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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July 2011

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July 2011

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.

June Updates:

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.
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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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