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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: June 2010

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: June 2010
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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.

June Updates:

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.
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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    alikum , June 3, 2010 7:09 AM
    xurwinno gtx 465?

    Take a close look at intro
  • 11 Hide
    xc0mmiex , June 3, 2010 6:34 AM
    4850 & 4870 are still the kings of value, and it doesn't seem they are going away anytime soon
  • 11 Hide
    cobot , June 3, 2010 7:32 AM
    pinkfloydminnesotaHow on earth can you give an honorable mention to the 5970 when it's about equal to the Xfired 5850s and 20% more $$? Do you really believe single slot motherboards exist on any systems with $600 invested in graphics?


    Tom's always gives the currently fastest card an honorable mention because of the simple reason that it is...the fastest..
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    The_King , June 3, 2010 6:26 AM
    The best investment I made my 4870x2 and really if you own one why upgrade? Still awesome too bad there was not a 4890x2 !


  • 3 Hide
    enzo matrix , June 3, 2010 6:33 AM
    Still no reason to upgrade from a radeon 3870 to any new card below $100.
  • 11 Hide
    xc0mmiex , June 3, 2010 6:34 AM
    4850 & 4870 are still the kings of value, and it doesn't seem they are going away anytime soon
  • -4 Hide
    p1n3apqlexpr3ss , June 3, 2010 6:35 AM
    Kinda annoying reading the same blurb for all the cards each month....
    Monthly updates is the most interesting part, be interesting to see where the 5550 end up in a review performance wise compared to last gen cards
  • 3 Hide
    stickmans88 , June 3, 2010 6:51 AM
    Don't know about enzo matrix ,but I need to update my tri 3870... Any ideas with a $200 budget?
  • 12 Hide
    alikum , June 3, 2010 7:09 AM
    xurwinno gtx 465?

    Take a close look at intro
  • 9 Hide
    ta152h , June 3, 2010 7:25 AM
    pinkfloydminnesotaHow on earth can you give an honorable mention to the 5970 when it's about equal to the Xfired 5850s and 20% more $$? Do you really believe single slot motherboards exist on any systems with $600 invested in graphics?


    The performance isn't equal, and with very high end parts, the last few percent do tend to cost a lot more. But more to the point, if you have your 5850s cross-fired, that's as far as you go. If you have a one-slot solution, you still have possible expansion.

    Also consider the brain-damaged lga1156 platform. Many of the solutions use PCIe lanes from the processor for the USB 3.0. Even without that you'd be forced to use them with 8-lanes instead of 16, but with it you'd see some degradation either in USB or your video card.

    Also, some motherboards have PCIe 16 slots kind of close to each other, and the cooling can be an issue. One card allows for better airflow.

    So, there are good reasons for wanting the one card solution, some of which depend on the existing platform and configuration.
  • 3 Hide
    The_King , June 3, 2010 7:27 AM
    stickmans88Don't know about enzo matrix ,but I need to update my tri 3870... Any ideas with a $200 budget?


    You running three 3870s ? I think you maybe got a 3870x2 and and 3870 x-fire setup I don't think you going to get much of an improvement with the $200 budget since the 3870x2 has the similar performance to the 5830 which is $220.

    If your budget excludes selling the 3870's try selling them and going for a 5850
  • 11 Hide
    cobot , June 3, 2010 7:32 AM
    pinkfloydminnesotaHow on earth can you give an honorable mention to the 5970 when it's about equal to the Xfired 5850s and 20% more $$? Do you really believe single slot motherboards exist on any systems with $600 invested in graphics?


    Tom's always gives the currently fastest card an honorable mention because of the simple reason that it is...the fastest..
  • 6 Hide
    tharkis842 , June 3, 2010 8:25 AM
    Hm, i dunno. Prices are still too high to "upgrade" at this point. I don't see any reason to re-buy a card i already have with a couple extra features at a higher price point.
  • -1 Hide
    Onus , June 3, 2010 8:32 AM
    Quote:
    Dual Radeon HD 5750s in CrossFire make for a much more powerful option than a single Radeon HD 5830, if the buyer is willing to pay the extra money required for a CrossFire motherboard and a beefier power supply.

    Or, skip the bigger PSU, keep your microATX mobo, and use the money on the more powerful single HD5850.
  • 1 Hide
    fizzr , June 3, 2010 9:00 AM
    Well 5750s in CrossFire don't need any bigger PSU than for a single 5850. In the worst possible case the energy intake can be a max. 30watts higher during Furmark. They're more silent in 2D and use less energy. And for the mainboard these two are fine with just 8x PCIe lanes to work at their full potential.
  • 5 Hide
    mitch074 , June 3, 2010 9:01 AM
    Two years after it single-handedly swept the market, the 4850 is still a recommendation.

    Long term investment usually doesn't rhyme with It, but dang, is it reaching for the name of '440BX of GPUs'!

    (note: the 440BX, although limited in tech, was sold en masse for more than 3 years after it came out due to its unparalleled performance and incredible stability - even on a +70% overclock)
  • 4 Hide
    bebangs , June 3, 2010 9:08 AM
    err i guess gtx 260 and gtx275 has been removed.
    mostly ati are the winners in terms of value.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , June 3, 2010 9:12 AM
    Sad to see my secondary's HD4670 finally dropped off the list. Oh well, life goes on. I'll probably use it to test the low end on my upcoming mini-ITX build, then either get a HD5670 or HD5750 for it since it will probably be too weak for 1920x1080.
  • 6 Hide
    jgv115 , June 3, 2010 10:18 AM
    Haha!! I've had my 4850 for agesssssssssss now and it's still going strong! I can play most games at 1920x1080 maxed out (well not with full anti-aliasing but who needs that anyway?)

    4850 for the win!!!!!!!
  • 5 Hide
    guid_aaa000001 , June 3, 2010 11:46 AM
    Good timing for me. I am upgrading my Graphics card after 4 year, saving for months for a Radeon 5850. Finally buying this f#%k*!$ card.... :) 
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