This month's big news is AMD's Radeon HD 7950, a £350 model that matches pace with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 580. We'll give you the skinny on this latest 7900-series introduction, models that are becoming harder to find, and a couple of upcoming models, too.
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.
The end of January saw AMD launch its Radeon HD 7950, a de-tuned Radeon HD 7970 able to match pace with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 580. Its Tahiti Pro GPU is a cut-back version of the Radeon HD 7970's Tahiti XT, reduced from 2048 to 1792 shader cores and 128 to 112 texture units. Meanwhile, the core clock drops to 800 MHz, while the card's 3 GB of GDDR5 memory operates at 1250 MHz.
Fortunately, the card retains its 384-bit memory bus and complete back-end configuration (with 32 ROPs). As a result, performance is pretty impressive at the £350 price we're seeing online. We've already seen GeForce GTX 580s as low as £390, after rebates. So, we might be at the verge of a price war in the high-end space.
We're sad to see (and say) that the Radeon HD 5500 and 5600 cards are just about gone at retail. As a result, the Radeon HD 6670 DDR3 takes the place of the GDDR5-equipped Radeon HD 5670 for £60-£70 in our recommendations. We're actually losing performance per dollar at that price. While the 6670's GPU is a tad faster, its memory bandwidth gets more than cut in half. And that's why the Radeon HD 5670 is preferable. Hopefully, the GDDR5-equipped Radeon HD 6670's price drops. But without compelling competition from Nvidia in this segment, AMD doesn't have much of a reason to sell its card for less.
Another great product is starting to become much more scarce: Nvidia's 256-bit GeForce GTX 460 1 GB card, which Nvidia's partners are quietly supplementing with a 1 GB, 192-bit version. In essence, that's the old 768 MB model with a little more memory, but the same crippled bus and fewer ROPs. The consequence of this is a performance profile that's similar to the ~£110 Radeon HD 6790. Because Nvidia is trying to sell this board for a higher price, we aren't going to recommend it. Pay close attention to specifications, folks. This isn't the same speed demon we recommended back in Nvidia GeForce GTX 460: The Fermi We Were Waiting For.
How about rumors? It's no secret that AMD is expected to roll out more Radeon HD 7000-series products in the weeks to come. We did, however, report on a leaked presentation slide that suggests we'll see the upcoming Radeon HD 7750/7770 on February 15th, the 7850/7870 in March, and the dual-GPU Radeon HD 7970 soon after that. The word on the street is that we might also see Nvidia's first Kepler-based part as early as this month, too. Exciting developments ahead, it's a great time to be a graphics enthusiast!
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./UK 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.