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.
The graphics world continues to evolve. Since our last monthly update, two new cards are available (three, possibly, by the time you read this). Let's discuss them in the order they were introduced. First up is AMD's Radeon HD 7790.
Sporting a new GPU (not an overclocked Cape Verde from the Radeon HD 7700 series or a crippled Pitcairn from the Radeon HD 7800 family) called Bonaire, the Radeon HD 7790 sports 896 shader cores, 56 texture units, and 16 ROPs, all running at 1 GHz. Its GDDR5 memory operates at 1,500 MHz on a 128-bit aggregate interface, delivering a little less than 100 GB/s of bandwidth. AMD claims to enable more granularity in its power management, facilitating improved efficiency during intermediate workloads. And with an 85 W TDP, it's only rated 5 W higher than the Radeon HD 7770, despite a significant performance advantage.
When AMD introduced it, the Radeon HD 7790 looked great at $150, particularly since the new card performs a little better than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 650 Ti. In fact, everything was coming up roses for AMD in the $100-$200 segment until Nvidia struck back with three notable blows: dropping its GeForce GTX 650 Ti to $130 (undercutting the Radeon HD 7790), dropping the GeForce GTX 660 to $200 (undercutting the Radeon HD 7870 and encroaching on the slower Radeon HD 7850), and introducing its GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 1 GB at $150 and 2 GB for $170. With those three strikes, Nvidia assumed total control of the very same $100 to $200 market. That's something it hasn't had for a very long time.
The GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost is pretty much a hybrid of the GeForce GTX 650 Ti (with 768 shader cores and 64 texture units) and GeForce GTX 660 (24 ROPs, 192-bit aggregate memory bus, 980 MHz base clock rate, and 1,502 MHz memory frequency). Incidentally, the GeForce GTX 650 Ti, 650 Ti Boost, and 660 all employ the same 28 nm GK106 GPU. This latest addition to Nvidia's portfolio is on par with the Radeon HD 7850, but the aforementioned pricing is where is secures its win.
As a result, the Radeon HD 7790 gets undercut by a pretty significant margin. It the company wants to stay competitive with that product, it'll need to start cutting some prices. We'd actually be surprised if the Radeon HD 7790, 7850, and 7870 don't drop to match the equivalent GeForce cards. No matter what, though, you come out the winner from all of this, getting better performance from both companies for less money than ever before.
Not all news is good, though. The GeForce GTX 670, Radeon HD 7970, and Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition are more expensive this month, running $370, $400, and $450, respectively. This is quite a bummer, considering the good things happening at the lower end of the price spectrum.
What about upcoming products? At this year's Game Developer's Conference, AMD indicated that we should see an official dual-GPU Radeon HD 7990 card in the near future (it might have even launched by the time you read this). This is a surprise; the company originally promised its arrival about a year ago, and we gave up on an official dual-Tahiti board long ago. The partner-designed attempts were pretty inelegant, so it's likely that AMD took its time with something a little less obnoxious.
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.