Summer is here, and we discuss AMD's new Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition in this month's update. We also cover significant price shifts at the top-end and mid-range of the graphics card spectrum, likely thanks to the popular GeForce GTX 670.
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.
July: Radeon Updates
There was a single product introduction since our last list of recommendations was published: AMD's Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition. Calling the card "new" is somewhat of a misnomer. It's practically the same Radeon HD 7970 we already know. AMD grants it a 75 MHz-higher core clock, 125 MHz-faster GDDR5 memory, and, what the company calls a boost state operating at 1050 MHz. In reality, we found that the card simply runs at 1050 MHz under any load, and simply drops to 1000 MHz under the duress of an app like FurMark. Perhaps more important, we discovered that overclocking by even 1 MHz "breaks" this boost feature, preventing the card from throttling itself under the same demanding workloads.
More impressive than the hardware package was the Catalyst driver team's 12.7 beta release, which now available for download. Build 12.7 gave the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition enough of a push to get it out in front of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 680, and it allowed the vanilla 7970 to best the GTX 670.
Unfortunately, the GHz Edition model launch on June 22nd, and AMD promised boards the following week with widespread availability 10 days after launch. More than two weeks have passed, though, and there still aren't any cards that we can find with specifications that match or exceed the company's reference effort. Read more about this product in our launch review, AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition Review: Give Me Back That Crown!.
The remaining news centers on fluctuations in pricing as the market reacts to Nvidia's GeForce GTX 670, a card that had a profound impact not only on AMD's line-up, but also on interest in the GeForce GTX 680, due to its excellent performance, lower price, and more widespread availability.
Let's begin with changes in the Radeon family. AMD's vanilla 7970 can now be found at as low as £330. When you consider that's £30 higher than the slightly-slower (but not significantly-so) GeForce GTX 670, the Radeon remains a hard sell unless you really need its compute potential. Even in light of Catalyst 12.7, we'd have a hard time recommending the 7970 until it lands within £15 of the GeForce card.
The least-expensive Radeon HD 7950s are down compared to last month. And at £290, they're much more appealing, with lots of room under the GeForce GTX 670. At that price, the Radeon HD 7950 earns a full recommendation.
AMD's Radeon HD 7870 is also down £25 from last month, now selling as low as £250. Its already-excellent price/performance ratio is even better than before. The Radeon HD 7850 received little or no price cut, which impresses us less. But the card still deserves a nod at £180.
In other AMD news, the Radeon HD 6790 is becoming even harder to find. Fortunately, the Radeon HD 7770 can now be had for £90, making it a good replacement for that previously-recommended budget-oriented performer.
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 690 remains elusive at retail, suffering sparse availability. Aside from launch day, I don't think we've ever seen this card sitting on a virtual shelf at Newegg. On the other hand, we're glad to report that GeForce GTX 680 is easier to find, with street prices as low as the £370 we expected to see at launch.
Of course, the reason for this is likely decreased demand due to the more plentiful GeForce GTX 670, a card that, in basic trim, sells for £300. Although AMD's Radeon HD 7970 encroaches on its territory, the GTX 670 retains our sole recommendation in that price range until we see the 7970 drop a little closer.
The availability of other GeForce-branded models is becoming sparse. For instance, GeForce GT 440 GDDR5 stock is thinning. What remains is more expensive than it was a few months ago. So, we can't recommend it any more compared to AMD's cheaper Radeon HD 6670 DDR3. And while we had hoped to see Nvidia fix its pricing snafu on GeForce GT 640, availability is low and the models we do see go for £75 and more.
Finally, we added some of the newer mobile graphics chipsets to our hierarchy chart on the final page, such as the Radeon HD 7900M, 7800M, 7700M, and GeForce GTX 680M, 675M, 670M, and 660M.
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 honourable 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.