May saw the introduction of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 465 and AMD's Radeon HD 5550. It may come as a bit of a surprise which of these cards has more potential to impress at its respective price point. We'll tell you more in this month's Best Graphics column!
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.
The end of May gave us a couple of new graphics card models: one from Nvidia and one from AMD. These are very different cards marketed at very different price points. Let's start with the GeForce GTX 465.
Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 465 is a GF100 (Fermi)-based card, essentially a crippled GeForce GTX 470. While the GeForce GTX 480 boasts 480 CUDA cores and the GeForce GTX 470 sports 448, the new GeForce GTX 465 has 352 cores. Couple this with 44 texture units and 32 raster operations per clock, and the new GeForce card clearly isn't going to be faster than either of the other GF100-based boards. But it does have the potential to be a strong card at the right price.
The GeForce GTX 465 performs in the same ballpark as the GeForce GTX 275 and Radeon HD 5830, but with a $280 price tag, it's way too close to the Radeon HD 5850. Because of this, the GeForce GTX 465 won't get our recommendation until the price drops to more competitive levels. These cards are available at retail, and you can read more about the new GeForce in our review here.
AMD has a new low-end part that could have the chops to game at lower resolutions and with reduced detail settings. The Radeon HD 5550 was stealth-launched in May with no fanfare whatsoever, but the cards are already available. According to AMD's Web site, the Radeon HD 5550 sports 320 shader units, 16 texture units, and eight ROPs. Based on this, performance should be similar to the older Radeon HD 4650/4670, although the new card has half the texture units and this will slow things down. On the other hand, some new models can already be found online at $65 with decent DDR3 memory, and PowerColor has announced a GDDR5 version with twice the bandwidth. It's too early to hand a recommendation out; we need to get our hands on this board first. But the discovery of the 5550 on AMD's site definitely calls for further investigation. We'll be reviewing the new Radeon HD 5550 as soon as possible.
Aside from these two launches, there wasn't much happening in May except for the usual price movements, the most notable being the Radeon HD 5830, which dropped to as little as $220 online, and can be found even cheaper with rebates. At its $240 launch price, the Radeon HD 5830 was priced too close to the Radeon HD 5850, but as it approaches $200, it becomes a much more attractive option.
Elsewhere, the $80 GeForce 9800 GTs seem to have dried up, and we eagerly hope that they return (or that Nvidia will give us a similarly-priced card based on the new Fermi architecture in the near future).
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.