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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: October 2011

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: October 2011
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This month we're discussing the impact of recent pricing changes and mourning the loss of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 460 768 MB. It's also time to talk about some of the potential changes to the graphics card landscape in this final quarter of 2011.

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.

October Updates:

With no graphics card launches in September of which to speak, the biggest news is actually the expected disappearance of a long-time favorite. Last month we were concerned about the lack of GeForce GTX 460 768 MB cards available for purchase, and now we can no longer find them for sale on important e-tail sites like Newegg and TigerDirect. Nvidia admitted that the GeForce GTX 460 768 MB might be phased out when the GeForce GTX 550 Ti was launched, but we had hoped that the card would persist to do battle with AMD's Radeon HD 6790. The AMD option is now free to rule at $130 with no competition whatsoever. Additionally, the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 is overpriced and under-equipped to compete with the Radeon HD 5670 in the sub-$90 range.

We're not sure what to make of this. We know the lion's share of volume and profit is found at the bottom end of the price spectrum. Nvidia has traditionally been a relentless competitor in the sub-$150 space, and the company basically invented the value segment with its GeForce 2 MX. So, what's going on? The relatively new GeForce GT 545 has a lot of potential as a sub-$90 contender, but we're not seeing it materialize at e-tail, and the limited number of models available at brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy are overpriced. For some reason, this promising product is mostly restricted to OEM system sales, despite its online potential.

Normally, we see hiccups and price inequities on the verge of a launch. But all signs suggest the next major GeForce update won't happen until 2012. Rumor has it that the Radeon HD 7000 launch won't happen until next year, either. Then again, graphics vendors have an easier time keeping upcoming introductions under the radar than Intel or AMD with their CPUs. So, a 2011 product launch (or die-shrink update) wouldn't surprise us.

Realistically, a $110 Radeon HD 5770/6770 provides playable frame rates at 1920x1080 in a majority of games on the market; maybe the graphics card industry isn't feeling pressure to provide faster hardware just yet. The good news for gamers is that a flood of triple-A game titles are either here or on their way to the PC; Rage, Battlefield 3, and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim are a few of the graphically-demanding products that promise to challenge your hardware and push innovation.

Despite whatever is going on behind the scenes, our recommendations remain largely the same this month, with a number of $5 price drops here and there. The Radeon HD 6870 fell to $170 and now boasts the sole recommendation compared to the GeForce GTX 560, which performs similarly, but is more expensive. We could complain about the lack of new products on the horizon, but we've never had this much value available in the sub-$200 market before. With no API change in the immediate future, buyers can pick a DirectX 11 graphics card for a great price with the comfort that their purchase will remain relevant for some time to come.

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
  • 15 Hide
    Zero_ , October 19, 2011 4:45 AM
    So, atleast AMD is winning the graphics war...
  • 13 Hide
    Martell77 , October 19, 2011 5:54 AM
    On Newegg the price difference between the 560ti and 6950 1gb is $20, until you add in the rebates, lowering the gap tp $10. Then you add in shipping: 560ti - $7.56, 6950 - Free. Gap closes to $2 for a faster (on average) card.

    That is probably why the 6950 gets the recommendation.
  • 12 Hide
    AbdullahG , October 19, 2011 5:04 AM
    I honestly think the HD 6750 is a great buy for under $100 (it's $99 on Newegg; from Diamond and HIS). Anyway, seems as though not a lot changes in the Best GPUs for the Money until prices drop. Then again, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.
Other Comments
  • 15 Hide
    Zero_ , October 19, 2011 4:45 AM
    So, atleast AMD is winning the graphics war...
  • 10 Hide
    wolfram23 , October 19, 2011 5:04 AM
    So... Southern Island and Kepler will be out when? :D 
  • 12 Hide
    AbdullahG , October 19, 2011 5:04 AM
    I honestly think the HD 6750 is a great buy for under $100 (it's $99 on Newegg; from Diamond and HIS). Anyway, seems as though not a lot changes in the Best GPUs for the Money until prices drop. Then again, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.
  • -6 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , October 19, 2011 5:30 AM
    Keep ignoring GTX 560 Ti much?
  • 1 Hide
    Pekish79 , October 19, 2011 5:39 AM
    I dont understand why at $220 you dont conside at all the GTX560ti

    it cost 20 dollar less then HD6950 1gb (20$ over 220 it's almost 10% less)

    and not only it's cooler use lot less power when idle is quieter


    according to this it's RARELY 10% slower and in few games is even faster
  • -5 Hide
    Pekish79 , October 19, 2011 5:40 AM

    i guess i cant put picture here is the url for my previous post
  • 13 Hide
    Martell77 , October 19, 2011 5:54 AM
    On Newegg the price difference between the 560ti and 6950 1gb is $20, until you add in the rebates, lowering the gap tp $10. Then you add in shipping: 560ti - $7.56, 6950 - Free. Gap closes to $2 for a faster (on average) card.

    That is probably why the 6950 gets the recommendation.
  • 0 Hide
    Darkerson , October 19, 2011 6:27 AM
    Thanks for the updated list! Been starting to plan out my upgrades for tax time, and some new cards to shake things up a little would be nice. Shouldnt be too much longer, hopefully.
  • -3 Hide
    kyuuketsuki , October 19, 2011 6:29 AM
    So... you just released an article stating there's zero advantage to getting a (single) 6950 2GB. Yet you still give it a recommendation. Wat.
  • 7 Hide
    kyuuketsuki , October 19, 2011 6:30 AM
    KyuuketsukiSo... you just released an article stating there's zero advantage to getting a (single) 6950 2GB. Yet you still give it a recommendation. Wat.

    For clarification: zero advantage relative to a single 6950 1GB.
  • -2 Hide
    Lunarion , October 19, 2011 7:09 AM
    Yeah there appears to be no gtx 560ti love.
  • 1 Hide
    felduque , October 19, 2011 7:57 AM
    Agree with the lack of 560. I own both a 6950 and a 560. They,re very similar in performance but the 560 is a few inches shorter so it fits nicely in my media center. the 6950 is on my gaming PC. At the very least the 560 should get an honorable mention or more appropriately a tie.
  • 1 Hide
    de5_Roy , October 19, 2011 8:04 AM
    nice article. good to see ati amd rocking the charts.
    with similar max tdp, radeon hd 6870 is a far better card than radeon 6790. and one can get an hd 6850(lower max tdp than 6790) or a geforce gtx 460 1gb for a new bucks more.
    waiting for southern island cards to get released.:) 
  • 1 Hide
    gio2vanni86 , October 19, 2011 9:00 AM
    I'm still glad the 580GTX is still considered the fastest single GPU. That makes me glad i bought it 5 months ago =D I could do Sli but Sli never showed me amazing FPS with my 9800GTX+ setup so i will stick with this till the new king is released =D.
  • 0 Hide
    stereopsis , October 19, 2011 9:04 AM
    I am hoping the Radeon 7000s will be PCI-e 3.0 enabled.
  • 1 Hide
    DSpider , October 19, 2011 9:41 AM
    stereopsisI am hoping the Radeon 7000s will be PCI-e 3.0 enabled.

    Maybe the high-end ones. Hmmm... Have the HD69XX tapped out PCIe x16 2.0 yet? Because I remember a HD 5870 benchmark (remember that 6870 was a 5850 upgrade, not 5870's successor like the name would imply), where it ran on x16, x8 and x4 slots at various resolutions - meaning the x8 would be the equivalent of PCIe x16 1.0 (half the bandwidth).

    The difference? ~1%, 2% tops.

    So if they release something that fits in the hierarchy chart lower than a HD 5870 (or GTX 470, GTX 560 Ti)... it would be pretty much pointless to release it on PCIe x16 3.0. Anyway, I would stay away from the first generation PCIe x16 3.0 cards.
  • 5 Hide
    vaughn2k , October 19, 2011 12:00 PM
    My HD5770 is still there! 10 straight months!
  • 1 Hide
    billybobser , October 19, 2011 12:14 PM
    pretty much and AMD clean sweep.

    Disappointing really, we need some real competition from nvidia to keep em honest xD
  • 2 Hide
    billybobser , October 19, 2011 12:20 PM
    as an added note, it's still interesting to see my 4870x2 still kicking it up there.

    I picked one up second hand for under £100
  • 2 Hide
    nerrawg , October 19, 2011 12:30 PM
    For gaming at 1080p the 6870 really appears to be the sweet spot. You pay $15 for a 5-10% increase in performance over the 6850 (sometimes better). Going up to the 6950 1gb the increase is a shocking $80! From what I have seen of benches there is only 10% in it in terms of performance, so you are paying a hefty premium for that larger, hotter, more power consuming chip. Don't understand how this is justified really, other than that it probably costs AMD a lot more to make the silicon, it certainly isn't good value for the consumer, $80 for an extra 10%!? To me it looks like poor marketing, either the 6870 should be more expensive ($200) or the 6950 should be cheaper, obviously as a consumer I would prefer the latter.
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