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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March 2010

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March 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.

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.
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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    haplo602 , March 8, 2010 6:18 AM
    barmaleyBla, bla, bla, bla ...Next month's "Best Graphics Cards for the Money" is what everyone anxiously awaits due to the upcoming releases from Nvidia! So right now, not much to see expect for unfortunate price increases...


    do you honestly expect any change in performance for money ? nevidia might take the performance crown back, but the price will be not be reasonable. they would have to deliver a very very VERY good product for that ...

    next month we are back to the same chart just with nvidia mentioned as the highest performing for a ridiculous amount of money ...
Other Comments
  • 12 Hide
    haplo602 , March 8, 2010 6:18 AM
    barmaleyBla, bla, bla, bla ...Next month's "Best Graphics Cards for the Money" is what everyone anxiously awaits due to the upcoming releases from Nvidia! So right now, not much to see expect for unfortunate price increases...


    do you honestly expect any change in performance for money ? nevidia might take the performance crown back, but the price will be not be reasonable. they would have to deliver a very very VERY good product for that ...

    next month we are back to the same chart just with nvidia mentioned as the highest performing for a ridiculous amount of money ...
  • -2 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , March 8, 2010 6:36 AM
    The 5850 is considered the same as the 4850X2? For some reason I thought it was slightly better at most benchmarks....

    Also the GTX275 is supposed to be better at benches, temperatures, and clocks than the GTX280... is this just a model hierarchy chart or a chart based on preformance? Can you also tie these gpu for the money charts with their respective OVERALL preformance charts you used to post based on the average score of ALL your tests. Maybe an updated test with ONE system configuration with all these cards... or would that be asking too much? Maybe yearly?
  • 3 Hide
    Dekasav , March 8, 2010 6:50 AM
    The GPU charts are overall performance, not price/performance, and they're not perfectly accurate all the time. Even things in the same tier can have some significant performance differences (the HD 5850 is a bit faster than the HD 4850X2, however, they are on the same tier as they are still very close).

    And I do believe the GTX 275 is only faster than the GTX 280 if the first is overclocked, so on a solely performance-based chart, it's equal/behind.
  • 3 Hide
    blackjellognomes , March 8, 2010 8:16 AM
    haplo602do you honestly expect any change in performance for money ? nevidia might take the performance crown back, but the price will be not be reasonable. they would have to deliver a very very VERY good product for that ...next month we are back to the same chart just with nvidia mentioned as the highest performing for a ridiculous amount of money ...

    The arrival of Nvidia's Fermi cards has the potential to push ATI to lower the prices of its lineup. While this may not have been what barmaley intended to say, Nvidia's upcoming releases will definitely have an impact on next month's article. To me, this one looked a lot like the last one.
  • 2 Hide
    JeanLuc , March 8, 2010 8:28 AM
    Just one Nvidia card made into that list, it must be a good time to working for ATI at the moment as you know your trashing your competition at all prices points and there's nothing they can do about it. Nvidia's design makes their products expensive to manufacture thus they can't afford to continually discount down to a competitive price point.
  • 8 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 8, 2010 8:34 AM
    JeanLucJust one Nvidia card made into that list, it must be a good time to working for ATI at the moment as you know your trashing your competition at all prices points and there's nothing they can do about it. Nvidia's design makes their products expensive to manufacture thus they can't afford to continually discount down to a competitive price point.


    True, but I think many people who buy hardware don't read articles like this. I'm still meeting people who think 'pentium' and 'geforce' are the only products to consider, simply because these terms were once associated with top of the line performance.
    So I'm sure there'll still be a lot of people buying nvidia g92 based boards simlpy because they don't know how much they could save if they'd pick an ati based product.
  • 6 Hide
    shreeharsha , March 8, 2010 8:54 AM
    In India, still Nvidia is sought after most. 80% of people only know intel & Nvidia. Here there is no shortage or price increment of ATi products.
    Since we don't have any AGP cards now in the list, you can just use "Best Card For" instead of "Best PCIe Card For" heading.
  • 2 Hide
    shubham1401 , March 8, 2010 8:55 AM
    HD5770 at that price point impresses me...

    But we really need some competition from nVidia otherwise prices will keep disappointing us
  • -1 Hide
    kossmalta , March 8, 2010 9:00 AM
    Don't you worry about that now. There are enough of us geeks to compensate. Hell if you see the stats in here and lets say anandtech or sth there must be quite A LOT of people 'knowing how much you can save with aMDti'.
    I bet my money that nVidia will feel the rush pretty soon. 2010 is going to be interesting - 100+ Hz tvs, 3D Vision technologies at home, 3D movies, DX11 tailor made games... and all that on the mass scale.
    If nVidia doesn't join the party the stand to lose more than they could have imagined. That's why I am guessing they are trying to deliver a chip they could redesign easily to meet all these specs, while still trying to make a stand at the mobile front.
  • -6 Hide
    kossmalta , March 8, 2010 9:09 AM
    Also by the end of the year I am assuming there will be a few more 'sacred' questions of the wise man asked here:
    -"Will it play Crysis 2? With Tessellation? With 3D/yet another frame dies/? 1080p/33+fps min!!!"
    ...and my 5870 will be just short of that.... always the same story... :) 
  • -1 Hide
    Dkz , March 8, 2010 9:34 AM
    Lets hope nvidia does not take too much longer to deliver a good quality product for the money. So we can see some of this prices going down, because just now, i don't understand how they can be charging more for a 5770 than a 4870, when we all know it's a bit slower, yeye dx11 it's a blast wii huu... but just now there are only a few games with it, and by the end of the year there wont be many more, and a 5770 will be cheaper and still slower than the 4870 and people will be looking to change it by a year or so. It's like a waste of cash on something you wont even get the chance of using it. "dude check out my car! my new ride yo! although I can't drive till' next year! damn!"
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , March 8, 2010 9:38 AM
    ATI have it covered FTW !!! Come on Nvidia amaze us again :) 
  • -4 Hide
    anamaniac , March 8, 2010 9:59 AM
    I'm considering switching back to Nvida with the GF100 release. =(
    I traded a guy $50 and my 4870 for his fresh out of the box 5770. I then had to pay $145 for the DP to DVI adaptor, because Sapphire is the only vendor that sells them in Canada (at a ridiculous price), and using Eyefinity itself is a pain in the ass. How about simply letting me use dual 5770's for eyefinity? 2GB 5770's should have been released immediately with a 256bit memory bus (128bit memory bus is what I'm convinced is crippling the card, and running 6144x1152 with 8xAA/16xAF on 1GB is impossible in many modern games).
    DX11 has been useless so far. The only DX11 game worth noticing is AvP, and it's so buggy we're forced to run it in DX9 mode.
    AMD, step up your game, there's things that matter more than just a piece of silicon on a PCB.

    Also, before AMD/Nvidia keep spouting their triple monitor crap, how about we get games with a proper FOV so the sides aren't warped? I've been playing L4D and I find the warping unbearable. There are too many games that are still Vert- instead of Hort+ (such as unreal engine games) which make triple monitor useless, making me wish I spent my money on a 30" 2560x1600 monitor instead.
    Whatever ever happened to those bezeless monitors Samsung promised us? The only bezeless monitors that exist are out of reach for the common consumer who doesn't make a 7 digit salary...

    While we may be getting better GPU's constantly, I'm starting to fail to see the reason why...
    I should have bought a car instead and kept on using my Pentium D with 1GB and OEM Nvidia 256MB 7500LE on a 17". =(
  • -3 Hide
    tapher , March 8, 2010 10:20 AM
    I wish I could understand why the price to performance ratio has increased rather than decreased over time recently; it's also true of RAM prices. Is this a signal of the decline of western civilization?
  • -6 Hide
    deadlockedworld , March 8, 2010 12:29 PM
    This article would be much better if you rewrote it instead of just editing it each month.

    Why is there an "under 90" category when you list an $80 card at the top of it? A 9800GT would be the best $89 card...

    The entire low end section is weak.. you move in $30 increments when cards in this range increase exponentially in value for every $10 spent.
  • -1 Hide
    Reynod , March 8, 2010 12:48 PM
    Cheers Don.
  • 3 Hide
    caamsa , March 8, 2010 12:59 PM
    I picked up a 5750 HIS 1gb for $65.00 off craigslist. Sweet!
  • -4 Hide
    bustapr , March 8, 2010 2:18 PM
    Let the Prie drops begin. Thsi month fermi is released, and most certainly at a High Budget. The HD5xxx series will have new prices and Ill just stay here at home drueling because I still wont be able to aford any.:) 
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