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.
May Review and June Updates:
Last month's big news was the launch and initially-great availability of the new Radeon HD 4770, which upped the ante of the $100 price point to notably higher levels of performance compared to what the Radeon HD 4830 and GeForce 9800 GT offer. While the Radeon HD 4770 was in stock when we wrote last month's article, its low price and great performance contributed to it quickly selling out, and inventory was low all month, making it difficult to find and purchase.
In May, there weren't any new graphics card launches of note, but we did get something almost as good: falling prices on a massive scale. In fact, we ended up removing the Radeon HD 4770 from our recommended list, not just because of poor availability, but because the Radeon HD 4850 512 MB can be had for as little as $105 online. If this weren't enough to shake things up, the 1 GB version of the Radeon HD 4850 can be found for as low as $130. This is a crippling blow to the GeForce camp, as the Radeon HD 4850's competition (the GeForce GTS 250) starts at $150 for both the 512 MB and 1 GB versions, oddly enough.
At these prices, Radeons show up as the best buys at most price ranges. There are still some compelling GeForce products, like the GeForce 9600 GSO and GeForce GTX 260, but prices for the GeForce GTS 250 ($45 more than a Radeon HD 4850 512 MB) and GeForce GTX 295 ($90 more than two Radeon HD 4890 cards in CrossFire mode) are going to have to come down to reasonable levels in order to take back a solid recommendation.
Because of these price changes, there has definitely been some shifting around on our recommended list, so have a look.
On a side note, I'd like you folks to know that due to forum requests, I will be adding Intel graphics solutions to the hierarchy chart, hopefully for next month's article. Stay tuned!
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.
- 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 mode, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a case with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card requires and will likely 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 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 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.