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 big news for July was the introduction of the GeForce GTX 460, a card that gives Nvidia its first Fermi-based home run. The new GeForce not only performs, but does it with reasonably-low power usage, low heat, and low noise--all at a competitive $200 price point.
There are two GeForce GTX 460 cards based on the new GF104 GPU, a 768 MB and 1 GB model. But they are differentiated by more than just the amount of onboard RAM. The GeForce GTX 460 1 GB comes with a full 256-bit memory interface and 32 ROPs, while the 768 MB flavor has a 192-bit memory interface and 24 ROPs. Aside from this, both cards sport the same 336 CUDA cores, the same 56 texture units, and the same 675 MHz / 1350 MHz / 900 MHz core/shader/GDDR5 memory speeds, respectively. The net result is a new model of card that often beats the recently-introduced GeForce GTX 465 at a lower price point. In fact, this is the first time in recent memory that Nvidia has successfully put some real pressure on a competing Radeon model, and as a result the Radeon HD 5830 has been forced to join the GeForce GTX 460 at $200 (right where we originally said it belongs).
Nvidia follows up the successful GeForce GTX 460 introduction with some price drops across the rest of the GeForce GTX 400-series. The GeForce GTX 470 can now be had for as low as $300. This is exactly where it needs to be to deliver real competition for the $290 Radeon HD 5850, and takes its place on our recommended list. The GeForce GTX 480 can also be had for $460 now, and that's a much more reasonable price for this card. Ironically, it remains hard to recommend now that you can buy a pair of GeForce GTX 460 1 GB cards in SLI for the same price--a combination that will beat a GeForce GTX 480 without much trouble. Performance like that makes us wonder how a card with two fully-functional GF104 GPUs would perform, especially since the GF104 in the GeForce GTX 460 has been crippled, down from 384 viable CUDA cores.
Aside from this news, we expect to see retail availability of the new Radeon HD 5570 outfitted with GDDR5 RAM in the near future. This combo could cause a lot of heads to turn in the sub-$100 graphics card market if it's priced appropriately. We also can't help but wonder when the mid-range Fermi derivatives will arrive, especially after seeing what the GeForce GTX 460 can do.
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.