In this month's update, we discuss several price adjustments that impact our recommendations. We also look into the crystal ball and suggest that there may not be another graphics launch in 2011 as a result of several different factors.
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 news this month centers on price adjustments. While none of the changes are game-changing, they do alter our recommendations to some degree. For example, the average price on AMD Radeon HD 6790, 6850, and 6870 graphics cards is up about ten dollars per board. This enables a tie between the Radeon HD 6870 and the GeForce GTX 560. The Radeon HD 5570 also went up a few bucks, and is now priced too close to the superior Radeon HD 5670 to keep its recommendation. On the other hand, the Radeon HD 6950 2 GB is a few dollars cheaper. Nvidia's GeForce GTX 560 Ti is down a bit as well, and now shares a recommendation with the Radeon HD 6950 1 GB.
On a side note, for buyers interested in a great deal on a budget gaming card, we noticed that PNY's GeForce GT 240 GDDR5 is on sale for $40 at Newegg with free shipping. This card isn't quite as powerful as the $70 Radeon HD 5670. At $40, it's a steal, though.
It also looks like AMD's Radeon HD 5750/5770 cards are being phased out in favor of the Radeon HD 6750/6770. Since the 6700 series is essentially equivalent to the 5700 series with added Blu-ray 3D support and comparable pricing, the 5700 series won't be missed. Just don't mistake the 6700 cards for upgrades.
As for other news on the video card front, unfortunately, we don't have our finders crossed for new graphics architectures in the last couple months of the year. There are a few reasons for this, but three stand out most prominently. First, the current generation of cards is more than capable of handling today's most demanding games (especially with companies like id delivering low-spec console ports like Rage). It's a good thing developers like Dice can still demonstrate the PC's place in gaming with titles like Battlefield 3 (see Battlefield 3 Performance: 30+ Graphics Cards, Benchmarked if you missed it two weeks ago). Second, with no major update to DirectX being discussed, there's no new API to drive interest in new graphics hardware. Third, next-gen products like AMD's Radeon HD 7000 series and Nvidia's Kepler are still subject to manufacturing kinks in TSMC's 28 nm node, and it looks like it will take some time to get the bugs out of that process. At this point we wouldn't be surprised to see some new products manufactured using 40 nm lithography, and we've heard rumors to support that. There's nothing concrete to report yet, though, and, for the first time in a long time, it looks as if we won't have any major announcements to take us through the end of the year.
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.