The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Choosing a graphics cards is a confusing endeavor. So Tom's Hardware shared their buying results after testing pretty much every card on the planet. Whether you've got $50 to spend or $250 to spend, this list will come in handy:

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

  • 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.

Best PCIe Card: Under $85

Best PCI Express (PCIe) Card For ~$50:

Radeon HD 4650 (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Great 1280x1024 performance in most games, 1680x1050 with lowered detail

Radeon HD 4650 DDR3
Codename:RV730
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:320
Texture Units:32
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:128-bit
Core Speed MHz:600
Memory Speed MHz:400 (800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10.1/SM 4.1

You will not find a card that packs more punch than ATI's Radeon HD 4650 under the alluring $50 price point. With solid stock performance and an overclockable GPU, this card is an excellent starting point for our recommendations, and a wholly worthwhile upgrade if you're currently stuck using a motherboard with integrated graphics.

Best PCI Express (PCIe) Card For ~$65: Tie

Radeon HD 4670 (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 1680x1050 performance in most games

Radeon HD 4670
Codename:RV730
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:320
Texture Units:32
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:128-bit
Core Speed MHz:750
Memory Speed MHz:1,000 (2,000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10.1/SM 4.1

With the release of Nvidia's GeForce GT 240, ATI's Radeon HD 4670 is no longer the most powerful reference card without a dedicated power connector. However, it remains a compelling solution under the $75 price point, which Nvidia's solution simply hasn't hit yet.

Performance is excellent and power usage is very low, making this product an impressive performer all-around. Its accelerated clock rates and modestly-higher price tag are worth considering if you originally had your eye on the Radeon HD 4650.

GeForce 9600 GSO (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 1680x1050 performance in most games

GeForce 9600 GSO
Codename:G94/G92
Process:65nm
Universal Shaders:48 (G94) / 96 (G92)
Texture Units:24 (G94) / 48 (G92)
ROPs:12
Memory Bus:256-bit (G94)/128-bit (G92)
Core/Shader Speed MHz:550/1,375
Memory Speed MHz:800 (1,600 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

The GeForce 9600 GSO is seems to be getting quite hard to find, and is likely being end-of-life'd soon in favor of the new GeForce GT 240. Nevertheless, as long as it is available, the GeForce 9600 GSO remains a powerful competitor compared to the Radeon HD 4670. While the GeForce requires a dedicated PCIe power connector to supply more juice than the Radeon, it does offer better performance in some situations.

Best PCIe Card For ~$85:

GeForce 9600 GT (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 1680x1050 performance in most games

GeForce 9600 GT
Codename:G94
Process:65nm
Universal Shaders:64
Texture Units:32
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core Speed MHz:650
Memory Speed MHz:900 (1,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

The GeForce 9600 GT is a great performer, thanks in part to its high-end 256-bit memory interface and speedy DDR3 memory. It's a great choice on an $85 budget, even if the architecture on which it centers is showing its age.

Certainly, this card's continued presence here is a testament to Nvidia's engineering work dating back almost two years ago. With that said, we'd certainly like to see the company's latest DirectX 10.1 cards drop in price to compete against ATI's strong offerings.


Best PCIe Card: ~$90 To $140

Best PCIe Card For ~$95: Tie

GeForce 9800 GT (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Exceptional 1680x1050 performance in most games, 1920x1200 in most games with lowered detail

GeForce 9800 GT
Codename:G92
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:112
Texture Units:56
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz:650/1,625
Memory Speed MHz:1,000 (2,000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

The GeForce 9800 GT is essentially a rebadged GeForce 8800 GT, and offers the same great performance it has for years now (that sure sounds funny to say in reference to graphics cards).

With the rising price of ATI's Radeon HD 4850 giving it space to breathe, this legendary card is once again a recommended buy. But once again, we're looking forward to seeing technological progress put new, faster, and cooler products loaded down with more features in this space rather than revisiting history.

Fortunately, there's still PhysX and 3D Vision support to like about this aging board.

Radeon HD 4830 512MB (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Exceptional 1680x1050 performance in most games, 1920x1200 in most games with lowered detail

Radeon HD 4850 512MB
Codename:RV770
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:640
Texture Units:32
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core Speed MHz:575
Memory Speed MHz:900 (1,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Just as the GeForce 9800 GT can once again be recommended due to the rising price of the Radeon HD 4850, so can the Radeon HD 4830. While availability is low, this Radeon is still a viable option under the $100 price point if you can find it. You'll discovered that it offers great performance on par with the GeForce 9800 GT, with the added benefit of DirectX 10.1 support.

Best PCIe Card For ~$110:

GeForce GTS 250 512MB (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games

GeForce GTS 250 512MB
Codename:G92
Process:65nm
Universal Shaders:128
Texture Units:64
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz:738/1,836
Memory Speed MHz:1,100 (2,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

The dissapearance of the $100 Radeon HD 4850 has not only opened up the GeForce 9800 GT and Radeon HD 4830 for recommended status, but also the GeForce GTS 250.

At $110, the 512MB version of this card offers respectable performance, and nothing else in the price range can compare to it. As fast as the Radeon HD 4850 and new Radeon HD 5750 (and notably cheaper), the GeForce GTS 250 has no real competition from the rest of the sub-$150 market at this time.

Bear in mind that going this route instead of the Radeon HD 5750 will cost you DirectX 11 support and Eyefinity. But in the context of gaming, you'll need to make other quality sacrifices long before trying to enjoy either value-add in the $110 range.

Best PCIe Card For ~$120:

GeForce GTS 250 1GB (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 1920x1200 performance in most games

GeForce GTS 250 1GB
Codename:G92
Process:65nm
Universal Shaders:128
Texture Units:64
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz:738/1,836
Memory Speed MHz:1,100 (2,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

For $10 more than the 512MB version, an interested gamer can get the benefit of a full gigabyte of memory. At the highest resolutions and levels of anti-aliasing, this extra memory might provide a performance boost, though it's unlikely the GeForce GTS 250 is powerful enough to run at those detail levels. Still, many buyers might find the slight $10 price increase worthwhile in something like Grand Theft Auto IV.


Best PCIe Card: ~$150 To $290

Best PCIe Card For ~$155: Tie

Radeon HD 5770 (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Great 1920x1200 performance in most games

Radeon HD 5770
Codename:RV840 "Juniper"
Process:40nm
Universal Shaders:800
Texture Units:40
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:128-bit
Core Speed MHz:850
Memory Speed MHz:1,200 (4,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 11/SM 5.0

While the new Radeon HD 5770 isn't any faster than its older Radeon HD 4870 cousin (we've found that it's even slightly slower in many instances), it does have something the Radeon HD 4870 doesn't have: full DirectX 11 and Eyefinity support. Indeed, while the Radeon HD 5770 doesn't run away with any performance crowns in this category, it does look good from a longevity/value standpoint.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5770 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

GeForce GTX 260 (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Great 1920x1200 performance in most games

GeForce GTX 260 (Core 216)
Codename:GT200b
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:216
Texture Units:72
ROPs:28
Memory Bus:448-bit
Core Speed MHz:576
Memory Speed MHz:999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

Like many cards, the GeForce GTX 260 is becoming very hard to find, and may soon be end-of-life'd. In any case, it does offer advantages in titles that run better on Nvidia's GT200 architecture, and it sports some GeForce-only value-added features like PhysX compatibility and support for GeForce 3D Vision.

Once again, a little diligence is required on the part of the buyer to find out which card is best adapted for his or her favorite titles, and whether or not your motherboard supports SLI, CrossFire, or both multi-card technologies.

Best PCIe Card For ~$200:

Radeon HD 4890 (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Excellent 1920x1200 performance in most games

Radeon HD 4890
Codename:RV790
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:800
Texture Units:40
ROPs:16
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core Speed MHz:850
Memory Speed MHz:993 (3,900 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10.1/SM 4.1

The Radeon HD 4890 is essentially an overclocked Radeon HD 4870. However, the tweaks that AMD made to the newer RV790 die result in much higher overclocking headroom. At stock speeds, this card is worth the $200. But to get the most out of it, some overclocking is in order. And now that the prices on Radeon HD 5850 cards are through the roof, there's not much between this board and ATI's next-fastest solution.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 4890 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$240:

2 x GeForce GTS 250 1GB in SLI Configuration (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most games with lowered detail

2 x GeForce GTS 250 1GB in SLI Configuration
Codename:2 x G92
Process:65nm
Universal Shaders:256 (2 x 128)
Texture Units:128 (2 x 64)
ROPs:32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz:738/1,836
Memory Speed MHz:1,100 (2,200 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

Two GeForce GTS 250 cards in SLI pack a punch and make a strong case for multi-card setups. With the Radeon HD 4850s going up in price and down in availability, these GeForce cards replace them as the weapon of choice for sub-$300 brute force power.


Best PCIe Card: ~$300 To $400

Best PCIe Card For ~$310: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5850

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, 2560x1600 in most titles

Radeon HD 5850
Codename:RV870 "Cypress"
Process:40nm
Universal Shaders:1,440
Texture Units:72
ROPs:32
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core Speed MHz:725
Memory Speed MHz:1,000 (4,000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 11/SM 5.0

The new Radeon HD 5850 has some definite advantages over a pair of GeForce GTX 260s in SLI or a pair of Radeon HD 5770s in CrossFire. It doesn't need a CrossFire-compatible motherboard, it uses a lot less power thanks to its 40nm manufacturing process, and it sports DirectX 11 capabilities (plus Eyefinity).

Unfortunately, scant availability forces us to relegate the Radeon HD 5850 to Honorable Mention status until it can be purchased without having to fight for it.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5850 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$330: Tie

At approximately the same price, these options retain the same advantages of their single-card counterparts: two GeForce GTX 260s offer SLI compatibility, PhysX, and GeForce 3D Vision support, and two Radeon HD 5770s offer DirectX 11, Eyefinity, and high-def audio bitstreaming to CrossFire-compatible motherboard users. A good case can be made for either of these options, and none of them are a poor choice. Just pick your poison.

2 x GeForce GTX 260 in SLI (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, good 2560x1600 performance in most titles

2x GeForce GTX 260 in SLI
Codename:2 x GT200b
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:432 (2 x 216)
Texture Units:144 (2 x 72)
ROPs:56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus:448-bit
Core Speed MHz:576
Memory Speed MHz:999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

Nvidia doesn't have a DirectX 11-class architecture yet, so if you're going to sink $300+ into DirectX 10 hardware, do so knowing that there are competing DirectX 11 boards available in the same price range.

A pair of Radeon HD 5770s won't offer quite the same level of performance as two GeForce GTX 260s in SLI; that's the trade-off for more modern functionality, though.

2 x Radeon HD 5770 in CrossFire (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Exceptional 1920x1200 performance, good 2560x1600 performance in most titles

2x Radeon HD 5770 in CrossFire
Codename:2 x RV840 "Juniper"
Process:40nm
Universal Shaders:1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units:80 (2 x 40)
ROPs:32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus:128-bit
Core Speed MHz:850
Memory Speed MHz:1,200 (4,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 11/SM 5.0

The new Radeon HD 5770 sports added benefits over its GeForce GTX 260 competition: DirectX 11, triple display outputs, and the ability to bitstream high-definition audio content from Blu-ray movies contribute significant value to ATI's newest mainstream graphics cards. For those seeking long-term DirectX 11 compatibility, this might be the more attractive option.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5770 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$400:

Two Radeon HD 4890 cards in CrossFire Configuration (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

2 x Radeon HD 4890 in CrossFire Configuration
Codename:2 x RV770
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:1,600 (2 x 800)
Texture Units:80 (2 x 40)
ROPs:32 (2 x 16)
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core Speed MHz:850
Memory Speed MHz:975 (3,900 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10.1/SM 4.1

Two Radeon HD 4890 cards should, on average, perform on par or better than a single GeForce GTX 295, and will definitely beat out a single Radeon HD 5870. Plus, these Radeons cost less than either option. If you have a CrossFire-compatible motherboard and want some serious performance at high resolutions, this route is the way to go.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 4890 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.


Best PCIe Card: ~$400 And Up

Best PCIe Card For ~$410: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5870

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

Radeon HD 5870
Codename:RV870 "Cypress"
Process:40nm
Universal Shaders:1,600
Texture Units:80
ROPs:32
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core Speed MHz:850
Memory Speed MHz:1,200 (4,800 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 11/SM 5.0

For $10 less, a couple Radeon HD 4890s will easily beat a single Radeon HD 5870 in the titles that matter today (perhaps this will change when DirectX 11 software becomes more pervasive). From a raw price/performance standpoint, this makes the Radeon HD 5870 a hard sell. But that is not to say this card is underpowered: it sports the fastest single GPU on the planet, relatively low power usage (remarkably low at idle), and DirectX 11 support. For folks without a motherboard that supports CrossFire and a hefty power supply, the new Radeon HD 5870 is definitely a more-than-viable option. Unfortunately, availability is still quite rare.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5870 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$465: None

Honorable Mention: GeForce GTX 295 (Check Prices)

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Good 2560x1600 performance in most games

GeForce GTX 295
Codename:2 x GT200b
Process:55nm
Universal Shaders:480 (2 x 240)
Texture Units:160 (2 x 80)
ROPs:56 (2 x 28)
Memory Bus:448-bit
Core/Shader Speed MHz:576/1242
Memory Speed MHz:999 (1,998 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 10/SM 4.0

Despite ATI's new Radeon HD 5970 taking its place as the fastest graphics card on the planet, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 295 (with SLI-on-a-board) remains an extremely powerful graphics card. Essentially two conjoined GeForce GTX 275s, the GeForce GTX 295 offers very notable gains over a single Radeon HD 5870 in the great majority of game titles, although the Radeon will use far less power doing so. The GeForce GTX 295 does have an advantage in that it it still quite easy to find and purchase. Moreover, ATI's release has forced prices on these cards down by a significant chunk.

Read our full review of Nvidia's GeForce GTX 295 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.

Best PCIe Card For ~$625: None

Honorable Mention: Radeon HD 5970

The Graphics Cards You Should Buy at Every Price

Great 2560x1600 performance

Radeon HD 5970
Codename:2 x RV870 "Cypress"
Process:40nm
Universal Shaders:3,200 (2 x 1,600)
Texture Units:160 (2 x 80)
ROPs:64 (2 x 32)
Memory Bus:256-bit
Core Speed MHz:725
Memory Speed MHz:1,000 (4,000 effective)
DirectX/Shader Model:DX 11/SM 5.0

3,200 shader processors. There isn't much more we need to say about the brutal grace of execution that characterizes the world's fastest graphics card, the Radeon HD 5970. With two Radeon HD 5870 GPUs onboard, the only things we can complain about are scant availability and an extremely high price tag. Availability should improve over time; the price not so much, but if you're in the market for this card price probably isn't an issue.

Read our full review of ATI's Radeon HD 5970 for more information on the card and its accompanying architecture.


There you have it folks; the best cards for the money this month. Now all that's left to do is to find and purchase them.

Don't worry too much about which brand you choose, because all of the cards out there are close to Nvidia's and ATI's reference designs. Just pay attention to price, warranty, and the manufacturer's reputation for honoring the warranty if something goes wrong.

Also remember that the stores don't follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month and you'll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!