Since the last time we updated this column, Nvidia released its GeForce GTX 560 and AMD launched the Llano APU. We've also seen a couple of notable price moves, which alter our recommendations compared to what you saw two months ago.
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.
There was only one graphics card launch since the last time we updated the Best Graphics Cards For The Money column: Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560. That board is essentially a cut-down GeForce GTX 560 Ti. And with 336 shader cores, 56 texture units, and 32 ROPs, it sounds just like the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB; that is until you notice its clock speeds: 810 MHz core and 1002 MHz GDDR5 memory. Those figures are 135 and 102 (408 MT/s) MHz higher than the older card.
Many of you already know that the GeForce GTX 460 is capable of amazing things when it's overclocked, so you shouldn't be surprised that the GeForce GTX 560 is no slouch either. It's fairly matched against AMD's Radeon HD 6870. In fact, the new card puts pressure on its competition to drop prices, and as a result, both cards are available for less than $200. They're both great performers and easy picks for gamers with budgets around that $200 level. For benchmarks and more information, check out The Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Review: Take Off Your Ti.
June's most notable graphics-oriented introduction wasn't a discrete card at all, but AMD's new Llano APU, a mixture of graphics processor and CPU rolled into a single piece of silicon. Essentially, this product combines the guts from a tweaked Athlon II X4 and Radeon HD 5570 onto one die. There's a lot more to it of course, as different SKUs offer different clock rates and hardware specifications, but that's the short of it. While graphics performance is significantly better than any integrated option we've seen before, gamers looking for more than baseline functionality should probably skip past Llano. An $80 discrete card easily bests it on the desktop. Fortunately, the Llano architecture has a lot of potential value for notebook gaming, depending where retail pricing ends up. For more information on the desktop Llano launch, check out AMD A8-3850 Review: Llano Rocks Entry-Level Desktops.
Beyond those two introductions, there's very little new on which to report, though some of Nvidia's prices recently dropped to match competing boards from AMD, consequently regaining our recommendation. The Radeon HD 6850 and GeForce GTX 460 1 GB get removed as approved buys because they're simply priced too close to the Radeon HD 6790/GeForce GTX 460 768 MB (below them) and the Radeon HD 6870/GeForce GTX 560 (above). You can read about those moves in the following pages.
One final note: we can't help but notice that GeForce GT 240 availability seems to be dwindling. Perhaps that's a response to demand. However, it could also suggest a replacement part waiting in the wings. We've been anticipating good competition for the Radeon HD 5570/5670; could it be on its way?
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.