Choosing the right video card could always be the toughest decision you have to do for your pc. It is even more difficult when there are over 100 different available options at hand.
Since video card is one of the most important core components of the computer and it often costs as much as 40% of the total system budget, you must assure a good knowledge of all today video cards before flipping the switch.
If you can get the perfect video card within your preset budget, you will be able to tailor the rest of the system to your needs a lot easier.
This article isn’t going to show a master report of benchmarks and technical specs that you obviously can find them everywhere online. I want to give you that essential information to narrow down the best and most affordable graphics card for your custom pc. Let’s get started!
Mainstream Gaming Video Cards Hierarchy
Now with the basics taken care of, we are ready to catch up with all the crazy and confusing video card models here.
How to Use this Chart : The video cards are listed in performance ladder, the best one in the bracket is the first one at the very top.
If you can find one in the higher bracket with a better price than the lower bracket, you might indeed have found a good deal.
Related Tool : 1v1 Graphic Cards Comparison Tool
The Entry-Level List
Average Performance in Crysis Warhead - High Setting - 1920 x 1200 8xAA
|NVIDIA GeForce 650|
|GeForce GTX 460 SE|
|Radeon HD 7750|
|GeForce GTS 450|
|Radeon HD 6770|
|Radeon HD 5770|
|Radeon HD 4870|
A. Tier 1
The Radeon HD 6770 is extremely similar to Radeon HD 5770 in term of performance. The difference is so little that if you are currently having a Radeon HD 5770 there is absolutely no point to upgrade to a Radeon HD 6770. If you find a good price for Radeon HD 5770, go for it.
My personal advice is skip the new Radeon HD 7750 for now; The current asking price is still higher than a Radeon HD 6770 and its performance is just about the same. This is not a good value video card, yet.
On the NVIDIA offer, you should find the GeForce GTX 460 SE on this list isn't the regular edition. This Special Edition is the trimmed version of the original GeForce GTX 460. It has only 288 CUDA cores (shader units) and a slower memory bandwidth. This GTX 460 SE was released for competitive reason to fill the spot between AMD Radeon HD 6770 and their other lower models. However, it is actually faster than most of the Radeon's in this price range.
On the other front, the new NVIDIA GeForce 650 leads in all games and benchmarks over the rest of the group but not by a far margin to the GeForce GTX 460 SE. However, it runs cooler and more energy-efficient due to the implementation of Kepler architecture.
Once again, you will find similar performance between the two. There is rarely a case to truly recognize the difference. Go with the best price if you just want a good budget gaming video card for the system.
Before we move on to the next category, NVIDIA still has one decent offer up their sleeves. Essentially the GeForce GTS 450 loses a bit of frame rate in comparison to other previous premium video cards but after the recent price cut, it has become a very attractive deal for entry-level gaming computers.
If you happen to get one for lower than $90 mark, you will have a nice computer that plays.
The High-End Options
Average Performance in Crysis Warhead - High Setting - 1920 x 1200 8xAA
|Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition|
|GeForce GTX 680|
|GeForce GTX 770|
|Radeon HD 7970|
|GeForce GTX 670|
|Radeon HD 7950|
|Radeon HD 6870 Crossfire|
|GeForce GTX 660 Ti|
|GeForce GTX 580|
|Radeon HD 7870|
|GeForce GTX 660|
A. Tier 1
The Radeon HD 7870 is alone in this bracket as of October 2012, until we have the next price cut (hopefully). The Radeon HD 7870 seems to be the direct answer to NVIDIA GTX 580 with both deliver almost the same result in many in-game benchmarks.
The Radeon HD 7870 even pulls ahead in more than couple of games when compared to NVIDIA GeForce 660 Ti that has just come out recently. This is the best bang for the bucks high-end video card you can get.
Now the rest of this list are the no-brainer options. The more expensive the video card the higher the performance, to some margin. It definitely will not double the frame rates but it will take care of gaming on a multiple monitors setup a lot easier.
A. Tier 2
When the GTX 660 Ti first came out, it was meant to do scratches to Radeon counter parts in this league. Unlike many other high-end NVIDIA has releaseed in the last five months, the GeForce GTX 660 Ti is blessed with the new Kepler architecture (same as in GTX 680). The GTX 660 Ti is very well-designed; it generates less heat, it consumes reasonable amount of power and it produces really good number of pictures per second.
However, AMD still stands very strong with their Radeon HD 7950 offer which is faster for only a small price difference. Moreover, the key opponent of the GeForce GTX 660 Ti is actually the Radeon HD 7870, per se. Several online benchmarks also reveal that the GTX 660 Ti is only close to, or sometimes a little behind the Radeon HD 7870 in many stressed runs. Now if you are strictly with NVIDIA for Physx or 3D features or maybe you have good experience with them, this is the video card that probably catches your utmost attention.
Perhaps when you are open for options, move on to the Radeon offers in the next price bracket or the one before this. You get a bit more for the money spent.
A. Tier 3
It's about time you meet the best bang for the bucks of the High-End category : Radeon HD 7950. This graphics card has everything it takes to go head on with the more expensive NVIDIA video cards such as the GeForce GTX 670.
With proper overclocking, the Radeon HD 7950 shows its true potential and unlockable horsepower over the older generation Radeon HD 6970. It even outperforms the GTX 670 in many occasions. When you are looking to spend over $300 for a video card and it gives the $400 ones a run for frame rates, you know you have found the one. She's a keeper.
A. Tier 4
I'd rather wait for the price to go down a little more.
Currently, the regular Radeon HD 7970 only gives a few frames higher than Radeon HD 7950. Save the cash for something else :P !
On the flip side, if you really have extra $60 to spend, then you problably should head for the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition.
What's special ? Unlike the regular edition that only pushes between 10 to 20 fps higher than the Radeon HD 7950 , this is one new kid on the block that took away the crown from the GeForce GTX 680 in the $500 price range. It challenge the GeForce GTX 680 at all edges, dominates all the records that once were only to the GTX 680 and only stays put to the GeForce GTX 690 (but that is an unfair comparison !).
AMD has applied a higher chip binning to make the new edition superior to its older twin. It comes with higher core clock speed (1000 MHz compared to 925 MHz) and memory speed (1500 MHz compared to the original 1375 MHz). As the result, the old Radeon HD 7970 becomes the new untamed beast that fearlessly waits for NVIDIA to bring up something worthy. This is also the best video card for mining bit coin available to the PC market.
What is chip binning ? In short, it is the portion toward the center of the silicon wafer that can produce extremely power efficient, more powerful and higher quality chips than the outer areas. As for a CPU example, we would compare the mainstream processors to the Xeon processors. When it comes to GPUs, it is usually the normal generic video card versus the super-clocked edition, such as GeForce GTX 570, GeForce GTX 570 FTW, etc..
A. Tier 5
To most enthusiasts, the two video cards above are the best value they are willing to purchase for their high-end gaming computer, without breaking the bank or getting a divorce from their wife. One can push the wallet a little further but it's not totally worth the money spend. It comes to the point where the dollars for performance isn't as efficient as they were spent in the lower range.
Lastly, the GeForce GTX 580 sometimes is seen in professional workstations that are specifically tailored for high-definition video editing, graphics design or 3D rendering works. It carries 512 CUDA processors which provides software developers a powerful and easily accessible engine to utilize the full processing resource from these shader units. As the result, graphics-related programs are more optimized to deliver the most efficient output at your demand. Which is an true advantage over Radeon video cards.
More or less, I hope it has answered many questions you had about choosing a video card. If you still have any trouble, speak up in the comment section. I’m sure there are many great readers besides me who are willing to contribute their thoughts and experience on the topic :)
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