This month, we discuss the new GDDR5-based versions of the Radeon HD 5550 and 5570, the disappearance of Nvidia's GeForce 9600 GT, and almost-universal price drops across the GeForce GTX 400-series line. Come see how our recommendations have changed!
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.
July was a relatively quiet month for the graphics world, with no new major announcements. The closest thing we got to new cards for consideration were the GDDR5-based variants of the Radeon HD 5550 and 5570 cards, a review of which we look forward to publishing soon. These cards should make for some interesting adjustments to the sub-$90 pecking order.
The GDDR5 version of the Radeon HD 5570 is particularly interesting because the 5570 was originally intended as a Radeon HD 5670 equipped with DDR3. Now that it has a faster memory technology at its disposal, performance should be very close to the Radeon HD 5670, and with some overclocking, it could very likely beat a stock 5670.
The Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 is a little harder to peg without putting it through the paces, but it may approach Radeon HD 5570 DDR3-class performance. We've added these new variants to our graphics card hierarchy chart on the last page, but we may tweak their positions a bit next month when the smoke clears.
Perhaps the most dramatic change has been the disappearance of the GeForce 9600 GT at retail. The existence of Nvidia's GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 made for a very tight market, with older GeForce fighting newer GeForce at the same price point. But we're sad to see the GeForce 9600 GT go all the same. The card offered a powerful option under $100. With the similarly-performing GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 taking it's place at the same price and with similar performance, things aren't all bad. Nvidia's GeForce GT 240 can accelerate Blu-ray 3D playback, which is an interesting value-add. Then again, we have seen cards re-appear after abandoning the market before. Time will tell if the GeForce 9600 GT is truly gone for good.
Aside from this, there has been little to report, except for dropping prices across the GeForce GTX 400-series lineup. There has been an almost uniform $20 drop across the lowest-priced models, with some GeForce GTX 465, 470, and 480 cards at $250, $330, and $480 respectively. This brings the new Fermi-based cards much closer to where they need to be to offer solid value. Another $20 drop would probably be just about right from a pure gaming performance perspective, but even at their current prices, they're a lot more attractive to people who are interested in CUDA, 3D Vision, and Blu-ray 3D features.
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.