In this month's market analysis, we discuss Nvidia's new GeForce GTX Titan, PowerColor's Tahiti LE-based Radeon HD 7870, and a number of price fluctuations. If you've been holding off on an upgrade, now might be the best time to buy.
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.
Since last month's update, AMD launched its Radeon HD 7990 to retail (Ed.: Though, more than two weeks after the introduction, there still aren't any available to purchase online). While PowerColor, HIS, and Asus all came up with their own dual-Tahiti cards, AMD held off on its own official design, presumably to "get it right." The outcome is quite a bit more polished. The Radeon HD 7990's triple-fan cooling solution is much quieter than the Radeon HD 6990, which was crazy-loud. Peak power consumption is the same, at 375 W, and compute performance is best-in-class.
Unfortunately, the card has a load-dependent whine related to its high current draw. Moreover, those three fans blow all of the board's waste heat back into your chassis. And then there's the fact that AMD wants $1,000 for it. We love the work AMD is doing with its bundle, but at that price point, and given more compelling competition, we simply cannot recommend the 7990 right now.
How about pricing? Only a few cards are different this month. The Radeon HD 7770 is a little cheaper than last month. As a result, this $115 mainstream board gets its recommendation back. Conversely, it seems like everyone caught on to the Tahiti-based Radeon HD 7870, and its price is going up slowly. Now it's selling for $250. Also, the Radeon HD 7850 2 GB is up $10 to $195. That's the opposite direction we want to see it go, given competition from the $170 GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2 GB. The Radeon HD 7950 Boost is also a little more expensive at $310. And the GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 1 GB is $160, priced too closely to the 2 GB version to retain its recommendation.
As for upcoming products, we're hearing a lot more about a GeForce GTX 780 and 770. Fudzilla reports that the former will be a cut-down GK110-based product, while the GTX 770 may include the 680's GK104 graphics processor, perhaps running at higher clock rates. It's also probable that other new products will show up in the next few weeks, particularly with Computex right around the corner.
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.