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Best PCIe Card: $180 To $300

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: September 2011
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Best PCIe Card For ~$185: Tie

GeForce GTX 560 (Check Prices)

Great 1920x1200 performance in most games

GeForce GTX 560
Codename: GF114
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 336
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz: 810 / 1620
Memory Speed MHz: 1002 (4008 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5

160 W

The new GeForce GTX 560 is, in essence, an overclocked GeForce GTX 460 with optimizations for power. Its improvements make it a great competitor for AMD's Radeon HD 6870. Both boards introduce impressive gaming performance that we simply haven't seen before under the $200 price point.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Radeon HD 6870  (Check Prices)

Great 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600  in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6870
Codename: RV970 "Barts"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1120
Texture Units: 56
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 900
Memory Speed MHz: 1050 (4200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:151 W

Offering performance that's comparable to Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560, the Radeon HD 6870 is another attractive option selling for less than $200. It uses more power at idle than the GeForce GTX 560. However, under load, the AMD card is the more power-friendly solution.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6870 for more information on this card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$240:

Radeon HD 6950 1 GB (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6950 1 GB
Codename: "Cayman"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1408
Texture Units: 88
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 1250 (5000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:200 W

AMD dropped half of the reference Radeon HD 6950's on-board memory to give us this 1 GB model, and the price fell accordingly. At $240, there really isn't any competition for this powerful, yet conservatively-priced graphics card. It outperforms the GeForce GTX 560 Ti in enough situations, on average, to score the sole recommendation.

In addition, some users have unlocked shader cores artificially disabled by AMD through a firmware update, transforming this board into an underclocked 1 GB version of AMD's Radeon HD 6970.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6950 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$270:

Radeon HD 6950 2 GB (Check Prices)

Excellent 1920x1200 performance, Good 2560x1600 performance in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 6950 2 GB
Codename: "Cayman"
Process: 40 nm
Universal Shaders: 1408
Texture Units: 88
ROPs: 32
Memory Bus: 256-bit
Core Speed MHz: 800
Memory Speed MHz: 1250 (5000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model: DX 11/SM 5.0
Max TDP:200 W

The Radeon HD 6950 offers similar performance as AMD's previous-generation single-GPU flagship, the Radeon HD 5870. A pair of these cards in CrossFire are a force to be reckoned with, as the company noticeably improved scaling compared to some of its previous efforts. 

There's another reason to consider this model. Many folks have had luck modding this board into a fully-functional Radeon HD 6970 through a firmware update. If you can pull that off, the value of the 2 GB Radeon HD 6950 seems pretty clear.

Read our full review of AMD's Radeon HD 6950 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

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Top Comments
  • 23 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 14, 2011 5:57 AM
    5770 "Great 1920x1200 performance in most games"
    6850 "Great 1920x1200 performance in most games"
    that makes no sense, that basically says the cards are on the same level, the 5770 does NOT give great performance at 1920, the 6850 only just cuts it at that res. Please re-structure your comments as to how well these GPU's play games, all the lower end ones are way off too, a 5570 cant play recent games well at 1680x1050, not even at 1440x900. Everything seems pretty much way off.
  • 11 Hide
    Zero_ , September 14, 2011 5:49 AM
    The GTX560Ti gets nothing. Sad, really.
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    Zero_ , September 14, 2011 5:49 AM
    The GTX560Ti gets nothing. Sad, really.
  • 23 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 14, 2011 5:57 AM
    5770 "Great 1920x1200 performance in most games"
    6850 "Great 1920x1200 performance in most games"
    that makes no sense, that basically says the cards are on the same level, the 5770 does NOT give great performance at 1920, the 6850 only just cuts it at that res. Please re-structure your comments as to how well these GPU's play games, all the lower end ones are way off too, a 5570 cant play recent games well at 1680x1050, not even at 1440x900. Everything seems pretty much way off.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 14, 2011 6:07 AM
    For $220 a GTX 560Ti should be a good bargain.
  • 5 Hide
    xcamas , September 14, 2011 6:34 AM
    I own a Sapphire Radeon HD 6950 2GB, pretty good video card. It's giving me good times with crysis, even with that useless tessellation workload they put on background, i caped that out, and i really like my vid card.
  • -2 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 14, 2011 8:23 AM
    toms, did you know i can thumbs up my own message? it happens when im not logged in, then press a thumbs button, then it asks me to sign up or log in, and i log in. I can then thumbs up my own message.
  • -5 Hide
    vaughn2k , September 14, 2011 9:26 AM
    I was wondering if we can include the HD6870X2. It has a good bang for the buck against GTX580....
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 14, 2011 10:00 AM
    Hey where is the 6970 ??? It has great performance and good price for a single card.
  • 3 Hide
    Communism , September 14, 2011 10:31 AM
    Should list Memory Bandwidth if you're going to list memory bus width and memory speed.

    People looking at an article like this are really looking for memory bandwidth when looking at those two parameters.
  • 0 Hide
    DSpider , September 14, 2011 11:12 AM
    Regarding 5670/6670:
    the fastest card (at least the reference version we have from AMD) that doesn't require an auxiliary PCIe power cable. That is to say its power requirements are entirely satisfied by a second-generation PCI Express x16 slot.

    If the motherboard only has PCI Express x16 1.0 (not even 1.1) will that be a problem?
  • 8 Hide
    mobrocket , September 14, 2011 12:32 PM
    i wish there was a free category
  • -9 Hide
    pro-gamer , September 14, 2011 12:39 PM
    the famous card of the year 2011 is gtx 460
  • 0 Hide
    hyteck9 , September 14, 2011 12:44 PM
    I stubbled across a GTX590 in a retail store the other day and snagged it. It is an interesting beast. The performance is epic, and so is the heat. GPU #2 runs 8-10 degrees hotter than the already hot GPU #1. This did not change even with an open air case. I really wonder how much faster this card could get with a more dedicated cooling solution. Aren't the GPU's dialed down like 40% from thier single-card siblings?
  • 6 Hide
    killerclick , September 14, 2011 12:58 PM
    So the majority of GPUs on the market are in this list? How about being more strict? GTX 460 and 6850 can't be tied if they have the same performance and price but one uses 25% less power than the other.
  • 3 Hide
    Max_DTH , September 14, 2011 1:12 PM
    Wow, SLI and Crossfire demoted. I knew this should be the case after reading your article about micro-stuttering, but I've thought this is not going to happen. Respect Tom's Hardware, I wish all journalist were so honest.

    Maybe you could come up with some idea how to compare single and multi-card rigs? In my opinion baseline of those zig-zags we saw on charts in Micro-Stuttering And GPU Scaling In CrossFire And SLI article is good determinant of perceived frame rate, because every other frame rendered fast is just useless.
    This should be discussed among journalists. I know hardware manufacturers wouldn't like it, but we would know the real performance, not just guess how much of our cards performance (and frame rate) is eaten by micro-stuttering. We would also led to minimizing micro-stuttering not just maximizing this illusional frame rate we measure now.
  • -7 Hide
    jjb8675309 , September 14, 2011 1:53 PM
    Id take a gtx 560ti hands down over a 6950, most of the benches toms uses favor amd and beyond that I own a gtx 560ti ASUS DC2 model and it holds a 1ghz core oc, at that speeds it kills a 6950 and is on par with a 6970, for me the ti is on the same tier as the 570, 295, 6950, etc, it is ridiculous to say that you can actually see a difference between a ti and a 6950 at stock in terms of real world performance, Toms seems to be more and more biased as time goes on, and also that raw performance alone does not tell the whole story of performance in some instances where the gtx will offer better minimums, heat, and noise...
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , September 14, 2011 2:06 PM
    It saddens me that SLI/CF has been downgraded, but I understand why you did it and I applaud you for it. IMO, minimum frame rate is just as important a factor as average frame rate for the actual play experience. A steady 30 FPS is better than an average 60 with occasional drops to 10.
  • 3 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , September 14, 2011 2:45 PM
    jjb8675309Id take a gtx 560ti hands down over a 6950, most of the benches toms uses favor amd and beyond that I own a gtx 560ti ASUS DC2 model and it holds a 1ghz core oc, at that speeds it kills a 6950 and is on par with a 6970, for me the ti is on the same tier as the 570, 295, 6950, etc, it is ridiculous to say that you can actually see a difference between a ti and a 6950 at stock in terms of real world performance, Toms seems to be more and more biased as time goes on, and also that raw performance alone does not tell the whole story of performance in some instances where the gtx will offer better minimums, heat, and noise...


    Many HD 6950s reach 1GHz Core and they overclock a lot more on the Memory, so you're wrong.

    Also, they're right about there being a noticeable performance difference between both stock:

    http://tpucdn.com/reviews/ASUS/Mars_II/images/perfrel_1920.gif

    51/47: 8%. I think 8% is enough to call it a win overall. Oh, and the 6950 2GB is actually 1% slower than the 1GB card at 1920x1200.
  • 6 Hide
    jednx01 , September 14, 2011 3:41 PM
    AMD 6950 2gb in crossfire is definitely still my pick. Good price/performance value.... I got two of these about 6 months ago and really don't regret it at all....
  • 2 Hide
    Darkerson , September 14, 2011 4:14 PM
    I am still glad I got the XFX 1GB Radeon HD 6950 at tax time. It has played all the games I like to play admirably, and I was able to unlock the extra shaders with very little problem. I may be looking for a 2nd one, if I dont upgrade to a 7xxx series, depending on price and what the new version have to offer. Either way, Im sure Ill be happy.
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , September 14, 2011 4:49 PM
    For those who do not need every setting maxed (even "medium" looks pretty good in a lot of game reviews I've seen), a HD5770 can indeed play many games at 1920x1080.
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