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Best PCIe Card: $180 To $300

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July 2011
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Best PCIe Card For ~$190: Tie

GeForce GTX 560 (Check Prices)

Great 1920x1200 performance in most games

GeForce GTX 560
Codename: GF104
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 336
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 810 / 1620
Memory Speed MHz: 1002 (4008 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5

160 W

The new GeForce GTX 560 is essentially a highly overclocked GeForce GTX 460, and it provides good competition for the Radeon HD 6870. Both options introduce impressive game performance that we simply haven't seen before under the $200 price point.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Radeon HD 6870  (Check Prices)

Great 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600  in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6870
Codename: RV970 "Barts"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1120
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 900
Memory Speed MHz: 1050 (4200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:151 W

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6870 for more information on this card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$245:

Radeon HD 6950 1 GB (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6950 1 GB
Codename: "Cayman"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1408
Texture Units: 88
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 1250 (5000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:200 W

AMD dropped half of the Radeon HD 6950's onboard memory to give us this 1 GB model, and the price fell accordingly. At $245, there really isn't any competition for this powerful, yet relatively low-priced graphics card. It outperforms the GeForce GTX 560 Ti in enough situations, on average, to score the sole recommendation.

In addition, some users have unlocked shader cores artificially disabled by AMD through a firmware update, transforming this board into an underclocked 1 GB version of AMD's Radeon HD 6970.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6950 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$275:

Radeon HD 6950 2 GB (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6950 2 GB
Codename: "Cayman"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1408
Texture Units: 88
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 1250 (5000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:200 W

The new Radeon HD 6950 offers similar performance to AMD's previous-generation single-GPU flagship, the Radeon HD 5870. A pair of these cards in CrossFire are a force to be reckoned with, as the company noticeably improved scaling compared to some of its previous efforts. 

There's another reason to consider this model. Many folks have had luck modding this board into a fully-functional Radeon HD 6970 through a firmware update. If you can pull that off, the value of the 2 GB Radeon HD 6950 seems pretty clear.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6950 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

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  • -7 Hide
    Anonymous , July 5, 2011 4:38 AM
    why no Llano?
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , July 5, 2011 4:43 AM
    Ok, you've got to tell me who has been having success unlocking the 1gb Radeon 5950s and what models!
  • 2 Hide
    abswindows7 , July 5, 2011 5:07 AM
    No Ti -_-""
  • -9 Hide
    Anonymous , July 5, 2011 5:38 AM
    good test, but
    Title is wrong. It's June 2011 not July 2011
  • 9 Hide
    ChiefTexas_82 , July 5, 2011 6:12 AM
    quirkywhy no Llano?


    Best Graphics *CARDS* for the money. Llano is a APU, not GPU.
  • 0 Hide
    alhanelem , July 5, 2011 6:15 AM
    cant wait for new gfx cards to come out, im hoping some of them will come out by 2011 Q4
  • 0 Hide
    ChiefTexas_82 , July 5, 2011 6:24 AM
    ChiefTexas_82Best Graphics *CARDS* for the money. Llano is a APU, not GPU.
    Ok, read to last page. Perhaps the list is older than Llano. Llano just came out.
  • 9 Hide
    undead_assault , July 5, 2011 6:43 AM
    Hello Tom, please update the Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart with new GPUs for laptops too. HD 6000 series for laptops are already out.
  • 1 Hide
    carlhenry , July 5, 2011 6:46 AM
    the chart is a bit confusing unless you read the details. was confused if you were recommending the 560 or 560 Ti. anyway, thanks for this :D 
  • -1 Hide
    jshcastle , July 5, 2011 7:02 AM
    i might suggest adding, at least in an honorable mention, the radeon HD 5830. when there is a proper stock of them, you can get it on newegg for 110$ or the supercharged sapphire edition for 130$. these card perform superbly, only slightly lower than the 5850.
  • -7 Hide
    rohitbaran , July 5, 2011 7:19 AM
    Radeon 6970 and GTX 570 are at the same price. At least on Newegg, you can get a Radeon 6970 for $319 (after rebate). So, I think that it shouldn't be considered a $350 card. Several of GTX 570 are also selling in the $350 range, but Toms mentions it as a $325 card.
  • 3 Hide
    randomkid , July 5, 2011 7:30 AM
    @Tom's, it will help readers who aspire for eyefinity or surround vision if the performance for resolution ~5760x1080 is included. Anyway, the trend is now towards multidisplay gaming...
  • 0 Hide
    vaughn2k , July 5, 2011 7:45 AM
    "why no Llano?"

    Llano is an APU and not a discrete graphics.
    My HD5770 is still in the list!
  • -3 Hide
    izmanq , July 5, 2011 7:55 AM
    AMD Fusion APUs still not updated into the Tom's Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart :( 
    Llano still new perhaps, but Brazos has been around almost 6 months :|
  • 1 Hide
    boletus , July 5, 2011 8:37 AM
    Naturally we will want to see how the new Llano and Brazos solutions compare, even if they are not "Graphics Cards". Finally, something a little exciting for people that don't have a lot of dough.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , July 5, 2011 11:01 AM
    "Best Graphics *CARDS* for the money. Llano is a APU, not GPU"
    But intel hd graphic are there in the final page. Please update the last page with LLano
  • 1 Hide
    torque79 , July 5, 2011 1:57 PM
    Many comments regarding Llano are not clearly defining what you are asking for. I believe you want Llano to be showing up in the graphics hierarchy chart (last page of the article only). In the entire rest of the article these have no place, because as mentioned on the first page none of these can perform as well as a low cost discrete card, and this article is for gaming cards. ONLY on the graphics hierarchy chart could these be included, and I guess for those considering an HTPC or a laptop which will hopefully soon have these APU's it could be useful.
  • 1 Hide
    DSpider , July 5, 2011 5:23 PM
    Where would the Geforce 7025 (or 7050) be positioned in the hierarchy chart ?

    I mean, you already have Intel graphics (which are basically integrated) in there.
  • 0 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , July 5, 2011 5:43 PM
    rohitbaranRadeon 6970 and GTX 570 are at the same price. At least on Newegg, you can get a Radeon 6970 for $319 (after rebate). So, I think that it shouldn't be considered a $350 card. Several of GTX 570 are also selling in the $350 range, but Toms mentions it as a $325 card.

    ...At least on Newegg, you can get a GTX570 for $290 after rebate. But Tom's doesn't count mail in rebates. I've never really understood your logic, it's never really seemed... impartial. There are several HD6970's selling in the $380+ range yet Tom's mentions it as a $350 card.
    Does this mean Tom's should've increased the list price of the HD6970 based on these few higher priced models?

    Of course there's overlap in the pricing of overclocked GTX570's and stock HD6970's, that usually happens when you have two cards positioned so close to each other in performance. But overall there is a $20 - $30 price discrepancy between the GTX570 and HD6970.
  • 0 Hide
    clonazepam , July 5, 2011 7:01 PM
    So when I score a 2nd gtx 570 for $330, that puts me at under $700 total, no rebates... i can live with that ;-)

    Edit: Im gonna say two words most people here will hate and for good reason, "Best Buy" has the reference model PNY gtx 570 for $330. I have one and will get another. In most cases the 800mhz core / 2100mhz mem overclock works wonderfully but so far only when running 3dMarkVantage and Crysis 2 dx11 I have to bump the clocks down to 750mhz core. I'm never recommend Best Buy but if you are like me and happen to have a substantial amount of BB credit, it could be an option.
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