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.

  • yukijin
    This confirms that the 560 ti belongs in TH best graphics cards for the money ( they werent recommomended the past 2 months)
  • Inf3rn0_44
    560ti is an amazing card for the money
  • KrazerSK
    arent the 6950s in this price range also? there are 2gb ones going for $250
  • whysobluepandabear
    You have a 560 Ti eVGA Superclock for $215~ after rebate on Newegg. Then you have the 6870 from a few various brands for about $169~ after rebate.

    Is the TI worth another 40+ dollars?
  • dco
    In every benchmark its the souped up overclocked versions of the GTX 560 Ti that are on top.

    The standard Geforce GTX 560 Ti is still getting beaten by the standard Radeon 6950
  • SteelCity1981
    The GeForce GTX 550Ti wiould be a bargin if nvidia put the price below 100 dollars in which it should be considering it's performance doesn't justify the extra 30 or 40 dollars.
  • Zero_
    Yup, considering its performance, the GTX550Ti should have replaced the GTS450 price point, which was $110. Since the GTX550Ti was included here, I would have liked to see where the cheaper HD5770/6770 would have placed, probably higher than the GTX550Ti.

    Also, can you guys do a story on how some classic cards match up to modern games? Stuff like 8800GTX's and 2900XT's which used to cost an arm and leg back in the day. Would be cool to see how the fare today.
  • fictionforthetame
    No aftermarket 6950? Those 560ti cards that are topping the benchmarks are a good $40-$60 more expensive than a stock 6950 here in Oz. I think you should have included an OC'd 6950 (like the Gigabyte) which is still $20 cheaper than those ti's to make this a bit more interesting.
  • Lobodomy
    Gah, just as I was about to go to bed an interesting review come out... I'll keep it open to read first thing in the morning!
  • scrumworks
    Geforces dominate benchmarks because we have used 10 variants of overclocked 560Ti cards against stock clocked few Radeons (6950) here and there. And also, we don't show which drivers and control panel settings we have used because that would reveal our trickery. Why is Tom always hating AMD/ATI?