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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: February '10

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: February '10
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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, then 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.

January Review and February Updates:

January saw the introduction of the Radeon HD 5670, an interesting low-to-mid-range card that's almost as fast as the GeForce 9800 GT, yet blessed with all of the new Radeon 5000-series features: DirectX 11 compatibility, Eyefinity triple-display outputs, and low power usage. Available at $95, the worst thing about this new card is that another card from the previous generation, the Radeon HD 4850, sits at about the same price, but kicks out a lot more power from a gaming standpoint. Because of this, the Radeon HD 5670 doesn't get our recommendation, despite its potential.

In early February, we were introduced to two other Radeon HD 5000-series cards, the 5450 and 5570. The Radeon HD 5450 is a low-end graphics card not intended for more than casual gaming. However, the Radeon HD 5570 does have a bit more potential. It is essentially a DDR3 version of the Radeon HD 5670 with a lower core clock rate. Performance is slightly higher than the Radeon HD 4670, but at $80, the 5570 evades our recommendation with a price too close to the better-performing GeForce 9600 GT.

As far as other news, the new Radeons continue to drop in price, bit by bit. The most significant cut has occurred on the Radeon HD 5850 cards, which can now be found at $290. This is the original price this model was supposed to bear at launch, but low availability prevented it. With production issues seemingly worked out and the price stably below $300, the Radeon HD 5850 goes from honorable mention to a full-fledged recommendation. In addition, the mid-range Radeon HD 5700-series cards have dropped a few dollars as well. With the 1GB Radeon HD 5750 now commonly found at $135, it now takes a solid recommendation away from the 1GB Radeon HD 4850 and GeForce GTS 250 models.

On the negative side, ATI's Radeon HD 4890 is suddenly a lot harder to find. This is unfortunate for the company, as its disappearance leaves a significant hole between the ~$155 Radeon HD 5770 and the $290 Radeon HD 5850. We've heard rumors that AMD plans to fill this gap with a stopgap product, perhaps a de-tuned Radeon HD 5850 called the 5830, but we don't have anything concrete from AMD yet.

As always in the graphics world, the biggest changes are just beyond the horizon. Nvidia has released details about its imminent 'Fermi' GF100 architecture, and although we haven't seen anything in the way of finalized hardware or benchmarks its potential certainly inspires a strong impression.

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. We've added a reference page at the end of the column covering integrated graphics processors, which is likely more apropos.
  • 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, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire or SLI and a chassis with more space to install multiple graphics cards. They also require a beefier power supply compared to what a single card needs, and will almost certainly 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 base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices from our PriceGrabber engine, for your reference.
  • 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.
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  • 8 Hide
    mi1ez , 10 February 2010 14:35
    Blimey!

    AMD are pwning this month!
  • 0 Hide
    Peltz , 10 February 2010 15:55
    And the 9600GT which has had probably somekind of record in broken units sold made it into the chart, how ironic.
  • 0 Hide
    donovands , 10 February 2010 19:53
    Where do Crossfired 5770's land in performance I wonder? Equal or greater than a 5850?
  • 3 Hide
    Redsnake77 , 10 February 2010 20:46
    Come on when are are going to start adding dual and tri sli and crossfire comparisons?
  • 1 Hide
    aztec_scribe , 10 February 2010 22:29
    @Peltz, that's not what ironic means...

    Nvidia really need to get their new range out, this is ridiculous. Here's me with a dodge 780i board that refuses to recognise AMD cards, how frustrating!!
  • 0 Hide
    schwizer , 11 February 2010 00:14
    For ~$400, wouldn't two 5770's not only perform better than two 4890's (as per graphics card charts for 3dmark)? They would also cost less as two 5770's can be had for less than $350 and i can only guess that they would consume considerably less power than two 4890's which could probably save you money by going with a smaller power supply. Not to mention the system would be considerably quieter and have DX11 along with 6 monitor support...

    Enlighten me
  • 0 Hide
    schwizer , 11 February 2010 00:26
    Or is the ~400 supposed to be ~300, in which case there is a point. Altough i think the low availability of 4890's and the high availability of 5770's should be taken into account.
  • 3 Hide
    Pailin , 11 February 2010 05:30
    The mobile parts are in this months hierarchy ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    shel0319 , 11 February 2010 13:46
    It would be really nice to see this chart with a few of the cards in dual configurations, i don't think tri (fire/sli) should be on because it would make the chart to complicated... Maybe create an extra column with the dual configurations.... Just a thought...
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , 11 February 2010 18:01
    this chart really could do with adding in a column for the best low profile cards
  • -5 Hide
    shel0319 , 11 February 2010 19:05
    Do you seriously think toms readers (especially this section) are interested in "low profile cards"...... Maybe the HTPC people but i doubt they even care as these days anything will run an HD movie...... But I do agree with you with one thing a lot more needs to be added to these charts as currently they are quite limited.
  • 1 Hide
    ignoramus , 11 February 2010 21:01
    In the absence of similarly good sites for non-gamers (please show me I'm wrong), some of us are interested in low power and multi-head hi-resolution graphics without needing the rendering speed. Advice anyone?
  • 4 Hide
    wild9 , 12 February 2010 00:41
    Good review. Would be lost without this info :) 
  • 0 Hide
    shel0319 , 12 February 2010 17:53
    I did not mean it to sound as if TOMS is not for non-gamers, not at all... I can hear you know what you talking about so obviously you would have a card in mind and then compare it on a chart like this so i see what u mean...I do get your point as i said previously for all intensive purposes the "chart is quite limited"... I would also love to see the Quadro & FirePro cards on the list but it simply wouldn't work as there is no real way of comparing those cards to the cards currently on the chart so a new chart needs to be made... Similarly the low profile cards will need to be compared to these cards and TOMS will most likely do that with the same benchmarks used for the current chart (Which i presume is mostly gaming benchmarks) which requires rendering speed - so the chart would show false performance values for the purposes you stated... Thus a new chart needs to be made for those types of cards as well...
  • 0 Hide
    Soulmachiklamo , 12 February 2010 18:53
    HD5850 is a bang for the buck. But the 5870 isn't.
    Although its great, its like 1/3, 1/2 more expensive for only 200 extra shader processors and higher clocks?
    I'm still a fan of it anyway, because those shader processors do make a difference. But for THAT price? :s
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 16 February 2010 20:23
    I just got a Medion PC with a discrete Nvidia GT330 (http://www.nvidia.com/object/product_geforce_gt_330_us.html). Maybe this card should be included in the comparison.

    Anyways - thanks a lot for a great gfx card overview.
  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , 17 February 2010 00:53
    I don't believe the GT330 is available to consumers though...
  • 0 Hide
    robbie106gti , 17 February 2010 18:54
    i do think you should mention that the gt9600 needs an an extra power connection and the gt240 does not. so for this price point of view people with an older system and not a lot of juice are better of with the gt240.
  • 0 Hide
    bnot , 20 February 2010 04:05
    It looks like the HD 5830 is real (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sapphire-HD5830-GDDR5-Graphics-Card/dp/B0036DD4DI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1266617015&sr=8-1), at £170 it looks great!

    sorry if the link breaks any rules ;)  ...
  • 1 Hide
    Nintendork , 20 February 2010 11:32
    I think the put the 9600GT out of pity. Even with the GT240 is oblitarated by the new HD5670 (power consumption, eyefinity support, etc).