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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2011

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2011
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Seasons greetings are accompanied by information about the new GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 Core, a list of products that are suffering availability, seasonal price increases, and some rumors regarding the next-gen Radeon HD 7000 and GeForce 600 families.

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.

December Updates:

We only have one new product to talk about this month, and that's the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 Core. With a $289 MSRP, this limited edition product won't last long, and Nvidia only expects supply to hold out for a couple of months. The name is somewhat misleading in that this isn't a derivative of the GeForce GTX 560 at all. Rather, it's based on the flagship GF110 used to create the GeForce GTX 570/580. Put simply, the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 Core is a GeForce GTX 570 with one streaming multiprocessor disabled, yielding 448 shader cores, 56 texture units, 40 color ROPs, and 732/950 MHz core/memory clocks. The resulting performance falls somewhere between the GeForce GTX 560 Ti and the GeForce GTX 570, but closer to the faster card. AMD's Radeon HD 6950 1 GB is a better deal for less money, but ambitious tweakers will find themselves drawn to this new board because it has the potential to overtake a GeForce GTX 570 with modest overclocking. Read more about this new card in Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 Core Review: GF110 On A Diet.

Though that was the only introduction last month, we know for a fact that AMD's Radeon HD 6990 was discontinued a while back, and it's getting really hard to find. The GeForce GTX 590 is supposedly still in production, but it's tough to track down, too. Nvidia's GeForce GT 240 is all but gone, but now stock of the Radeon HD 5570 is thinning out, too. Even the Radeon HD 5670 takes some effort to find.

With cards quickly disappearing, we have to wonder about the next generation of introductions. We've seen a number of Radeon HD 7000 launch rumors that suggest AMD's upcoming 28 nm mobile parts will launch in early December. From the Nvidia camp, the GeForce 610M, GT 630M, and GT 635M product names have been spotted in beta drivers. There is talk that 28 nm mobile parts are expected from that company in the same month, too, though they might be based on the same Fermi derivatives found in Nvidia's GeForce 400/500 series, and not necessarily the forthcoming Kepler architecture. Rumor has it that new desktop products won't make it to market until next year, so do with that what you will.

There's not much else to report aside from a handful of price increases, and you can probably thank the holiday season for that. Small moves don't have much much of an impact on our recommendations, although we did remove the GeForce GTX 460 1 GB because its price encroached on the GeForce GTX 560 and Radeon HD 6870.

One final note: we thought we'd mention that there's a Radeon HD 6750 on Newegg for $85. That's a really impressive deal, and folks looking for a sub-$90 graphics card will want to try and pick that up while it lasts. With that, we'll leave you to the recommendations. Seasons greetings, folks!

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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  • 6 Hide
    alhanelem , December 8, 2011 3:49 AM
    im still saving up cash and eagerly waiting for the GTX 600's and HD 7000's
  • 1 Hide
    Yargnit , December 8, 2011 4:16 AM
    Where'd you find 2x GTX 560ti's to SLI for $370? That would be more than an honorable mention if it were true. ;) 

    Perhaps you meant 2x GTX 460's?
  • 0 Hide
    Onikage , December 8, 2011 4:49 AM
    Hey tom i'd like to see where 6870x2 would fit in Hierarchy Chart and who could be its closest competitor from both camps,
  • -6 Hide
    Dacatak , December 8, 2011 4:56 AM
    December has barely started!?????

    Might as well paste November's article.
  • -5 Hide
    Dacatak , December 8, 2011 5:05 AM
    YargnitWhere'd you find 2x GTX 560ti's to SLI for $370? That would be more than an honorable mention if it were true. Perhaps you meant 2x GTX 460's?


    I got my 560 Ti brand new (PNY OC version) for $180 (no tax, free shipping, and no need for BS MIR).
    I could've gotten two for SLI at $360 even, but I don't like microstutter:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOtre2f4qZs

    Where? eBay of course. Where every day is Cyber Monday.
    (I even saw some manufacturer refurbs for $175)

    Never buy retail again.
  • 0 Hide
    theuniquegamer , December 8, 2011 6:04 AM
    The anandtech has recently got some info about the upcoming 7000 desktop and mobile entry level and 600m entry level gpu specs. The 7000 are going to be revealed today.
  • -2 Hide
    Gamer-girl , December 8, 2011 6:54 AM
    Under Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 6950 2 GB
    Quote:
    In our testing, this product shows no advantage over the cheaper 1 GB flavor of Radeon HD 6970 unless you're playing high resolutions


    Is there such a card or is it a typo?
  • 0 Hide
    DSpider , December 8, 2011 8:52 AM
    The Radeon HD 6670 isn't really much of an upgrade over the Radeon HD 5670. However, we're going to give it an honorable mention for being the fastest card (at least compared to reference versions from AMD and Nvidia) that doesn't require an auxiliary PCIe power cable. That is to say its power requirements are entirely satisfied by a second-generation PCI Express x16 slot.

    What if my motherboard only has PCIe x16 1.0 ?
  • -1 Hide
    Onus , December 8, 2011 9:03 AM
    The $85 HD6750 you mentioned is probably so cheap because it uses DDR3; how would it perform compared to a GDDR5 version? The second thing I noticed about it is that it doesn't need a PCIE power connector. Would it outperform a HD6670, or does the slower RAM make that much difference?

    Also, the HD6850 seems to be mostly in the $130-$150 range (some after MIR), not $160.
  • 0 Hide
    jemm , December 8, 2011 9:10 AM
    As always another good gpu reference.
  • 1 Hide
    cmcghee358 , December 8, 2011 9:34 AM
    Kinda surprised there was no mention(side bar, not a real recommendation) of that 5970 during neweggs Black Friday deal, that also carried into the next week. $299 on BF, 329 until discontinued.
  • 3 Hide
    vaughn2k , December 8, 2011 10:48 AM
    HD5770 for one straight year! Still the best!
  • -1 Hide
    ojas , December 8, 2011 11:49 AM
    Hmmm....a suggestion for the "Best Things for the Money" Articles:

    Why not have an average performance chart page for the hardware? As in, one with just the selected best price/performance winners and the honourable mentions...apart from the hierarchy chart.

    You know, just as a quick reference for the critical moment before pressing the 'buy' button. :) 
  • -2 Hide
    DSpider , December 8, 2011 12:13 PM
    ojasHmmm....a suggestion for the "Best Things for the Money" Articles:Why not have an average performance chart page for the hardware? As in, one with just the selected best price/performance winners and the honourable mentions...apart from the hierarchy chart.You know, just as a quick reference for the critical moment before pressing the 'buy' button.

    Probably because the term "best" is very subjective. Some people can game just fine at 15-22 fps, while others won't even look at anything lower than 35-40 fps.

    Another reason would be that prices fluctuate all the time. It's been asked for this countless times now... "Price/performance" doesn't apply to other countries or even multiple vendors within the US. Sometimes the same model by a different brand will be so expensive that it bites the heel of the next (superior) model, pricing-wise.

    There's also the second hand market, which you can find some very good cards, and in excellent condition as opposed to the cards from a few years back. Because of competition quality has gone up and technology lasts longer these days. Almost everything has solid capacitors these days.

    So yeah. A price/performance chart would be pretty much useless as it can become very quickly outdated.
  • 2 Hide
    badtaylorx , December 8, 2011 12:55 PM
    holy crap!!! almost a total win for the red team!!!
  • -1 Hide
    ksampanna , December 8, 2011 1:33 PM
    When the 5850 drops out of the top five groups, I'l buy a second one (retail/second hand). When the 5970 drops out of the top five, it's time for me to replace the Xfired 5850s :) 
  • -2 Hide
    ojas , December 8, 2011 1:42 PM
    DSpiderProbably because the term "best" is very subjective. Some people can game just fine at 15-22 fps, while others won't even look at anything lower than 35-40 fps.Another reason would be that prices fluctuate all the time. It's been asked for this countless times now... "Price/performance" doesn't apply to other countries or even multiple vendors within the US. Sometimes the same model by a different brand will be so expensive that it bites the heel of the next (superior) model, pricing-wise.There's also the second hand market, which you can find some very good cards, and in excellent condition as opposed to the cards from a few years back. Because of competition quality has gone up and technology lasts longer these days. Almost everything has solid capacitors these days.So yeah. A price/performance chart would be pretty much useless as it can become very quickly outdated.


    You missed my point entirely. I said performance chart for the cards they've selected, not price/performance. So people know what to expect. Like you said, some will be fine at a lower FPS. If they see the 6770 and 6670 listed on a benchmark instead of just tiers, it'll help more IMO. THIS is what i was saying.

    They've listed price/performance winners anyway, that's what this article is about: Best xyz for the money = best bang for the buck = price/performance win.

    I don't even live in the US, so i'm fully aware that the prices aren't the same.
  • -4 Hide
    caamsa , December 8, 2011 3:18 PM
    I got 2 GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards off craigslist for 150 bucks.....beat that toms ;-P
  • -3 Hide
    ojas , December 8, 2011 4:14 PM
    caamsaI got 2 GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards off craigslist for 150 bucks.....beat that toms ;-P

    I remember factory OC 1GB 460s drom MSI i think selling for $120 back when BestConfigs was going on...sad newegg doesn't exist here where i live.
  • -2 Hide
    tuffjuff , December 8, 2011 4:37 PM
    Hmm, 6870 or 560 when ordering my video card next month? Decisions, decisions...
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