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Wednesday, 19 October 2011 07:01

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: October 2011

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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: October 2011

This month we're discussing the impact of recent pricing changes and mourning the loss of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 460 768 MB. It's also time to talk about some of the potential changes to the graphics card landscape in this final quarter of 2011.

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.

October Updates:

With no graphics card launches in September of which to speak, the biggest news is actually the expected disappearance of a long-time favorite. Last month we were concerned about the lack of GeForce GTX 460 768 MB cards available for purchase, and now we can no longer find them for sale on important e-tail sites like Newegg and TigerDirect. Nvidia admitted that the GeForce GTX 460 768 MB might be phased out when the GeForce GTX 550 Ti was launched, but we had hoped that the card would persist to do battle with AMD's Radeon HD 6790. The AMD option is now free to rule at $130 with no competition whatsoever. Additionally, the GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 is overpriced and under-equipped to compete with the Radeon HD 5670 in the sub-$90 range.

We're not sure what to make of this. We know the lion's share of volume and profit is found at the bottom end of the price spectrum. Nvidia has traditionally been a relentless competitor in the sub-$150 space, and the company basically invented the value segment with its GeForce 2 MX. So, what's going on? The relatively new GeForce GT 545 has a lot of potential as a sub-$90 contender, but we're not seeing it materialize at e-tail, and the limited number of models available at brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy are overpriced. For some reason, this promising product is mostly restricted to OEM system sales, despite its online potential.

Normally, we see hiccups and price inequities on the verge of a launch. But all signs suggest the next major GeForce update won't happen until 2012. Rumor has it that the Radeon HD 7000 launch won't happen until next year, either. Then again, graphics vendors have an easier time keeping upcoming introductions under the radar than Intel or AMD with their CPUs. So, a 2011 product launch (or die-shrink update) wouldn't surprise us.

Realistically, a $110 Radeon HD 5770/6770 provides playable frame rates at 1920x1080 in a majority of games on the market; maybe the graphics card industry isn't feeling pressure to provide faster hardware just yet. The good news for gamers is that a flood of triple-A game titles are either here or on their way to the PC; Rage, Battlefield 3, and Elder Scrolls: Skyrim are a few of the graphically-demanding products that promise to challenge your hardware and push innovation.

Despite whatever is going on behind the scenes, our recommendations remain largely the same this month, with a number of $5 price drops here and there. The Radeon HD 6870 fell to $170 and now boasts the sole recommendation compared to the GeForce GTX 560, which performs similarly, but is more expensive. We could complain about the lack of new products on the horizon, but we've never had this much value available in the sub-$200 market before. With no API change in the immediate future, buyers can pick a DirectX 11 graphics card for a great price with the comfort that their purchase will remain relevant for some time to come.

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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