This month, we fill in the blanks on Nvidia's re-branded budget-oriented graphics card line-up, including multiple versions of the GeForce GT 730 and 740. We also lay out the price changes that happened (both good and bad) over the past month.
Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great, assuming you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, a gamer needs to know what the best graphics card is for their money. 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've compiled a simple list of the best gaming cards offered in any given price range.
In the last month, a couple of new cards were introduced by Nvidia: the GeForce GT 730 and GeForce GT 740. There are a surprising number of permutations available, all of them re-badged versions of existing hardware. Nvidia is taking a lot of liberties with its nomenclature, so the explanation gets a little complex.
The GeForce GT 740 centers on the same GK107 GPU we know from the GeForce GTX 640 and 650. The quickest version is the GeForce GT 740 GDDR5, which is roughly equivalent to a GeForce GTX 650 with a slightly lower 993 MHz core clock rate. In turn, the GeForce GT 740 DDR3 is basically a re-badged GeForce GT 640, also with a lower 993 MHz core clock.
There are three variants of the GeForce GT 730: a GDDR5/64-bit card, a DDR3/64-bit card, and a DDR3/128-bit card. Both of the 64-bit boards are powered by Nvidia's GK208 GPU, which has similar stats as GK107, but half the ROPs. The DDR3/128-bit card employs a GF108 GPU (the same one used on GeForce GT 630).
But enough with the alphabet soup. Let's just use a chart, organized from fastest to slowest:
Confusing though this exercise may be, the bottom line is that the GeForce GT 740 GDDR5 and GeForce GT 730 64-bit GDDR5 may interest entry-level gamers, while the other three won't. The GeForce GT 740 GDDR5 should be a little slower than AMD's Radeon R7 250X for the same price, so we'll skip over that one.
The GeForce GT 730 GDDR5 64-bit, on the other hand, is a lot more interesting at $76. Despite its narrow 64-bit interface, GDDR5 memory technology facilitates more memory bandwidth than a GeForce GT 640 with DDR3 on a 128-bit connection. We don't have one in the lab yet, but it should be quite a bit faster than the Radeon R7 240. Thus, the GeForce GT 730 64-bit GDDR5 becomes our new entry-level gaming recommendation. We haven't seen a serious sub-$100 contender from Nvidia in a while, so we're glad to see the company taking gamers on a budget seriously.
A word of warning for folks who are interested in this card: we've seen at least one manufacturer introduce an unofficial GDDR5-equipped version of the 128-bit GeForce GT 730. While the potential memory bandwidth sounds attractive, the card also uses a GF108 GPU with 96 CUDA cores (the 64-bit cards host GK208 GPUs with 384 CUDA cores). In other words, the 64-bit card is preferable. Pay close attention to specs when you're placing your order.
Despite that flurry of activity in Nvidia's low-end line-up, prices are fairly stable. The only adjustment to note is the GeForce GTX 660, which dropped $5 to $185. That's still too expensive compared to AMD's $150 Radeon R7 265, though.
AMD's products demonstrate more volatility, as we've come to expect. The average Radeon R9 290X is $30 more expensive, landing at $530. The Radeon R9 280X increases $20 to $300. And the Radeon R9 270X goes up $10 to $200. While we naturally dislike changes that drive prices higher, none of the movement affects our recommendation list. However, the Radeon R9 280X price hike does give Nvidia's GeForce GTX 760 room to reclaim a tie with AMD's Radeon R9 280 at $250.
We also noted that, despite a slow start, the Radeon R7 265 is much more widely available. The Radeon R7 260 is not, though (there are only two models on Newegg as of this writing). This doesn't surprise us, given the slim margin between AMD's $120 Radeon R7 260X and $100 Radeon R7 250X.
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, 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 for home, office, and basic multimedia usage models.
- Be sure to check out our new performance per dollar comparison page, where you can overlay the benchmark data we’ve generated with pricing, giving you a better idea where your ideal choice falls on the value curve. The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance.
- 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/SLI and possibly a chassis with plenty of space to install multiple graphics cards. These setups also usually call for a beefier power supply than 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 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 almost certainly vary.
- These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list. While these offers might represent a good deal, it’s simply outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
- Best Graphics Cards For The Money, July Updates
- Best Entry-Level Graphics Cards: $140 And Under
- Best Mid-Range Graphics Cards: $145 To $200
- Best Enthusiast Graphics Cards: $210 To $390
- Best High-End Graphics Cards: $400 To $800
- Best Extreme Graphics Cards: Over $800, And Multi-Card Configurations
- Graphics Card Performance Hierarchy Chart
- Conclusion: Performance Per Dollar