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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August 2010

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: August 2010

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:

The big news for July was the introduction of the GeForce GTX 460, a card that gives Nvidia its first Fermi-based home run. The new GeForce not only performs, but does it with reasonably-low power usage, low heat, and low noise--all at a competitive $200 price point.

There are two GeForce GTX 460 cards based on the new GF104 GPU, a 768 MB and 1 GB model. But they are differentiated by more than just the amount of onboard RAM. The GeForce GTX 460 1 GB comes with a full 256-bit memory interface and 32 ROPs, while the 768 MB flavor has a 192-bit memory interface and 24 ROPs. Aside from this, both cards sport the same 336 CUDA cores, the same 56 texture units, and the same 675 MHz / 1350 MHz / 900 MHz core/shader/GDDR5 memory speeds, respectively. The net result is a new model of card that often beats the recently-introduced GeForce GTX 465 at a lower price point. In fact, this is the first time in recent memory that Nvidia has successfully put some real pressure on a competing Radeon model, and as a result the Radeon HD 5830 has been forced to join the GeForce GTX 460 at $200 (right where we originally said it belongs).

Nvidia follows up the successful GeForce GTX 460 introduction with some price drops across the rest of the GeForce GTX 400-series. The GeForce GTX 470 can now be had for as low as $300. This is exactly where it needs to be to deliver real competition for the $290 Radeon HD 5850, and takes its place on our recommended list. The GeForce GTX 480 can also be had for $460 now, and that's a much more reasonable price for this card. Ironically, it remains hard to recommend now that you can buy a pair of GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards in SLI for the same price--a combination that will beat a GeForce GTX 480 without much trouble. Performance like that makes us wonder how a card with two fully-functional GF104 GPUs would perform, especially since the GF104 in the GeForce GTX 460 has been crippled, down from 384 viable CUDA cores.

Aside from this news, we expect to see retail availability of the new Radeon HD 5570 outfitted with GDDR5 RAM in the near future. This combo could cause a lot of heads to turn in the sub-$100 graphics card market if it's priced appropriately. We also can't help but wonder when the mid-range Fermi derivatives will arrive, especially after seeing what the GeForce GTX 460 can do.

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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  • 6 Hide
    BallistaMan , August 10, 2010 6:09 AM
    The chart at the end puts the 460 a bit low doesn't it? It benches at 285+ levels, leastways the 1GB one does (and ~260 SLI). Perhaps split the two up? 1GB gets bumped up one level and the 768 stays down a bit?

    Although without OCing it doesn't quite match a 5850 sooo...
  • -8 Hide
    techguy378 , August 10, 2010 6:17 AM
    If you don't need DX 11 support then the ATI Radeon 4770 is the best value. The Radeon 4770 is a budget graphics card only by its price tag, not by its performance. I've yet to find a DX 9 or 10 game that isn't playable at 1920x1080 resolution (single display) with 8x AA, and 16X AF. Clearly the numbers on the benchmarks don't tell the entire story. If ATI did as good of a job with the Radeon 5750 then there's probably no reason to spend more than $150 on a graphics card if you only use a single display.
  • 8 Hide
    mitch074 , August 10, 2010 6:32 AM
    @techguy378: since the 4850 costs pretty much the same as the 4770 but is, in most cases, a bit to quite more powerful, then no, the 4770 is not that good a deal. Not that it's BAD, mind you, it's just not the best deal.

    Well, my 4850 is no longer on the list: I have the 512 Mb version, and now only the 1 Gb version is recommended. I don't mind, 3 years as a recommendation is good enough.
  • 9 Hide
    theshonen8899 , August 10, 2010 6:35 AM
    fafkacwhere did ATI Radeon 5850 go o.O

    Yeah...I think the ~$280 5850 doesn't deserve to be kicked off the list guys. Did you forget to add it in?
  • 2 Hide
    andrewcutter , August 10, 2010 6:47 AM
    theshonen8899Yeah...I think the ~$280 5850 doesn't deserve to be kicked off the list guys. Did you forget to add it in?

    perhaps the falling price of 470 along with driver improvement
  • -8 Hide
    firedust , August 10, 2010 6:51 AM
    I appreciate these guides as much as the next guy, but you shouldn't assume that everyone buys from newegg. I personally buy from the local fry's electronics and the sub-90 gpu prices claimed here are way different.
  • 7 Hide
    Mark Heath , August 10, 2010 6:53 AM
    A great read as always :) 

    Thanks for including the Intel CPU graphics on the hierarchy chart.
  • -3 Hide
    SevenSacredSins , August 10, 2010 7:31 AM
    How is the 5870 on the same level as the 4850 x 2, using 9.1 drivers or something a 5850 was faster then that I think. 5870 easily compares to the 4870x2 and with the newest drivers it should be faster.
  • -2 Hide
    aznshinobi , August 10, 2010 7:46 AM
    Hmmm... I think the 5850 actually should be on the list as a 280$ card. The HIS iCooler V on newegg is near only 280$. Plus, it's temperature and overclock ability is much better than the 470. Since you can actually OC the 5850 to the point of a 5870. Plus the 470 is FREEAAKING ON FIRE. Well it's just that it runs very hot.
  • -4 Hide
    arcus_doom , August 10, 2010 8:13 AM
    Yay GTX 460!
  • -8 Hide
    Anonymous , August 10, 2010 8:19 AM
    but nVIDIA 460GTX 768 MB in sli better than ATI 5870 at the same price (400$)
  • 8 Hide
    TheStealthyOne , August 10, 2010 8:30 AM
    Competitors innovate and try to attract customers...

    Consumer wins!
  • 5 Hide
    ikaroh , August 10, 2010 9:12 AM
    "But not even the new GeForce GTX 460 can cop an easy win compared to the cheaper Radeon HD 5570."

    Is this a typo? You meant the Radeon HD 5770, right?
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , August 10, 2010 9:33 AM
    I wish I could remember where I read the benchmarks, but it looked like Intel's new HD graphics were in many cases slightly ahead of the AMD HD4200 and even HD3300 IGPs. I'll try to find it, although I'm getting ready for work now.
  • 2 Hide
    bearracuda , August 10, 2010 10:33 AM
    firedustI appreciate these guides as much as the next guy, but you shouldn't assume that everyone buys from newegg. I personally buy from the local fry's electronics and the sub-90 gpu prices claimed here are way different.

    ... Why wouldn't you buy from newegg? From my experience, newegg charges 30% less on computer parts than any brick and mortar store. If not cheaper.
  • -2 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , August 10, 2010 11:18 AM
    newegg doesnt ship internationally as far as i know. if they did the cost of shipping would outweigh thte difference. I dont like buying online either, i prefer if i have a problem with the card, to take it back to a store. HD4xxx series should not even be included in this list, they dont even sell that old tech where I live anymore.
  • 0 Hide
    theguyisback23 , August 10, 2010 11:48 AM
    oh my god! i have the ati radeon 4670 1gb from msi GDDR3 i have it 2 years and i still find the 4650 in the list of best buys here!
    im happy i didn;t throw much dollars and i have a good VGA than im happy to play with!
    here's what the specs are from gpuz!
    55nm process gpu clock 750mhz memory 873 mhz
    bandwidth 27.9 GB/s shaders 320 and all this for just 55 euros(72 dollars)
  • 5 Hide
    Tamz_msc , August 10, 2010 11:53 AM
    The 5850 is perhaps not here because the GTX 470 gives much better performance for a few bucks more.
  • 0 Hide
    Aditya nayyar , August 10, 2010 12:32 PM
    I think Raedon hd 5850 will be the best choice intihis range of buget
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