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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, 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 big news over the last month was, of course, the introduction of ATI's Radeon HD 4770. This new card's raw speed doesn't break any records, performing somewhere between the Radeon HD 4830/GeForce 9800 GT and Radeon HD 4850/GeForce GTS 250. The real story is that its price and performance levels make it a fantastic value. The card can be purchased for as low as $100, which is about the same price as the Radeon HD 4830/GeForce 9800 GT. The Radeon HD 4770 also outperforms these two cards. It even nips at the heels of the more expensive Radeon HD 4850 and GeForce GTS 250.
What allows AMD to generate profits at this price? It designed the Radeon HD 4770, which is based on a 40 nm process, so that it boasts the most efficient manufacturing technology associated with a graphics card to date. Its architecture is almost identical to its older brother, the Radeon HD 4830, sporting 640 shader processors and 16 raster-operation processors (ROPs). But at 750 MHz, the new card's core clock speed runs 175 MHz faster than its Radeon HD 4830 sibling and even 125 MHz faster than its big brother, the Radeon HD 4850. Because of this, it can calculate almost the same amount of shader instructions per second as the Radeon HD 4850 and even more raster operations per second.
To keep costs down (and probably to keep the Radeon HD 4770 from embarrassing its larger brothers), its memory bus was narrowed to 128-bits. But AMD didn't leave the card completely crippled in this respect, as the Radeon HD 4770 comes with new GDDR5 memory that doubles the usable bandwidth per clock, effectively negating the memory bus limitation (compared to a GDDR3 board, for instance). This is a smart move for a cost-effective part, keeping the GPU die simpler and cheaper to produce and guaranteeing it will get even cheaper to manufacture the card as the price of memory inevitably falls.
The bottom line is that the new Radeon HD 4770 is definitely on our recommended list this month, taking the place of the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT. At almost the same price, there isn't much of a contest. Two Radeon HD 4770s in CrossFire also take the $200 spot in the recommendations, beating out the Radeon HD 4890 for less money.
Editor's Note: ATI sent along the following statement regarding the availability of its Radeon HD 4770s. It indeed seems that the company is struggling to keep up with demand, which is based in large part to TSMC's 40nm yields:
"With TSMC’s current 40nm yields, AMD was able to deliver a significant quantity of high-quality 40nm GPUs to ensure a worldwide hard launch, with every region receiving a supply of ATI Radeon HD 4770 cards. Although initial demand was met, AMD couldn’t foresee the tremendous enthusiasm from the marketplace for the ATI Radeon HD 4770, and is currently working closely with TSMC on supply. In addition, we are working with our AIB partners to deliver a compelling solution in the same price band that will ensure supply long-term. Even today, many users are opting instead to purchase a higher-performance ATI Radeon HD 4850 card, whichis available at e-tailers worldwide starting around $100 or 99 EUR including VAT."
Otherwise, we've seen the usual price shifting here and there but nothing earth shattering. One thing we've noticed is that the GeForce GTX 295 cards are a little harder to find. Radeon HD 4890 prices seem to have dropped a little as well.
With the monthly updates out of the way, let's get to the recommendations, shall we?
A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list: