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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: September 2011

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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: September 2011

This month we're talking about the disappearance of Nvidia's GeForce GT 240 and GeForce GTX 460 graphics cards. Additionally, we consider the implications of our micro-stuttering investigation on the dual-card configurations we recommend.

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.

September Updates:

Just like we saw in July, August was a quiet month with regards to graphics cards. It's actually pretty typical for things to come to a standstill in the summer and then pick up at the end of the year, so we're not too surprised. This is just the calm before the storm.

There is some news to report, though: the GeForce GT 240 and GeForce GTX 460 768 MB are becoming harder and harder to find. Nvidia mentioned that we could expect the GeForce GTX 460 768 MB to slowly evaporate from shelves when the GeForce GTX 550 Ti was launched to replace it, but we were hoping the older and more powerful model would hang around to keep pressure on the Radeon HD 6790.

That the GeForce GT 240 is being nudged out of the picture is a bit more surprising. We had hoped that the GeForce GT 545 was being groomed to replace it. After all, a relatively strong spec sheet suggested the newer card could hold its own against AMD's mainstream lineup. Unfortunately, it looks like this card is destined to remain an OEM option. When you do find it for sale, it's priced on par with much more powerful options. Manufacturing sources tell us that the GeForce GT 440 is the official replacement for the GT 240. When it's equipped with GDDR5 memory, the new model delivers performance similar to the GDDR5-based GeForce GT 240. But that care still costs more than the Radeon HD 5670, which is notably more powerful, earning our recommendation.

We recently published an article that takes a close look at the micro-stuttering phenomenon reported to plague dual graphics card setups; read "Micro-Stuttering And GPU Scaling In CrossFire And SLI" for more. There were two take-aways from that piece: micro-stuttering can be a problem with graphics cards slower than the Radeon HD 6950/GeForce GTX 560 Ti, and that a third card in triple-CrossFire or SLI seems to ameliorate the phenomenon. While this author isn't sensitive to the micro-stuttering issues that many folks observe in dual-card setups, these results have to be taken into consideration in our recommendations. As a result, all dual-card setups slower than a Radeon HD 6950/GeForce GTX 560 Ti are being slid back to honorable mentions, at best. Triple-card solutions are not recommended at this time because they are not cost-effective.

There are a lot of rumors surrounding the upcoming Radeon HD 7000-series launch expected at the end of this year, and we surmise Nvidia's response would surface shortly after that. But it's just too early to report anything credible right now, so we're all stuck waiting impatiently for new toys to review.

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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