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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August 2011

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August 2011
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This month we discuss Nvidia's new GeForce GT 545, add a lot of new GPUs to the graphics card hierarchy chart at our readers' request, and discuss some conspiracy theories swirling around the introduction of next-generation products!

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.

August Updates:

There weren't any official graphics card launches last month. At least, there weren't any we were invited to participate in. However, Nvidia did create a new product for OEMs called the GeForce GTX 545. This card sports the GF116 GPU from its GeForce GTX 550 Ti, but with one of its four Streaming Multiprocessors disabled. As a result, it has 144 shader cores, three PolyMorph Engines, and 24 texture units.

Complicating the issue even further, the DDR3-based GeForce GT 545 enjoys all three ROP partitions, yielding a 192-bit memory interface and 24 ROPs. But the GDDR5 version sees one of the partitions disabled, resulting in a 128-bit memory interface and 16 ROPs. That's probably done to keep the card from showing up more expensive models.

No matter how you slice it, the GeForce GT 545 has decent performance potential, and we've been waiting for Nvidia to introduce a product that can compete with AMD's Radeon HD 5670/6670. Let's face it; the GeForce GT 240 gets outclassed in that face-off. And we can't help but notice that the GeForce GT 240 is getting scarce anyway, with only two DDR3 models and a single GDDR5-based SKU available on Newegg the last time we checked. It might be wishful thinking on our part, but perhaps the retail market is being prepared for the introduction of the GeForce GT 545 as its replacement.

On a side note, EVGA announced it plans to offer a retail GeForce GT 545 DDR3 card. However, the $149 on its Web site, identical to the GeForce GTX 550 Ti's asking price, is humorously high. This card needs to be in the $85 range to make it a viable price/performance option. 

We did notice that the Radeon HD 6970 and 6990 are in short supply. When we mentioned that to AMD, suggesting that we can't recommend products that aren't available, the company said it is encountering a supply issue and having trouble keeping up with demand. It is, however, purportedly taking steps to put more Radeon HD 6990s in the channel. We have to admit that high-end cards slowly disappearing makes us think next-gen hardware, especially after hearing rumors that the Radeon HD 7000-series is already in production. But even if AMD debuts its next round of boards early, this really isn't the right time of the year for an introduction. 

At the request of our readers, we added the Radeon engines built into AMD's Fusion-based APUs to the hierarchy chart, in addition to the newest mobile GPUs from both major suppliers. Aside from those changes, there's very little to discuss this month. Prices dropped here and there, but none of the shifts were significant. Enjoy the last month of this quiet summer. We all know things get a lot more interesting when the kids go back to school.

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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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 12, 2011 6:45 AM
    scotty99The galaxy GTX 465 has been 129.99 for over a month now on newegg, i dont think there is a reason to buy any other card unless you play above 1080p.

    There are very few reasons to get a GTX465, and I would argue that gaming isn't one of them. A stock GTX460 1GB outperforms the GTX465 in most games while consuming significantly less power, running much cooler, and producing less noise. Even at that amazing price, for strictly gaming I would still be tempted to opt for the GTX460 or HD6850.

    However, the GTX465 is capable of outperforming the GTX460 by a pretty wide margin in certain compute workloads. So if you're folding or utilizing your GPU for some other compute intensive task, then the GTX465 is an absolute beast of a card that really can't be beat for $130.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    compton , August 12, 2011 4:34 AM
    I for one am looking forward to the next generation. Not that that's anything new, but the 40nm process cards have been around for two years now, starting with AMD. Given the advances in power consumption, I think it's reasonable to expect significantly less power use at idle and especially load. High end cards will still get hot and use healthy amounts of juice, but a midrange card like the successor to the 460 series will hopefully be a great efficiency card with righteous acoustics (I hope). Since it looks like AMD will have at least a 3 or 4 month lead, I hope they have their stuff together out of the gate.
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , August 12, 2011 4:47 AM
    got a cheapish used gtx580. loving it. i dont see the need to upgrade for next 2 years atleast.
  • 5 Hide
    11796pcs , August 12, 2011 5:43 AM
    Is it just me or does it get annoying to decipher between the integrated, discrete, and mobile cards? It's especially bad with the AMD column, it would be nice if Tom's added two columns for Nvidia and AMD dedicated to the mobile/integrated GPUs.
  • 6 Hide
    aznshinobi , August 12, 2011 6:04 AM
    I think the 560 Ti should be a tie with 6950 1GB, especially since factory OCs cost the same as the 6950 1GB at which point the 560 Ti does beat the 6950 1GB since it equates to the 570. Just my 2 cents though.
  • 12 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 12, 2011 6:45 AM
    scotty99The galaxy GTX 465 has been 129.99 for over a month now on newegg, i dont think there is a reason to buy any other card unless you play above 1080p.

    There are very few reasons to get a GTX465, and I would argue that gaming isn't one of them. A stock GTX460 1GB outperforms the GTX465 in most games while consuming significantly less power, running much cooler, and producing less noise. Even at that amazing price, for strictly gaming I would still be tempted to opt for the GTX460 or HD6850.

    However, the GTX465 is capable of outperforming the GTX460 by a pretty wide margin in certain compute workloads. So if you're folding or utilizing your GPU for some other compute intensive task, then the GTX465 is an absolute beast of a card that really can't be beat for $130.
  • 2 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , August 12, 2011 7:49 AM
    GTX 560 Ti is in the same tier of 6950 ? :WTF:
  • 6 Hide
    Assmar , August 12, 2011 8:25 AM
    I don't know if I'm out of line when I ask for this but could we get the SLI/CF setups just recommended in the $270+ range thrown up in that Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart?
  • 0 Hide
    fakie , August 12, 2011 10:01 AM
    2x Sapphire Xtreme 5850 FTW!
    Although i'm crossfiring a sapphire vapor-x 5850 and an xtreme 5850 =D
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , August 12, 2011 10:10 AM
    I believe that another reason for the shortage of HD6990 and HD6970 cards is that people are using them in bitcoin mining rigs. AMD positively smokes nVidia at that compute task. I'd really like to see an article on this subject.
  • 0 Hide
    ojas , August 12, 2011 10:57 AM
    Hmmm...AMD seems to be dominating the recommendations slowly...i hope nvidia gets their act together, and AMD launches more goodies that cause nvidia to drop prices :p 
  • 7 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , August 12, 2011 11:32 AM
    scotty99The galaxy GTX 465 has been 129.99 for over a month now on newegg, i dont think there is a reason to buy any other card unless you play above 1080p.

    the 465 is a power hungry, hot, piece of crap that should have never been released, its was basically a prototype and has never been recommended.the 460 and 6850 are faster, quieter, cooler and are well worth the extra money. They are only cheap because they are trying to get rid of them to suckers like you before they have to bin them.
  • 6 Hide
    zooted , August 12, 2011 12:37 PM
    I'm just glad they didn't mention the gtx 465, now that was a bad card.
  • 2 Hide
    JamesSneed , August 12, 2011 1:09 PM
    The conspiracy about AMD releasing 7000 was boring. I think its possible AMD is going to push out the 7000 GPU's series along with Bulldozer. Since the 7000 series GPU's should be faster than current Nvidia offerings it makes total since to release along with Bulldozer since all the review sites will test them together and the charts will all show Bulldozer is better than Intel for gaming. Now that's a conspiracy theory for you.
  • -1 Hide
    hameem 1 , August 12, 2011 1:38 PM
    we want "graphic cards performers/money" chart !!
  • -4 Hide
    hameem 1 , August 12, 2011 1:42 PM
    some one do for us a chart about the graphic cards "performers for the dollar""
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