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.
February Review and March Updates:
AMD cranked out the product launches in February of 2010, with three new products hitting the store shelves: the Radeon HD 5450, 5570, and 5830. From a gaming standpoint, we can ignore the Radeon HD 5450, which is essentially as fast as the older Radeon HD 4550. This is an HTPC card that doesn't have much prowess in the way of gaming. The Radeon HD 5570 has some potential as a low-end gaming card. But with near-4670 performance and a much higher price point, it isn't something we'd recommend until the cost comes down.
The Radeon HD 5830 is a much more interesting card, essentially a cut-down Radeon HD 5870 with 1,120 shader cores. At $240, it sounds like it has potential. But the card is further crippled by disabling half of its GPU's ROPs, and the unfortunate result is that it performs much closer to the Radeon HD 5770 than it does to the Radeon HD 5850. Despite this limitation, now that the $200 Radeon HD 4890 has disappeared from store shelves, there is really no direct competition for the Radeon HD 5830. We award it with an honorable mention for folks who aren't interested in a dual-card CrossFire setup of Radeon HD 4850s.
On the pricing front, we're looking at fluctuations all over the map, as retailers try to peg appropriate relative costs for the new Radeon HD 5000-series cards as older models become obsolete and fall out of inventory. The Radeon HD 4890 is all but a distant memory now, and Nvidia's GeForce cards, from the GTX 260 to the GTX 285, are either MIA or grossly overpriced. In this environment, with no real competition, the Radeon HD 5850 is actually getting even more expensive. It's now around $320, when only a month ago some of these cards were selling for $290. The ultra high-end Radeon HD 5970 has even skyrocketed to $700.
Of course, Nvidia's next-generation GeForce launch is rumored to be just around the corner, so expect the price shifting to continue in the near future, at least until we see where the new cards land. Happily, there are still a lot of great graphics card buys out there, and we don't think that will change. But it certainly makes us sad to see great products like the $200 Radeon HD 4890 ride off into the sunset.
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.