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 offered for the money.
A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list include:
- 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 change on a daily basis. We can't offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing info, 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 if shopping 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.
April Review And March Updates
By far the biggest news in the graphics card industry this past month was the introduction of the DirectX 10 midrange cards from Nvidia, the Geforce 8500 and 8600 series. Let's take a quick look at each of these new cards and their places in the market, to see if they're good cards for the money.
Let's start with the Geforce 8600 GTS. This card is a decent performer, but it's still overpriced right now, in the $190 to $240 range. The X1950 PRO performs very closely to the 8600 GTS, often beating it out at higher resolutions or with antialiasing enabled, but can be found for as low as $155.
On the higher side of the scale, the X1950 XT will pretty much always beat the 8600 GTS, and can be bought for as little as $200 online! The 8600 GTS does have some unique features, like DirectX 10 compatibility and great HD graphics acceleration. Unfortunately, with no DirectX 10 games on the market, and no way to know how the 8600 GTS will perform relative to current DirectX 9 cards when they arrive, the 8600 GTS is a very tough sell. The bottom line here is that the Geforce 8600 GTS won't be a recommended buy until the price is lowered to be competitive with that of the X1950 PRO. The only time I'd recommend the 8600 GTS is perhaps for people who would like good graphics hardware acceleration for Blu-Ray and HD DVD disks, and who also game a bit.
Now let's examine the Geforce 8600 GT, which falls in the $150 to $170 price range. Like its GTS brother, it's a decent performer - and also like its GTS brother, it's priced too high to be recommended. With only slightly better performance than the 7600 GT and X1650 XT - both of which can be bought for about $100 online - the 8500 GT is a bit tough to justify. In addition, the X1950 PRO is priced similarly to the 8600 GT, and offers much greater gaming performance for the dollar.
Finally, let's look at the budget DirectX 10 card: the 8500 GT. At first glance, the price seems right at a low $100, but we must also look at performance. With a graphics processor about half as powerful as that in the 8600 GT, the 8500 GT performs on par with the age-old Geforce 6600 GT - not encouraging.
At $100, the 8500 GT's opponents are the X1650 XT and 7600 GT, both of which beat it by leaps and bounds. The 8500 GT is a bit of a disappointment when it comes to gaming, and it's so underpowered that I doubt it will be able to fare any better when DirectX 10 titles come along.
The world waits for the upcoming Radeon HD series and Geforce 8800 Ultra launches, but for today's gamers the best cards that can be bought for the money are the ones that have been available for some time now. Some of the prices have changed though, so pay attention as we go forward.
Check the The Best Gaming Graphics Cards for the Money Series Overview for more articles in this series.