A powerful graphics card is likely the most expensive component in your PC if you're a gamer, but with all current and past-gen GPUs available in the range of $100 to $500, it can be tough to pick the right solution for your needs.

In an effort to narrow things down, we're about to compare today's most relevant gaming cards that sell for $200 or more, testing them in a slew of games to see how it breaks down as we look for the best graphics cards for gaming at resolutions of 1920x1200 and 2560x1600.

Most GPU releases go through our testbench, however when we review these graphics cards, the GPUs are fairly new or barely making it to market, drivers are not entirely optimized, and most importantly, true market pricing has not settled down to its long-term value.

Models Launch Codename Fab Bandwidth Release
GeForce GTX 670 10-May-12 GK104 28nm 192.2 GB/s $400 $400
GeForce GTX 680 22-Mar-12 GK104 28nm 192.2 GB/s $500 $500
Radeon HD 7870 19-Mar-12 Pitcairn XT 28nm 153.6 GB/s $350 $310
Radeon HD 7850 19-Mar-12 Pitcairn Pro 28nm 153.6 GB/s $250 $250
Radeon HD 7950 31-Jan-12 Tahiti Pro 28nm 240.0 GB/s $450 $350
Radeon HD 7970 9-Jan-12 Tahiti XT 28nm 264.0 GB/s $550 $450
GeForce GTX 560 Ti 25-Jan-11 GF114 40nm 128.2 GB/s $250 $230
Radeon HD 6870 22-Oct-10 Barts XT 40nm 134.4 GB/s $240 $180

Relative performance leads more often than not remain the same through the life of the GPUs, but our take on best value is completely changed the second Nvidia or AMD decide to adjust their prices. To give you a clear example, the Radeon HD 7970 debuted to market last January with a sticker price of $550. A couple of months later the GeForce GTX 680 arrived offering better performance for less money. AMD quickly reacted slashing the HD 7970's price to $450. Similarly, the slightly slower HD 7950 was dropped from its original price of $450 to just $350.

The table above includes all the cards we'll be benchmarking, starting with the most recently released. Note that although we have the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition on hand, we didn't include it in this review because we don't see why anyone would buy the factory overclocked solution at a $50 premium.

Testing Methodology

We picked ten games for our test, six of which are DX11 titles and include recent releases such as Max Payne 3 and Alan Wake. Games will be run at 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 as we believe these are the resolutions gamers are targeting with today's $200+ graphics cards, using monitors between 24 and 30 inches. All games will be tested with fraps which lets us record 60 seconds of gameplay.

Test System Specs

  • Gainward GeForce GTX 680 Phantom (2048MB)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 670 Phantom (2048MB)
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 680 (2048MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 590 (3072MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 (1536MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 570 (1280MB)
  • Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 Ti (1024MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7970 (3072MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7950 (3072MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7870 (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 7850 (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 6990 (4096MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 6970 (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 6950 (2048MB)
  • HIS Radeon HD 6870 (1024MB)
  • Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition (3.30GHz)
  • x4 4GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 (CAS 8-8-8-20)
  • Gigabyte G1.Assassin2 (Intel X79)
  • OCZ ZX Series 1250w
  • Crucial m4 512GB (SATA 6Gb/s)
  • Microsoft Windows 7 SP1 64-bit
  • Nvidia Forceware 301.42
  • AMD Catalyst 12.7