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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: May 2011

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: May 2011
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This month we discuss AMD's Radeon HD 6570 and 6670, dish the truth on the company's Radeon HD 6750 and 6770, and point out an impressive online deal that might save you a significant amount of cash if you're buying a graphics card in the near future!

This month we discuss AMD's Radeon HD 6570 and 6670, dish the truth on the company's Radeon HD 6750 and 6770, and point out an impressive online deal that might save you a significant amount of cash if you're buying a graphics card in the near future!

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.

May Updates:

Despite the flood of graphics card launches we reported in last month's update, two more models were introduced on April 19th: the Radeon HD 6570 and 6670. Both of these cards use the new Turks GPU equipped with 480 ALUs, 24 texture units, and eight ROPs. You may notice that this is a slight upgrade compared to AMD's Radeon HD 5570/5670's 400 ALU, 20 texture unit, and eight ROP configuration. And, and since the new cards run at similar clock rates, game performance is only marginally improved over the older products.

There are a handful of superficial additions, though. For instance, the UVD3 engine proves to be very effective, and the 6570/6670 cards provide the same high-definition video quality enhancements as higher-end Radeon cards, as demonstrated by the HQV 2.0 benchmark results we generated. In any case, gamers won't be impressed with the current price points of these new cards: at $80 the Radeon HD 6570 DDR3 performs far below the $75 Radeon HD 5670, and the $100 Radeon HD 6670 is priced far too close to the superior Radeon HD 5750 and GeForce GTS 450. The Radeon HD 6670 has one thing going for it, though: it is the most powerful reference card available that does not require a dedicated PCIe power cable, and as such it gains an honorable mention for upgraders who don't want to spend money on a power supply. To learn more, check out our Radeon HD 6570/6670 review.

There are two other new products that you might see at retail: The Radeon HD 6750 and 6770. Unfortunately, these aren't new at all. They're simply re-branded Radeon HD 5750 and 5770 cards. That's not to say they're bad buys at the right price, but it's important to note that they do not offer Radeon HD 6000-series features like UVD3 or the ability to accelerate Blu-ray 3D playback over HDMI. Re-badging a product for marketing purposes is something we're never happy to see because of the confusion it can create, so hopefully this is a one-off slip-up, and not the start of a trend at AMD.

(Update, May 12/2011: It turns out that the Radeon HD 6750/6770 purportedly features an improved firmware that allows for Blu-ray 3D playback acceleration, despite the fact that these cards are equipped with the exact same hardware as AMD's Radeon HD 5750/5770. The new BIOS does not add any other benefits inherent to UVD3.)

While we try to keep our recommendations generic, occasionally a specific deal comes to our attention that we feel needs mentioning: Sapphire's Radeon HD 5850 Xtreme can be had on NewEgg for $140 at the time of writing this [EDIT: it seems to be gone now, but it hopefully it's a stock issue], and should perform on par with the $210 Radeon HD 6870. We're not sure how long this deal will last, but if you're considering a Radeon HD 6870 or GeForce GTX 560 Ti, this Sapphire card will save you a lot of money, assuming it's around when you go to look for it.

Aside from this there's not a lot to report except slight price increases across the field. Many products have gone up by five dollars or so over the past month. Check our specific recommendations to learn more!

Chris Angelini On High-End Cards

I have, for a while now, thought about taking retrospective looks at graphics card launches with the intention of keeping AMD and Nvidia more honest. Ahead of a big debut, both companies will scramble to slice their prices or devise new overclocked SKUs that better position one against the other.

There's all of this frenzied jockeying, and then nothing. Nobody follows up to make sure those aggressive tactics were really in the best interest of you, the gamer.

Well, the Radeon HD 6990 and GeForce GTX 590 launches were particularly heated (in more ways than one). So I thought I'd circle back to see how the two competitors are faring with regard to pricing and availability. Almost not surprisingly, there isn't a single GeForce GTX 590 for sale, though you can get in line for one if you're alright spending $750 on it. Radeon HD 6990s are a little more plentiful, which again, is hardly a surprise to me given how much noise they generate under load. But you won't find them for AMD's $700 launch price; expect to pay $730 or more.

Given the current state of high-end graphics, I stick by the conclusions I made in both dual-GPU reviews: buy a pair of GeForce GTX 570s or two Radeon HD 6950s if you want a performance-oriented graphics subsystem. You'll get similar frame rates, you'll manage your thermals more effectively, and you'll save a boatload of money.

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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  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , May 9, 2011 4:20 AM
    It would be cool to add price range on the Graphics Hierarchy chart. Otherwise, I love these articles!
  • 4 Hide
    volks1470 , May 9, 2011 4:35 AM
    wow, AMD dominated those charts. Bravo to the 6000 series. Pretty impressive considering that they were only a revision of the 5000 series.

    Can't wait to get a 7000 series card!!
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , May 9, 2011 5:05 AM
    Hard to understand why sapphire 5850 extreme @ $150 isnt listed. That's a faster card than 6850 @ $175
  • 0 Hide
    dapneym , May 9, 2011 5:24 AM
    I may have overlooked it, but I don't believe I saw any mention of using two 6970s in CrossFire. Surely that would be better than a 6990 (quite a bit cheaper as well actually). Even just as an honourable mention that would be better.
  • 1 Hide
    Fokissed , May 9, 2011 6:04 AM
    mayankleoboy1why would anyone go for 2x6870? just get 2x6850 and set them at 6870 clocks. also, there are much more custom cards for the 6850 with better cooling/noise.

    The HD6870 has ~17% more SPs. The HD6870 will still perform ~17% faster at the same clocks.
  • -5 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , May 9, 2011 6:40 AM
    I hate to say it, but Tom's Hardware can be incredibly biased or simply misinformed at times. For example, starting at $100, you can pick up the Radeon HD 5750, a card that's faster than the 6670. At $150, the undisputed winner is the GeForce GTX 460 768MB. It handily beats the Radeon HD 6790 by 12% at 1680x1050, the target resolution. At $200, the Radeon HD 6870 simply makes no sense. For $30 more you can pick up a GTX 560 Ti, a card that beats it at 1920x1200 by 18%. Recommendations of the Radeon HD 6950 make no sense. Both the 1GB and 2GB versions are only slightly faster. The 1GB version is faster by wait for it... 1%... at 1920x1200. The 2GB version is an amazing 2% faster and costs $20 more for the cheap, non-reference models that won't unlock shaders and will end up being slower due to over-clocking less. The ones you want, the reference ones, cost $45 more. Unlocking the shaders gives you an amazing 3% performance boost, and when both are over-clocked/unlocked (in the case of the 6950), they end up with the same performance since the 560 OCs a bit better. Wonderful. Also, I don't understand the incessant bashing here on the Radeon HD 6990. From the looks of it, it has sold more than the GTX 590 and for a good reason: it's faster at 2560x1600, and doesn't blow up when you over-volt it. It's also an over-clocking monster, reaching 1GHz on the core and matching GTX 580 SLI. If you don't want the noise, you can just buy a water block with the money you saved from not getting a GTX 580 SLI.

    Tom's Hardware, I am disappoint.
  • 4 Hide
    alikum , May 9, 2011 7:33 AM
    appleblowsdonkeyballsI hate to say it, but Tom's Hardware can be incredibly biased or simply misinformed at times. For example, starting at $100, you can pick up the Radeon HD 5750, a card that's faster than the 6670. At $150, the undisputed winner is the GeForce GTX 460 768MB. It handily beats the Radeon HD 6790 by 12% at 1680x1050, the target resolution. At $200, the Radeon HD 6870 simply makes no sense. For $30 more you can pick up a GTX 560 Ti, a card that beats it at 1920x1200 by 18%. Recommendations of the Radeon HD 6950 make no sense. Both the 1GB and 2GB versions are only slightly faster. The 1GB version is faster by wait for it... 1%... at 1920x1200. The 2GB version is an amazing 2% faster and costs $20 more for the cheap, non-reference models that won't unlock shaders and will end up being slower due to over-clocking less. The ones you want, the reference ones, cost $45 more. Unlocking the shaders gives you an amazing 3% performance boost, and when both are over-clocked/unlocked (in the case of the 6950), they end up with the same performance since the 560 OCs a bit better. Wonderful. Also, I don't understand the incessant bashing here on the Radeon HD 6990. From the looks of it, it has sold more than the GTX 590 and for a good reason: it's faster at 2560x1600, and doesn't blow up when you over-volt it. It's also an over-clocking monster, reaching 1GHz on the core and matching GTX 580 SLI. If you don't want the noise, you can just buy a water block with the money you saved from not getting a GTX 580 SLI.Tom's Hardware, I am disappoint.

    Are you forgetting that they DO NOT write and publish the article on the same day they get their prices?
  • 0 Hide
    Assmar , May 9, 2011 7:36 AM
    dapneymI may have overlooked it, but I don't believe I saw any mention of using two 6970s in CrossFire. Surely that would be better than a 6990 (quite a bit cheaper as well actually). Even just as an honourable mention that would be better.

    I second that motion.
  • -2 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , May 9, 2011 8:11 AM
    assmarI second that motion.


    Except for the fact that what you're saying is COMPLETELY irrelevant because the prices of the cards I have mentioned have been so for more than a month now. The GTX 460 768MB has been $150 for around 2 months now, the Radeon HD 5750 has been $100 for almost a month now, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti has been at $230 for more than a month now, the Radeon HD 6950 2GB reference was earlier at $250 and now at $275,and the Radeon HD 6870 has been $200 for about two months. Yeah, nice try.
  • 0 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , May 9, 2011 8:12 AM
    Crap. This thing doesn't even quote people right. Comment directed at alikum.
  • 0 Hide
    roymustang , May 9, 2011 8:26 AM
    At least they mentioned the Sapphire 5850 Xtreme in the updates this time, but then they failed to put it in their price-point recommendations. Truly sad. I guess Tom's thinks that a 6950 2GB is better than two 5850 Xtremes in CrossFireX since they list it as their ~$275 recommendation.
  • 0 Hide
    alikum , May 9, 2011 8:34 AM
    appleblowsdonkeyballsExcept for the fact that what you're saying is COMPLETELY irrelevant because the prices of the cards I have mentioned have been so for more than a month now. The GTX 460 768MB has been $150 for around 2 months now, the Radeon HD 5750 has been $100 for almost a month now, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti has been at $230 for more than a month now, the Radeon HD 6950 2GB reference was earlier at $250 and now at $275,and the Radeon HD 6870 has been $200 for about two months. Yeah, nice try.

    Well then I guess you're looking prices very different from their sources. As much as you'd like to dispute with regards to your own price / performance, Don's recommendations are perfectly valid.

    Since you place a lot of emphasis on GTX460 768MB and the GTX560Ti, then let's debate on these 2 ranges. And since I believe we live in 2 very different countries, let's stick to prices mentioned in this article. Don did mention about the GTX460 760MB and the 6790 for their price range but did not recommend either. Firstly, GTX460 is old and the 6790 is too close to the 6850 to be worth your money. Secondly, with an additional 20 bucks, you get something better, the 6850.

    As for your emphasis on 560Ti, just for another 10bucks, you get 6950 1GB that performs better. Where did you get your numbers from? 1%?

    Lastly, I do second your point about 6990
  • 2 Hide
    alikum , May 9, 2011 8:36 AM
    roymustangAt least they mentioned the Sapphire 5850 Xtreme in the updates this time, but then they failed to put it in their price-point recommendations. Truly sad. I guess Tom's thinks that a 6950 2GB is better than two 5850 Xtremes in CrossFireX since they list it as their ~$275 recommendation.

    I don't think they'd put in custom cards into recommendation. Things will get very messy. That's why even the XFX 6870 black edition is not taken into account/
  • -2 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , May 9, 2011 9:15 AM
    alikumWell then I guess you're looking prices very different from their sources. As much as you'd like to dispute with regards to your own price / performance, Don's recommendations are perfectly valid. Since you place a lot of emphasis on GTX460 768MB and the GTX560Ti, then let's debate on these 2 ranges. And since I believe we live in 2 very different countries, let's stick to prices mentioned in this article. Don did mention about the GTX460 760MB and the 6790 for their price range but did not recommend either. Firstly, GTX460 is old and the 6790 is too close to the 6850 to be worth your money. Secondly, with an additional 20 bucks, you get something better, the 6850.As for your emphasis on 560Ti, just for another 10bucks, you get 6950 1GB that performs better. Where did you get your numbers from? 1%? Lastly, I do second your point about 6990


    No, I'm looking at the actual prices you can find today and have been able to for at least a month now. His recommendations are not valid.

    One, the GTX 460 768MB is 12% faster than the Radeon HD 6790 at 1680x1050. It should be recommended and the 6790 should be relegated to simply not being mentioned. Link

    Two, the Radeon HD 6850 is only 3% faster at the aforementioned resolution, but pulls out ahead at 1920x1200, widening the gap to 10%. At 1680x1050, it's not worth it. At 1920x1200, it is.

    Third, the Radeon HD 6950 1GB is 1% faster than the GeForce GTX 560 Ti at 1920x1200. For $10 more, that's not worth it. The 560 over-clocks more, too. Link
  • 1 Hide
    alikum , May 9, 2011 9:35 AM
    appleblowsdonkeyballsNo, I'm looking at the actual prices you can find today and have been able to for at least a month now. His recommendations are not valid.One, the GTX 460 768MB is 12% faster than the Radeon HD 6790 at 1680x1050. It should be recommended and the 6790 should be relegated to simply not being mentioned. LinkTwo, the Radeon HD 6850 is only 3% faster at the aforementioned resolution, but pulls out ahead at 1920x1200, widening the gap to 10%. At 1680x1050, it's not worth it. At 1920x1200, it is.Third, the Radeon HD 6950 1GB is 1% faster than the GeForce GTX 560 Ti at 1920x1200. For $10 more, that's not worth it. The 560 over-clocks more, too. Link

    Point 1 & 2, no need link for that. I mentioned about 6790 being too close to 6850 to be worth your money too. Sure GTX460 768MB has its price performance at its level, but think about it again. With an additional ~$20, you get so much more performance with the HD6850.

    Point 3 well, based on Tom's chart, it's not exactly 1% faster. Perhaps around 3 - 4%. Again, overclocking is based on personal preference. If we were to place overclockability into considerations, then the entire article would be useless. Let's compare stock clocks for the time being.
    3 - 4% performance increase for another 10bucks? Don't know about you, but it's a done deal for me.
  • -1 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , May 9, 2011 9:45 AM
    alikumPoint 1 & 2, no need link for that. I mentioned about 6790 being too close to 6850 to be worth your money too. Sure GTX460 768MB has its price performance at its level, but think about it again. With an additional ~$20, you get so much more performance with the HD6850.Point 3 well, based on Tom's chart, it's not exactly 1% faster. Perhaps around 3 - 4%. Again, overclocking is based on personal preference. If we were to place overclockability into considerations, then the entire article would be useless. Let's compare stock clocks for the time being.3 - 4% performance increase for another 10bucks? Don't know about you, but it's a done deal for me.


    *sigh* I don't even know where to start. It looks like you're blind.

    Again, you don't get "a lot" more performance from the Radeon HD 6850 in comparison to the GeForce GTX 460 768MB. It's 3% faster at 1680x1050 and 10% faster at 1920x1200. Again, if you game at 1680x1050, it's not worth it. At 1920x1200/1080, it is.

    Tom's Hardware is using outdated drivers that do not count towards recent performance. Now it's a 1% gap. If you think 1% makes it worth $10 more, be my guest. Don't get jealous when we both OC and I'm almost 10% faster, though. I didn't use over-clocked settings for any of my comparisons. I merely mentioned the fact it over-clocks more as a benefit.

    It seems as if you're hell bent on not wanting to accept you're wrong.
  • 4 Hide
    alikum , May 9, 2011 9:51 AM
    appleblowsdonkeyballs*sigh* I don't even know where to start. It looks like you're blind.Again, you don't get "a lot" more performance from the Radeon HD 6850 in comparison to the GeForce GTX 460 768MB. It's 3% faster at 1680x1050 and 10% faster at 1920x1200. Again, if you game at 1680x1050, it's not worth it. At 1920x1200/1080, it is.Tom's Hardware is using outdated drivers that do not count towards recent performance. Now it's a 1% gap. If you think 1% makes it worth $10 more, be my guest. Don't get jealous when we both OC and I'm almost 10% faster, though. I didn't use over-clocked settings for any of my comparisons. I merely mentioned the fact it over-clocks more as a benefit.It seems as if you're hell bent on not wanting to accept you're wrong.

    Hell bent? I was only stating things from my own perspective. To me, 10% is good enough to justify the buy over the GTX460 768MB.

    And you can overclock all you want. But do remember, not everyone overclocks. Like me, I can't afford to do so because my country's ambient temp is just too high to allow me to do that. Again, perhaps you're right regarding drivers closing out the gap. I was only stating facts I found from Toms charts. So to call me hell bent? Meh
  • 0 Hide
    mactronix , May 9, 2011 10:20 AM
    Funny that, there were no comments earlier and now my comment isnt even listed ? just shows how good you guys are :( 
  • 0 Hide
    nickchalk , May 9, 2011 10:50 AM
    in greece one can find saphires 5850 extreme for 129€
    a pair gives performace better than HD6970 or GTX570 and costs ~100€ less
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 9, 2011 11:37 AM
    i could not agree with you more appleblowsdonkeyballs, THW has really gone down hill for reviews and recommendations.
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