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.