Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

The Best Graphics Cards for the Money: May 08

The Best Graphics Cards for the Money: May 08
By

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.

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 available for the money.

April Review and May Updates:

Graphics card purchasers out there are the winners in the never-ending price war between ATI and Nvidia. Aggressive price drops keep coming, and graphics cards get cheaper. It’s hard to believe that a few months ago there were no high-end graphics cards under $200: now all of the new high end single-GPU graphics cards are below $200, except for the 8800 GTS and 9800 GTX.

Speaking of the 9800 GTX, it’s the new kid on the block, becoming available for purchase just in April. While its performance is impressive, the card is essentially an overclocked 8800 GTS 512MB: it’s slower than the old 8800 Ultra in many cases. At $290, it’s hard to recommend at this time, since the similar but slower clocked 8800 GTS 512MB can be purchased for $220, and two 9600 GTs in SLI can be had for as little as $300 (and will usually beat the pants off of it).

On the AGP side, the king-of-the-hill Radeon 3850 has taken a dramatic price drop to $175, and the 2600 XT can be had for just over $100 now. I have a feeling the days of AGP are soon coming to an end, as many of the cards previously available for the bus are vanishing completely.

On a final note, rumors abound that ATI’s next generation R700 based graphics cards are well on their way to making it to release this year. For its part, Nvidia is planning a counterattack with their own next generation parts soon after — and this is always good news for graphics and gaming enthusiasts!

Some notes about our recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • It 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 information, 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 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 it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
Display all 39 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 0 Hide
    jamesl , May 5, 2008 4:58 PM
    is this correct on page 3
    "The 8800 GS is essentially a crippled 8600 GT ...".
  • 0 Hide
    jamesl , May 5, 2008 5:05 PM
    oh, and the links at the bottom of page 7 are not really links, just plain text
    "PCI Express: (LINK TO NEW VGA CHARTS)"

    "GP: (LINK TO OLD AGP CHARTS)"
  • 1 Hide
    jerreece , May 5, 2008 5:06 PM
    I have to say, I love that you guys are updating this so often lately. Especially since the GPUs available from ATI and nVidia keep changing over the last few months.

    Kudos to Tom's for providing us updates on graphics cards so often. I love keeping tabs on what's the best buy, as one of these days I'll be upgrading my GPU again.
  • 1 Hide
    Sorbert , May 5, 2008 5:19 PM
    9600 gx2 might need an 8 instead of a 6 ;p
  • -4 Hide
    aleluja , May 5, 2008 5:24 PM
    What about this other card.
    Well i have a GeForce 4 MX4000 which is not on the list. Could you please add it so i know what place it takes between the other cards?
  • -1 Hide
    jonsnow13 , May 5, 2008 6:26 PM
    What about all the 3000 series cards not included on the list? Like the HD3400, etc? Or what about the 780G Crossfire configuration with onboard video? I mean, you're excluding SO many cards! You should also include where the DDR2 versions and the DDR3 versions lie (as in the HD3600). You could also include the performance on the chart when combining with the 780G. Please. :) 

    I'm really tempted to pick up a 70 dollar HD 3000 card and crossfire it with my 780 board but I wanna know if it's worth a damn.
  • 0 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , May 5, 2008 7:02 PM
    jonsnow13: The reason these cards are not on the list is because they are not "the best video cards for the money". There are literally dozens of cards (if not hundreds) still available for purchase today, and having a list comparing every one of them to each other is just not feasible, especially to be updated every month. To compare cards to each other on that sort of scale, you can use the hierchy chart on the last page of the article as a general guide, but this article is written just to show the best cards at each price range.

    For the other poster: the GeForce MX 4000 ranks way down the list, you'll notice it in the third-to-bottom tier of the hierchy. That card was not designed for gaming, regardless of what Wal-Mart advertised.
  • 1 Hide
    Katreat , May 5, 2008 9:11 PM
    Same complaint as last month, put SLI in a separate category!

    For a great many people the option of going SLI does not exist unless they are building new. You cover AGP for those people who are still using an AGP MB. You should cover single slot PCIe the same way. Saying put in two cards works just about as well as telling people with AGP to install a PCIe video card……… It does not work!

    Finally, I would like to mention that your SLI option fails to take into account the cost of setting up SLI in the first place which more than often makes it NOT THE BEST option for the price range you quote.

    “Spending more than $350 will provide very little extra in the way of performance. Two 8800 GTs will outperform the 9800 GTX or 9800 GX2 in the great majority of situations.”

    That is nice, but the fact remains I can put a 9800 GTX in my P35 MB for under $400. Right now the price on the cheapest 780i MB with similar features is about $75 more than my P35. The price of buying a 700w PSU instead of a 550w PSU is approximately $25 more. So, your best option for $350 is actually more like $450. Now, taking all that into account makes the 9800 GTX for under $400 starts to look like a pretty sweet deal.

    When the best option includes buying a new MB and PSU it quickly becomes no option at all. Please compare them as two different Interfaces because from a practical stand point they are.

    Kat
  • 0 Hide
    royalcrown , May 5, 2008 9:23 PM
    Quote:
    Same complaint as last month, put SLI in a separate category!

    For a great many people the option of going SLI does not exist unless they are building new. You cover AGP for those people who are still using an AGP MB. You should cover single slot PCIe the same way. Saying put in two cards works just about as well as telling people with AGP to install a PCIe video card……… It does not work!

    Finally, I would like to mention that your SLI option fails to take into account the cost of setting up SLI in the first place which more than often makes it NOT THE BEST option for the price range you quote.

    “Spending more than $350 will provide very little extra in the way of performance. Two 8800 GTs will outperform the 9800 GTX or 9800 GX2 in the great majority of situations.”

    That is nice, but the fact remains I can put a 9800 GTX in my P35 MB for under $400. Right now the price on the cheapest 780i MB with similar features is about $75 more than my P35. The price of buying a 700w PSU instead of a 550w PSU is approximately $25 more. So, your best option for $350 is actually more like $450. Now, taking all that into account makes the 9800 GTX for under $400 starts to look like a pretty sweet deal.

    When the best option includes buying a new MB and PSU it quickly becomes no option at all. Please compare them as two different Interfaces because from a practical stand point they are.

    Kat


    First off, no one is forcing you to buy a 780 series board, you could get a 6 or 5 series sli, or own one already, so your $75 dollar point is not necessarily valid.
  • 1 Hide
    KyleSTL , May 5, 2008 9:26 PM
    KatreatSame complaint as last month, put SLI in a separate category!
    ...
    Kat

    Ditto. Associated costs should be included in the overall decision. SLI motherboards are more expensive than mid-range (read: P35) motherboards!
  • 0 Hide
    shmuls , May 5, 2008 9:59 PM
    I agree with Katreat and KyleSTL! SLI's should be in a seperate section! People who don't have an SLI MoBo would have to spend another few $100 for a new motherboard minimum!! Not to mention the time and effort to re-setup their system. What about those of us with a single PCI-E slot that want to spend $250 on a new graphics card? do we have no other options than to start from scratch?
  • 0 Hide
    SEALBoy , May 5, 2008 11:47 PM
    jamesLis this correct on page 3"The 8800 GS is essentially a crippled 8600 GT ...".


    No, I'm positive it should read 8800 GT, for 8600 GT.
  • 0 Hide
    ThreatDown , May 6, 2008 12:09 AM
    aleluja, I hope you are not serious... every one of these cards is MAGNITUDES better than that thing.
  • 0 Hide
    lbwsandiego , May 6, 2008 12:15 AM
    The lack of 9800GTX on these charts is a bit disappointing, the review of the card on this very site site is over a month old now, and I've had this card in my new rig for over 2 weeks!

    Thanks for the effort guys.
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , May 6, 2008 12:20 AM
    Quote:
    The 8800 GS is essentially a crippled 8600 GT with a smaller 192-bit memory interface.


    8600GT..think it should be 9600GT.
  • 1 Hide
    johnbilicki , May 6, 2008 12:55 AM
    On page 3 it should be corrected that the 8800GS is a crippled *8800GT* since the bus is reduced from 256 to 192 bit.
  • 0 Hide
    KyleSTL , May 6, 2008 12:59 AM
    Quote:
    What about this other card.
    Well i have a GeForce 4 MX4000 which is not on the list. Could you please add it so i know what place it takes between the other cards?

    IIRC the MX4000 is the same as the MX400 on a AGP 8x bus, hope that helps, but I can't help but agree with everyone else that it truly does not belong on the list, unless Tom's comes out with a "Best [Old-School] Cards for the Money".
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , May 6, 2008 7:15 AM
    Wild98600GT..think it should be 9600GT.
    Nope, definitely 8800GT. The 8800GS is G92 whereas the 9600GT is G94.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , May 6, 2008 9:47 AM
    I can't help but to notice people comain about the mx4000 - despite what some people think, it's not all that horrible. I have serveral socket a system running here and there with mx4 based cards, and they still play anno 1701 & worms forts just fine. They're definetly no match for anything in the geforce 6 series or better, but they're still performing better than anything onboard short of the ati x200 or better.
    In short - for agp it's definetly worth upgrading from that s3 virge 3d or igp i815 chipset if you need - after all those cards can be had for free pretty much everywhere. (and I mean free)

    ps. as noted on the previous page - is it correct that the charts meant 9800gx2 and not 9600gx2 at the top of the list (never heard of a 9600gx2)
  • 0 Hide
    elbert , May 6, 2008 11:30 AM
    Page 2 has the 2600XT, 8600GT, and 1950 in a 3 way win but I would think the 3650 ddr2 at $80 would be the best bang for the buck. At $80 the 3650 ddr2 only loss a few frames off the 2600XT and some times wins against the 8600GT. This slight loss in frame rate will be over turned soon as DX10.1 due to those cards needing to up sample to match quality or suffer a picture quality loss however you see the 3650 ddr2's advantage of DX10.1. The price difference of $20 should make the 3650 ddr2 a winner. An increase of $20 would have these cards against near the same price as the 3850.
Display more comments