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.
Competition is driving prices down like mad. And as a result, we're seeing value like never before. The GeForce GTX 460 768 MB and Radeon HD 5830 are bringing their battle below $200, all the way down to $175. The GeForce GTX 470 at just under $300 has pushed the Radeon HD 5850 down to $260. Even the Radeon HD 5970 can be found for $600 or even less, delivering a good price/performance value for the first time in the product's existence.
It's very good to see Nvidia commit to competitive pricing after such a long wait for the GeForce GTX 400-series' introduction, and there's little doubt whether or not there is a battle going on now. We're at a loss to understand why the strategy has changed so suddenly, but we're sure glad it did. With the introduction of the new GeForce GTS 450, Nvidia has strong competition from $100 and up--with the exception of a direct answer to the Radeon HD 5770. The sub-$100 market seems to be a relatively weak suit for GeForce competition, but the price margins between products here is so slim that its difficult to crown solid winners and a $10 difference can make or break a recommendation. The GeForce 9800 GT and GT 240 could do the job if the prices were a little lower, but perhaps the company has decided the slim margins aren't worth a vicious fight in this space.
As Nvidia fills the ranks with more Fermi-based cards, we can't help but recall Dirk Meyer's previous statement in AMD's Q2'10 earnings call, claiming, "We remain on track to bolster our GPU leadership with the introduction of our second-generation DX11 graphics products later this year." If the next-generation Radeons are coming, we would expect them to arrive in ample time for the holiday season. But while rumors abound, there has been no official word from the company exactly when these next gen products will be released. We anticipate that the upcoming Radeon cards will likely be a speed bump that heavily leverages existing Radeon HD 5000-series architecture, but we won't know anything for sure until the company provides information not under embargo (Ed.: *wink wink*).
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.