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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July 2010

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July 2010
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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 Updates:

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.
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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    mitch074 , July 5, 2010 11:17 AM
    My 4850 is now entering its third year of faithful use - and it's still a recommendation! I can hardly believe it.

    It doesn't happen often, but this sure is a 'puter product that wasn't outdated 6 months after it came out.
  • 12 Hide
    cleeve , July 5, 2010 1:55 PM
    youssef 2010who said the 9600 disappeared.


    There's only three models of 9600 GT and two of 9600 GSO on Newegg, and they're all overpriced.

    For all practical purposes, the 9600 GSO is gone.
  • 10 Hide
    DjEaZy , July 5, 2010 10:04 AM
    ... it's ATi all over the place...
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    kckrich , July 5, 2010 6:12 AM
    God how I love Tom's.
  • 10 Hide
    touchdowntexas13 , July 5, 2010 6:22 AM
    I think I agree with the 5850 taking the solid recommendation and the gtx 470 not. The 5850 runs cooler, quieter, and uses less power.

    However I just got my GTX 470 with the EVGA lifetime warranty and free copy of Just Cause 2 for $330, so I am happy with that choice :) 

    Other than that, like the article states, it was a relatives quiet month for video card updates. Looking forward to ATI/Nvidia's next offerings as well as driver updates.
  • 0 Hide
    sprunth , July 5, 2010 6:52 AM
    Error on the 5770 article. Typed '5570' once in the middle.

    I just bought a 5770 like a week ago for $130 :) 

    The 5770 seems to be really good at OCing and economically better priced for X-fire.
  • -5 Hide
    misha87 , July 5, 2010 7:42 AM
    i thought that the 465 was going to be a little higher
  • -2 Hide
    notty22 , July 5, 2010 8:27 AM
    Quote:
    I think I agree with the 5850 taking the solid recommendation and the gtx 470 not. The 5850 runs cooler, quieter, and uses less power.

    However I just got my GTX 470 with the EVGA lifetime warranty and free copy of Just Cause 2 for $330, so I am happy with that choice :) 

    Other than that, like the article states, it was a relatives quiet month for video card updates. Looking forward to ATI/Nvidia's next offerings as well as driver updates.

    At $315, the GeForce GT 470 would take a solid recommendation, but at $330 it gets an honorable mention.
    Here is the GTX 470 at 299.99, sans rebate, free shipping. Read between the lines and the nod goes to Nvidia :) 
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814127501&cm_re=gtx_470-_-14-127-501-_-Product
  • -6 Hide
    youssef 2010 , July 5, 2010 8:43 AM
    who said the 9600 disappeared.If you think so, kindly check the following links:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814130360&cm_re=9600-_-14-130-360-_-Product

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814162030&cm_re=9600-_-14-162-030-_-Product

    for 9600GSO:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814500149&cm_re=9600-_-14-500-149-_-Product
  • -5 Hide
    jordan009 , July 5, 2010 9:38 AM
    does crossfire even increase perofrmance by that much in games? (what if the games you paly arent optimised for it?) anyways :D  my card is in 4th of the list (5770)
  • 10 Hide
    DjEaZy , July 5, 2010 10:04 AM
    ... it's ATi all over the place...
  • -1 Hide
    FunSurfer , July 5, 2010 11:09 AM
    Why is the mobility HD 4860 is one tier lower than the mobility HD 4850?
  • 13 Hide
    mitch074 , July 5, 2010 11:17 AM
    My 4850 is now entering its third year of faithful use - and it's still a recommendation! I can hardly believe it.

    It doesn't happen often, but this sure is a 'puter product that wasn't outdated 6 months after it came out.
  • -3 Hide
    Petey1013 , July 5, 2010 12:56 PM
    I'm surprised there's no mention of GTX 470s in SLI, especially compared to a 5970.
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , July 5, 2010 1:13 PM
    Don well done on an other great article.

    Gee the 9800gtx+ ... er GT250 is a steal at that price.

    Great card ... if a little hot on the old 65nm process.

    AMD need to drop the price another $10 on their remaining stock of 4 series GPU's and get them out the door ... and keep hammering NV on the 5 series front ... where is is more profitable anyway.



  • 12 Hide
    cleeve , July 5, 2010 1:55 PM
    youssef 2010who said the 9600 disappeared.


    There's only three models of 9600 GT and two of 9600 GSO on Newegg, and they're all overpriced.

    For all practical purposes, the 9600 GSO is gone.
  • 0 Hide
    DaeM , July 5, 2010 1:56 PM
    Best PCIe Card For ~$700: None

    lol trying to spend maximum allowable top-dollar geting ^^... none :p  lol
  • 1 Hide
    nerrawg , July 5, 2010 2:42 PM
    Great and simple guide as usual but I wonder Cleeve if the GFX hierarchy might benefit from adding a tier between the GTX 285/5850 and the GTX 260/4870 levels? This tier would be NVidia: GTX275, GTX280 and GTX 465; AMD: 4890 and 5830. I think such a tier might better reflect the descrepancy in GPU power between these cards and the GTX260/4870/5770 as well as the fact that there is at least a $50-100 separation in price between the preposed tiers.
  • -3 Hide
    scook9 , July 5, 2010 3:24 PM
    I disagree with the layout of the chart on the last page.

    The 4870x2 and 5870 are about equal and a GTX295 is not as good as a GTX 480. The GTX 295 and GTX 470 should be in that gap and the 5870 should be bumped up a notch
  • -5 Hide
    philiprudd , July 5, 2010 3:25 PM
    Nice for AMD again another month with a good lineup still unmatched in many price points but one that is bothering me is that you guys keep on showing the HD5870 is more powerful than a GTX470 but they look very close matched to me these last few weeks but with power and heat the HD cards is on there own with gr8 price/performance.

  • 6 Hide
    zooted , July 5, 2010 3:40 PM
    chriscusanoI thought the 5750 was dx10, not 11...

    All of the 5xxx series are dx11
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