    Also, at the $145 price point, you state the 5750, but the label for the spec chart says 5770. The specs are for the 5750 though.
  • -2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , January 11, 2010 6:29 AM
    Not much new since last year really. Except availability changes.

    How much slower are two 4870-512 cards in cf in comparison to two 4790-1gb cards ? Do the 512mb memory in general hinder them @ 1680 or 1920 ? (the 'how much vram yada yada' article doesn't deal with cf far as I remember)
  • -1 Hide
    zinabas , January 11, 2010 7:05 AM
    I can tell you that a 4850 512mb can get slowed down on memory hungry games all the down at 1280x960. Oblivion would be my case and point. (Texture packs do that for those of you wondering.)
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 8:19 AM
    Nice article but the Heirarchy chart at the end is screwed up badly. If you are going to pretend the 5850 is the same speed as a gtx280 (seriously now), then at least pretend the 5870 is the same as the gtx295.

    I can assure you the 5870 is a lot closer to the gtx295 than either the gtx280 or gtx285 is to the 5850.

    Either give the 5850 it's own level in the chart or move the 5870 into the gtx295/4870x2 position please. The gtx280 should also be moved down a notch from the 4850x2/gtx285 I feel.
  • 3 Hide
    shuffman37 , January 11, 2010 8:51 AM
    I wonder what Fermi will do to this chart in the near future? Hopefully we'll see some ATI 5870 price cuts and we'll all be happy, only time can tell since we have no real information =(
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 8:55 AM
    Heh, I have 8800GT (G92 chip). I can't believe it's been more than two years since I bought it and it's still a competitive piece of hardware (both 9800GT and GTS 250 are essentially the same card).
  • 9 Hide
    shubham1401 , January 11, 2010 9:20 AM
    Quote:
    Heh, I have 8800GT (G92 chip). I can't believe it's been more than two years since I bought it and it's still a competitive piece of hardware (both 9800GT and GTS 250 are essentially the same card).



    Both 9800Gt and GTS250 are very different cards.
    GTS 250 is faster.

    You should say 8800GT and 9800GT are essentially the same cards. :sarcastic: 
  • 3 Hide
    AMW1011 , January 11, 2010 9:41 AM
    The same thing, the GTX 295 has no place in the market and the "notable gains" you speak of are not very notable at all.

    The GTX 295 has no place between the 5870, 5970, and 5850 crossfire.

    Also the 5870 is a far better deal than 2 4890s, Tom's seems to completely ignore the benefits of a single card over a dual solution:

    1. Higher minimum FPS = the single card tends to be smoother.
    2. Less bugs and glitches from SLI or CFX
    3. Much more linear scaling instead of SLI and CFX being all over the place at times.
    4. That whole cooler running and less power consumption can mean much better overclocking.
    5. Since the 5xxx series is new you CANNOT ignore that they will get better with time with driver improvements, the GTX 280 went from being beaten by the 9800 GX2 to tying with it and coming out on top at times with driver improvements, however the GTX 2xx and 4xxx series are at their peaks.
  • -1 Hide
    Efrayim , January 11, 2010 9:57 AM
    Thank you guys for taking the time and doing this! Great articulate as always.
  • 3 Hide
    Efrayim , January 11, 2010 9:59 AM
    Article*
  • 1 Hide
    leon2006 , January 11, 2010 11:16 AM
    It's still good to hold on to existing CF 4890.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 11:42 AM
    You're an idiot notty, the 5850 is at least 20% and more like 30-40% faster than the gtx280. The gtx295 is about 5-10% faster than the 5870 in selected titles.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 12:00 PM
    Notty = absolute tool. He is logging on his forum alts and giving people thumbs down. Randomizer caught him logging on forum alts last night too.

    IP ban this sad tool please.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , January 11, 2010 12:07 PM
    psycho sykesThe said article deal with it as it's known that CF/SLi don't double memory.

    No it doesn't deal with it!
    You know cf doesn't doublt vram. Good! That's EXACTLY my point.
    The article concludes that 512mb is enough for most cases. But the article doesn't deal with CF, and therefor does not deal with the effect of doubling the performance - which enables higher resolutions and more AA. 512mb is enough for 1680x1050 and 4xAA - fine - but what if you were to run at 1920x1280 with 8xAA and 16xAF ? Would 512mb still suffice in AFR mode on modern games? There's so much texture data these days that I'm not sure it does.
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