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 make the right decision, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware Guide have come to your aid, with a simple list of the best gaming cards available for the money.
June Review and July Updates:
The graphics card landscape changed tremendously in June, with the introduction of the Geforce GTX 260 and GTX 280 cards, and ATI’s counterattack with the Radeon HD 4850 and 4870. And let’s not forget Nvidia’s counter-counterattack with the Geforce 9800 GTX+!
Let’s start with the brand new Geforce cards. The Geforce GTX 280 is now the most powerful single video card that money can buy, usually beating out even the dual-GPU equipped Geforce 9800 GX2! It is also the most expensive, starting at $650. Its smaller brother, the Geforce GTX 260, offers very impressive performance just below that of the 9800 GX2, for a much more reasonable $400.
On the ATI side of things, the new flagship is the Radeon HD 4870. Its performance is generally a little below that of the Geforce GTX 260, although there are specific game titles that it performs very well in, even beating the Geforce GTX 280 by a small margin! The real attraction of this card is the price: at $310, it really gives the new Geforce cards a run for their money.
The Radeon HD 4850 is the 4870’s little brother, with the same hardware but reduced clockspeeds. At $200, this card is an absolute steal, but its real strength shows when paired with another 4850; for $400, two Radeon HD 4850 cards in a Crossfire configuration will easy surpass the $650 Geforce GTX 280 flagship when it comes to performance.
Nvidia has done its best to offer a viable alternative to the Radeon HD 4850, with a refreshed version of the Geforce 9800 GTX called the 9800 GTX+. With its GPU built on the more efficient 55 nm process, allowing for increased clockspeeds, and a greatly reduced sticker price of about $230, the Geforce 9800 GTX+ has a lot of potential. However, ATI’s 4850 seems to be quite capable of keeping up to the 9800 GTX+ for less money, especially when eye candy like anti-aliasing is applied.
Of course, prices have been impacted across the board because of the new world order; as a result, much of the best cards for the money list has changed. Now, to the recommendations!
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 in this list are more expensive than you need.
- Prices and availability changes on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest.
- The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail, your mileage will most certainly vary.
- These are new card prices. No used or open box cards are in the list; they might be a good deal, but that’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.