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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2013

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2013

Meet the Radeon HD 7870 LE, a promisingly-fast card with a misleading name and an impressive value proposition. Of course, we see a number of price shifts, though most are unfortunately increases. Our recommendations do change a bit this month, though.

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 Updates:

Although we weren't expecting to see any new cards, AMD quietly squeezed out a Radeon HD 7870 LE. Historically, LE was used to indicate a crippled version of a given GPU. However, someone decided that confusion was more fun, and tacked on the suffix to indicate a faster model. In all actuality, this board does employ a crippled Tahiti GPU, so it would have made more sense to call it a Radeon HD 7950 LE.

Aside from a missed opportunity for consistent nomenclature, this 1536-shader and 96-texture unit-equipped card appears to offer promising performance. Our German team already tested the first implementation to make it into our lab, and was impressed with the performance/dollar. In essence, you're looking at a Radeon HD 7950 with one less compute unit and a 256-bit memory bus (cut down from 386 bits). According to the Germans, all of Tahiti LE's ROP partitions remain enabled, facilitating up to 32 raster ops per clock. AMD was unable to confirm for us. The only vendor currently selling a Radeon HD 7870 LE is PowerColor.

There's also a Radeon HD 7450 available on Newegg in the U.S. But before you get excited, it isn't based on an entry-level GCN-based GPU. This is simply a rebranded Radeon HD 6450. Boo.

Pricing remains steady. The exceptions include a few jumps from both AMD and Nvidia. The average Radeon HD 7970, 7850, and 6870 price tags are up just a little, with lower-performing models like the Radeon HD 7770, 6670 GDDR5, and 6570 DDR3 up a little as well. From Nvidia, the GeForce GT 640 costs a little more in the United States, as does the GeForce GTX 650 and 680, on average.

Now we sit quietly and wait for the next generation from AMD and Nvidia.

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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  • 0 Hide
    MajinCry , 18 January 2013 23:20
    £56 inc Delivery: 6670 GDDR5 from

    For an extra £, you get 10-20% better performance.

    Easy decision.
  • 0 Hide
    bemused_fred , 19 January 2013 02:29
    So buzzed for the next generation of cards. Any idea when they'll be?
  • 0 Hide
    sam_p_lay , 21 January 2013 01:12
    In essence, you're looking at a Radeon HD 7950 with one less compute unit and a 256-bit memory bus (cut down from 386 bits).

    You mean 384 bits.
  • 0 Hide
    kristi_metal , 28 January 2013 01:20
    If it wouldn't be for that inconsistent frame latencies, AMD would be the way to go.
  • 0 Hide
    rhx123 , 30 January 2013 17:12
    You can get a 7850 1GB for Under £130 from, it beats the 650Ti for only £6 more.
  • 0 Hide
    rhx123 , 30 January 2013 17:15
    rhx123You can get a 7850 1GB for Under £130 from, it beats the 650Ti for only £6 more.

    Saying that, You can get a 650ti 1GB from for £105 now.