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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March 2012

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March 2012

This month's update covers AMD's new Radeons HD 7750, 7770, 7850, and 7870 graphics cards, along with the disappearing Radeon HD 6950 and 6970. Plus, we consider the value of Nvidia's GeForce GT 440 GDDR5 now that the Radeon HD 5670 is unavailable.

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.

March Updates:

Graphics enthusiasts almost certainly weren't surprised by the AMD Radeon HD 7700 (Cape Verde) and Radeon HD 7800 (Pitcairn) launches over the past month. The GPUs at the heart of both families are different. However, they're both manufactured on TSMC's 28 nm process and constructed using the same Graphics Core Next architecture as AMD's Radeon HD 7900 series.

Let's start by discussing the more mainstream product line, Radeon HD 7700.

Cape Verde Becomes Radeon HD 7700

The Cape Verde GPU powers AMD's Radeon HD 7750 and 7770 cards. The £120 Radeon HD 7770 sports 640 shaders, 40 texture units, and 16 full-color ROPs. Its core clock rate is 1 GHz, and its 1 GB of GDDR5 memory runs at 1125 MHz on an aggregate 128-bit bus. AMD rates the card with an 80 W TDP, requiring a single six-pin auxiliary power connector. Performance can be difficult to categorize. In some cases, the 7770 is as fast as a £120 Radeon HD 6850. In others, it's as slow as the £80 Radeon HD 6770. AMD's GCN architecture seems to serve up better performance in DirectX 11-based titles, impressing less in older games. In any case, the Radeon HD 7770 costs too much compared to its still-available predecessors, and we aren't yet ready to recommend this card. If you're looking for a fast card that only requires one six-pin power plug, this is a viable option.

The £80 Radeon HD 7750 is a cut-down version of the 7770. It features 512 shaders and 32 texture units, but shares the same 128-bit memory interface and 16 ROPs. Although its 800 MHz clock is lower than the 7770's 1 GHz, 1 GB of GDDR5 at 1125 MHz is similar. Again, performance is inconsistent compared to the £80 Radeon HD 6770. But, without a doubt, this is the fastest reference card we've ever seen that doesn't require an auxiliary power connector. Instead, a single PCI Express x16 slot is more than capable of satisfying the card's 55 W power ceiling. For this reason, the Radeon HD 7750 deserves an honorable mention for serving up decent gaming performance in low-power environments, from HTPCs to entry-level desktops with weak power supplies. Read more about these cards in AMD Radeon HD 7770 And 7750 Review: Familiar Speed, Less Power.

Pitcairn Becomes Radeon HD 7800

Radeon HD 7850 and 7870 are both driven by AMD's Pitcairn GPU, though each features a unique configuration. The Radeon HD 7870, which AMD claims will cost £260 when it becomes available, employs 1280 shaders, 80 texture units, and 32 full-color ROPs. Like the Radeon HD 7770, this card's core runs at 1 GHz. Its 2 GB of memory operates at 1200 MHz on an aggregate 256-bit bus. And the card requires two six-pin auxiliary connectors, satisfying a 175 W TDP.

The good news is that this board is generally able to outpace AMD's Radeon HD 6970, rated at up to 250 W, and is often able to nip at the heels of GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 7950. At its expected price point, the Radeon HD 7870 could very well win a recommendation from us in the future. But because it was paper-launched, and still isn't available, we can't yet confirm its price. Hopefully, though, as soon as next week, we should start seeing cards show up on shelves (along with the Radeon HD 7850).

Speaking of that second 7800-series offering, AMD says it'll sell for £190. Its somewhat-neutered GPU boasts 1024 shaders, 64 texture units, and an 860 MHz core clock. The back-end goes unmodified, though, and is armed with 2 GB of GDDR5 running at 1200 MHz on an aggregate 256-bit bus. A relatively low 130 W TDP means you only need to connect one six-pin power lead, despite the fact that AMD's Radeon HD 7850 contends with the Radeon HD 6970 and GeForce GTX 570. This is another card that could earn a recommendation once we see solid evidence of its availability at AMD's recommended price point. Read more about these two cards in AMD Radeon HD 7870 And 7850 Review: Pitcairn Gets Benchmarked.

Other News

Some cards come, and other cards go. The Cayman-based Radeon HD 6970 and 6950 are at the end of their lives, and are quickly disappearing to make room for the Radeon HD 7800 series. The Barts-based Radeon 6870, 6850, and 6790 cards are also harder to find. They're no longer in production, and won't be enjoying an uptick in availability any time soon.

Nvidia is fairly quiet ahead of its anticipated GK104 GPU launch, although stock of the GeForce GT 440 GDDR5 seems to be thinning out. This is a shame, since it's more of a viable option now than ever before. AMD's Radeon HD 5670 is gone, and the 6670 DDR3 takes its place at the £60 price point. As far as the company's next-generation Kepler architecture is concerned, rumors abound, though we're not officially able to say anything.

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.
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  • 0 Hide
    MCFCBlue , 16 March 2012 18:11
    How come the gtx 580 isn't in the £320 price bracket instead of the gtx 560 sli set up?
  • -3 Hide
    Arjun_Mishra , 18 March 2012 09:30
    Please take a look at the review of graphic cards that I made … The graphic cards are really budget build performance...
    Please don't forget to join my blog...
  • 0 Hide
    Arjun_Mishra , 18 March 2012 10:10
    Thanks bgtnvdjfckmh I hope you liked my review and hope that you shared 'em with your friends...

    Please join my site if you can...
  • 0 Hide
    MCFCBlue , 18 March 2012 19:20
    The GTX 580 is only £320 the same price as the sli 560 and its only one card so no sli problems.
  • 0 Hide
    Arjun_Mishra , 18 March 2012 19:26
    Please take a look at the review of graphic cards that I made … The graphic cards are really budget build performance...
    Please don't forget to join my blog...