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The last few months we've seen both AMD and Nvidia turn their attention to the high-end segment of the graphics market. In addition to launching their latest single-GPU flagship boards, both companies just recently launched a couple of dual-GPU beasts and laid claim to the "world's fastest graphics card" – and indeed they both came quite close in most of our tests but AMD is challenging Nvidia to back their marketing claims with hard evidence.
We haven't heard back from the green team on that one, but we have to say it's great to see such spirited competition as it's usually customers that reap the benefits. That's especially true today as mainstream cards are getting more and more powerful and even a $100 product is capable of far more than you may give it credit for. So, while AMD and Nvidia settle the score at the super expensive enthusiast level, we actually want to have a look at what's been happening elsewhere.
We've compiled a table with some of what we consider the best options at several price points between $70 and $200. Every card chosen can cope with the typical game on respectable settings. Items are listed from least to most expensive, therefore, also by performance. For reference, we've also placed each product next to its closest competitor.
|Our Preferred Graphics Card
|Competition's Approx. Equivalent
|AMD Radeon HD 5670
|Nvidia GeForce GT 440
|AMD Radeon HD 5770
|Nvidia GeForce GTS 450
|Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 (768MB)
|AMD Radeon HD 6790
|AMD Radeon HD 6850
|Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 (1GB)
|AMD Radeon HD 6870
The Radeon HD 6000 and GeForce 500 series based on the refreshed Fermi architecture still haven't trickled down to all price points, so there are a few last-generation cards in there. They still offer an incredible value, though. We didn't include an equivalent for the Radeon HD 6870, as you'd have to go for either the GTX 460 mentioned before it or upgrade to a GTX 560 Ti, which treads further onto the high-end ground at $250.
The most affordable of the cards selected, the Radeon HD 5670, is the lowest point you will want to go as far as discrete GPUs are concerned. For $60, this card provides decent gaming frame rates in resolutions like 1680x1050. If you don't mind toning down some of the visual bells and whistles, last generation games like Crysis 2, CoD: Black Ops and StarCraft II become playable with this card. Needless to be said, from this point forward you gain further gaming performance as you spend more.
It's also worth mentioning that modern CPUs that have built-in graphics cores like the Intel Sandy Bridge processors render sub-$70 graphics cards useless. For example, a Core i5-2500K with the HD Graphics 3000 logic performs about on par with a Radeon HD 5450 that currently sells for $45. It will be interesting to see how this performance scales in the near future when AMD unveils its Fusion-based performance oriented desktop CPUs.
This brief selection is intended to offer GPU upgrade suggestions for the most common price points, but if you're building a system from scratch or upgrading your current rig, our always-fresh desktop PC buying guide might be just what you're looking for.