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.
With no new products released in August, the biggest news in the graphics card world may be the announcement that the ATI brand will be dropped from AMD's graphics card division. The Radeon brand remains, but ATI is being replaced by AMD in many instances. For example "ATI Eyefinity" becomes "AMD Eyefinity." This was probably inevitable, and the clock started ticking on this once the AMD/ATI merger happened. But let's have a communal moment of silence for the brand anyway. Is AMD's decision a big deal of any sort? Absolutely not. So long as the same engineers continue designing competitive products, it's all the same to us.
In other news, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 400-series cards continue to put pricing pressure on their Radeon counterparts, and I do believe we just might be on the verge of a price war--something that should make gamers in the market for graphics hardware squeal with anticipation. AMD's boards have been on the market for so long that prices on them are moving slowly. But I've definitely seen signs that things are becoming a little more volatile. Maybe it's just wishful thinking. However, with relative performance being what it is, some reaction is needed unless AMD is willing to surrender the price/performance battle. We already know that AMD has an end-of-year answer to Nvidia's recent activity. Perhaps it'll wait until then to pounce.
Finally, Nvidia recently released its GeForce GTS 450, aimed squarely at AMD's Radeon HD 5750. Though the GTS 450 does offer superior performance in most cases at a similar price point, we still have a hard time getting excited about mainstream DirectX 11-class hardware when Radeon HD 4850 and GeForce GTS 250 boards are floating around for $90. No doubt, there will come a time when older DirectX 10-class hardware disappears, leaving only the newer, pricier options. But until that happens, we're still comfortable recommending that you jump on those fire sales before spending substantially more money on minor performance increases.
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.