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Tom's Graphics Card Guide: 32 Mid-Range Cards Benchmarked

Picking The Right Graphics Card

We always hear that today's hardware offers more value for your dollar than anything seen previously. It's a claim so overused as to be a complete cliché. But it's true. Technology keeps getting faster, but prices remain relative what the market will bear for every tier of performance. With that in mind, how do you choose the right product in a sea of offerings that are faster, yes, but also so similar to each other? Clearly, the answer is to line up as many of them as possible and compare their performance, noise, power use, and features.

Which type of card will you want? Custom board designs with premium components are often superior in terms of performance and they are sometimes quieter, but does it make sense to spend significantly more money on them? Think about it this way: would you rather pay extra for a mainstream card heavily overclocked from the factory, or would you rather spend that cash on a boring old reference board based on a higher-end graphics processor? 

This process is almost like buying a car (on a much smaller scale, of course). The vehicle should be quiet and comfortable, fast enough, efficient, good-looking, and it should cost as little as possible. Right of the bat, we can say that there is no such ideal machine. High-end cards tend to generate the most heat and low-power models can’t make true gamers happy. Therefore, we decided to create a few categories to assist those of you who want to go for a new graphics card soon.

We split the test bed into the following segments:

  • Performance champions
  • Masters of efficiency
  • Low-noise cards

Our tests don’t only include retail graphics card products; we decided to also include reference cards of each of the tested models, such as AMD’s Radeon HD 6790, 6850, 6870, 6950 and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 550 Ti, 560, and 560 Ti. These reference cards are not included in our recommendations and conclusion, but they serve as a yardstick for the comparative evaluation of individual products.