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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2011

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 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.

January Updates:

Happy new year! Two thousand ten was a big year for powerful graphics cards, and 2011 will be no different. Having just been introduced to the Radeon HD 6900-series and GeForce GTX 570, we're on the cusp of a dual-GPU Radeon 6990, code-named Antilles. Our hope, of course, will be that Nvidia counters with its own GF110-based board to make the ultra-high-end a lot more interesting early on.

What about the market as it stands today, though? Cards are disappearing off of store shelves and prices are shifting. The Radeon HD 5800-series is already becoming scarce, but blowout pricing makes these cards a potentially great deal (with some Radeon HD 5850s and 5870s as low as $170 and $270, respectively). We can't give them a solid recommendation because availability is limited, but at these prices you should certainly consider a discounted Radeon HD 5800 card if you can find it.

The new Radeon HD 6800s recently dropped a few dollars, too, with the 6850 and 6870 found as low as $180 and $230. The GeForce GTX 460 is priced close to the 6850, but the GeForce GTX 470 typically costs $30 more than the 6870, at the time of writing. This spread is a little higher than it should be from a price/performance valuation, so we're taking the recommendation away from the GeForce GTX 470 until the cost falls a little more in line.

The flagships from both camps are increasingly becoming hard to find, especially the Radeon HD 5970. This makes sense, since it will soon be replaced, but the GeForce GTX 580 is also looking limited, especially on Newegg and Zipzoomfly (TigerDirect and Mwave both have a handful of brands in stock). Perhaps the shortage is due to the inevitable demand of the holidays, but we'll keep an eye on retail stock nevertheless.

Aside from this, the world waits to see what Sandy Bridge and Fusion will soon do for integrated graphics, and we wait with bated breath for the new dual GPU-equipped high end to arrive. 

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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  • 0 Hide
    joelmartinez , January 7, 2011 4:31 AM
    Dual 6950s would be the most I would spend
  • 2 Hide
    mattmock , January 7, 2011 4:33 AM
    I would really love for the GTX 570 to drop to about $275. I am ready to upgrade from my current GTX 260 SLI set-up and I really want to double my fps for about $500 total, but it will probably be another 4-6 months before that is possible.
  • 0 Hide
    duk3 , January 7, 2011 4:47 AM
    You still have the dual 6870 and dual 470 from last month as a tie on this month's winner the dual 6870s.
  • 7 Hide
    rmmil978 , January 7, 2011 5:09 AM
    Best value for the money is obviously the Radeon 6950, unlocked to a 6970.
  • 3 Hide
    geniusreddy , January 7, 2011 5:40 AM
    I'm seeing on the Newegg that the 5750 and GTS 450 are priced almost identical...maybe ATi has already responded to the 450 dropping in price?
  • 2 Hide
    brendonmc , January 7, 2011 8:08 AM
    GTX 580 has always been in short supply...don't blame it on the Christmas rush for this. But if you can get your hands on one, it would be gaming utopia! (at a price)
    I agree with rmmil978. Get yourself a 6950 and unlock its true potential, as shown on Techpowerup. Awsome value.
    I chose the upgrade path and crossfired my old 5850 by snapping up one of the last ones available (in Oz). Hit and miss really...probably not worth the effort. I run a single 1920x1200 monitor and some games just don't benefit at all (ie NFS Hot Pursuit 2010). But getting a Vantage GPU score of over 27000 (overclocked) does make you feel good!
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , January 7, 2011 8:40 AM
    Hasn't moved much, I think.
  • 3 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , January 7, 2011 9:31 AM
    I'm beginning to think the 6950 is the way to go. I just wish the prices weren't so high.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , January 7, 2011 10:43 AM
    From article: "At this time, the Radeon HD 5570 is easy to find at $130, and at that price, its hard to recommend the $120 Radeon HD 5750."
    I'm assuming the first reference should be to the HD5770?

    Nice reference, as always.
  • 0 Hide
    carver_inc , January 7, 2011 11:10 AM
    I grabbed an HD 5870 on sale for $215, which just goes to show if you dig around and have some patience, you can find some sweet deals.

    I'm loving mine.

    As always, interesting read.
  • 2 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , January 7, 2011 12:22 PM
    GTX580 or HD5970 has no chance against two 6950s in crossfire..great performance at only $600 ! :D :D 
  • 0 Hide
    jp182 , January 7, 2011 12:34 PM
    Just a heads up that Sapphire has two rebates out on most of their ATI cards right now through Amazon. I just bought a 5770 for $130 but there's $30 in rebates which appears to be a really good deal.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , January 7, 2011 12:48 PM
    Don, Don, Don. Been eating worms? "we wait with baited breath"
    (the word you wanted there is 'bated' which has an entirely different meaning to 'baited')

    That said, the 'graphics card report' is one of the best things on THD.
  • 3 Hide
    scook9 , January 7, 2011 12:59 PM
    I really like the inclusion of TDP numbers this month. Please continue doing that!
  • 1 Hide
    caamsa , January 7, 2011 2:02 PM
    Is it just me or is everyone else sick of all of those is like every single video card has a rebate.....ugggg

    BTW nice review. ;-)
  • 2 Hide
    JackNaylorPE , January 7, 2011 3:14 PM
    Huh ? A category for $360 and another for $370 ????? ... why no $350 category ? And the $370 tie is shared between a $350 card and a $370 card ?????

    The cards should be picked to fit categories, not pick the categories to make sure a card makes the list.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , January 7, 2011 3:28 PM
    Pixel13Don, Don, Don. Been eating worms? "we wait with baited breath"(the word you wanted there is 'bated' which has an entirely different meaning to 'baited')That said, the 'graphics card report' is one of the best things on THD.

    LOL, sorry about that Pixel, I should have caught that in editing. 'Baited' is a particular pet peeve of mine ;-)
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , January 7, 2011 3:31 PM
    I would love to see a note of the best passively cooled gfx aviable at the marketing everything month.
  • 0 Hide
    eklipz330 , January 7, 2011 3:38 PM
    shudn't this be done at the end of the month?
  • 0 Hide
    tid01217 , January 7, 2011 4:05 PM
    I realize the list is aimed at gaming graphics, but it would be nice to add a section for 1 or 2 graphics cards recommended for HTPCs that handle heavy video tasks with occasional gaming.
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