When It Comes To Graphics, $100 Goes A Long Way
I want to start by issuing a bit of guidance to budget-driven gamers: if there are DDR3- and GDDR5-based versions of a given card available, always snag the board with GDDR5 memory. In pretty much every case, you'll get a ton more memory bandwidth, which is a limited resource in the sub-$100 space, especially as you increase resolution. The reason I say anything at all is because there are Radeon HD 7750 and R7 250 cards with DDR3, and you want to avoid them completely.
Before we formulate our conclusions, take a look at game performance in the following chart. The red bar denotes our measurements at low-detail settings, while the black bar indicates what we saw at more demanding presets and 1920x1080. Everything is relative to the Radeon HD 6670 DDR3.
How about the recently-introduced Radeon R7 240? With performance a few points higher than the Radeon HD 6670 DDR3 at playable low detail settings, and a price that averages a bit lower, AMD's latest looks better than we assumed it would based on specifications alone. It's actually surprisingly nimble for a board with only 320 shaders. Paying around $70 seems acceptable, though we wish it were a few bucks cheaper to stand out more prominently from Nvidia's superior GeForce GT 640.
We're more impressed with the Radeon R7 250. Its 200 MHz core clock advantage really distinguishes it from the Radeon HD 6670 GDDR5 and 7730 GDDR5, approaching the performance of AMD's Radeon HD 7750. Does that make it a great buy? It's hard to say; this is where the market gets a little complicated. Boards priced under $100 can change prices quickly. For example, the average cost of a Radeon HD 7750 and 7770 is up about $10 since I started writing this piece. Additionally, we know that the Radeon R7 260 is about to surface for roughly $110. And last, we anticipate the Radeon HD 6670, 7750, and 7770 disappearing soon to make way for the R7 240, 250, and 260.
The more important point to make is that AMD's Radeon HD 7770 is very fast for the $100 it's still selling for. It never dropped below 30 FPS, even in our higher-detail 1920x1080 testing. Given the relatively tame premium, does it make sense to spend $90 or even $70 for a significantly slower card? Our chart suggests not.
Then again, a low-cost Radeon R7 240 manages playable performance at 1920x1080 in some games, so long as you're willing to except the lowest-quality settings available. That doesn't mean a modern game is going to look bad, per se. A lot of these titles actually look pretty good. And it's significant that at 1280x720, a resolution even the Xbox One is forced to contend with on occasion, all of the games we tested are playable on the Radeon R7 240.
At the end of the day, though, the existence of a $100 Radeon HD 7770 makes it extremely hard to recommend any alternative under it, since performance drops much faster than price. Until the 7770 disappears, giving way to the more expensive Radeon R7 260, we have to endorse it above everything else. And if price is your number-one priority, the Radeon R7 240 is as low as you should consider going. Every $10 you spend beyond that card's price should yield more than your money's worth in average performance.