Top ten graphics cards
Whether you are building a new computer or looking to upgrade your old one finding the best graphics card can be a tough task with the amount of choices you have. Here are a few tips on graphics cards and the 10 best currently available.
What you want to be aware of when buying a graphics card is what company is actually manufacturing the card. There are two companies that manufacture the chip or graphics processing unit (GPU) in a graphics card and many companies who manufacture the actual card including the two that manufacture the GPU. The two GPU manufacturing companies are AMD (used to be ATI but AMD bought them) and Nvidia. These two companies sell the GPU's to various other manufacturers who then manufacture a graphics card with their own name stamped on it. A few of the better graphics card manufacturers are BFG, XFX, EVGA, Sapphire and PNY. I wouldn't recommend a graphics card by any other manufacturer and really you're better off if you can find the XFX or BFG version of the card you want as they both have excellent warranties and customer service. Remember that no matter the manufacturer of the graphics card all graphics card of the same GPU will have similar specifications and generally only differ in quality of build. Graphics cards built by lesser quality manufacturers are cheaper but they also run hotter which lowers system stability and lessens the life span of the card. Basically manufacturers of lower quality graphics card cut corners wherever possible. Another important point to take note of when you're researching a particular graphics card is if it has been overclocked by the manufacturer, sometimes this is just a nice added bonus but other times they charge a higher price for a slightly faster and often less stable card.
The real difference between the two GPU manufactures is the architecture they use to build there GPU's and the technologies they employ. The only real architectural difference you will need to be aware of is how it effects AMD and Nvidia's methods for measuring core speed. Graphics cards have a graphics processing units, these GPU's have a frequency they run at. Graphics cards also have what are known as shaders which also run at a frequency. AMD graphics cards “link” there GPU's and shaders making them run at the same frequency while Nvidia effectively “unlink” them. This difference results in all kinds of different measures of performance. Finally both companies, AMD and Nvidia, use different technologies for there GPU's. AMD's newest technologies are ATI Eyefinity technology, ATI Stream technology. Nvidia's newest technologies are CUDA and Nvidia PhysX technologies. The other note-able technology difference is that you can run more than one graphics card in your computer. With AMD this is know as “crossfire technology” and with Nvidia, “SLI technology”. You cannot run an Nvidia card alongside an AMD card, they must be pared with GPU's of the same manufacturer and even then both cards usually have to be the exact same. An example of this would be someone running two HD 5850's. Lastly both Nvidia and AMD make use of Microsoft's directx, the newest version of directx is directx11.
Keep in mind that the top ten cards I will be listing are listed by way of GPU and not card manufacturer. The prices I list will be the average price of the GPU and will vary between manufacturers. I recommend to spend a little extra and buy a graphics card from one of the above mentioned manufacturers as this will very likely save you on headaches down the road. All of the cards listed here are PCI-Express 2.0x16 or PCI-Express 2.1x16.
AMD Radeon HD 5970 - $730
The HD 5970 is the best available graphics card out today and consequently the most expensive. The reason for this is that the HD 5970 actually has two GPU's, 2GB's of memory rated at 1GHz, a core speed of 725MHz (remember there are two of them) and supports all of the latest technology. This card is definitely not for everyone but we should see the price drop as the months go by making this card an option for more and more people.
Nvidia GTX 480 - $500
While not quite on par with the HD 5970 Nvidia's GTX 480 is still one of the most powerful graphics cards available today and just as the HD 5970 one of the most expensive. The GTX 480 has 1.5GB of memory rated at 924MHz , a core/shader speed of 700/1,401MHz and also supports all of the latest technology. The GTX 480 is also the fastest single GPU graphics card available.
AMD Radeon HD 5870 - $400 to $500
The HD 5870 is not quite as powerful as the two above cards but is available in 1GB version and a 2GB versions both of which are rated at 1,200MHz. The HD 5870 also supports all of the latest technology and has a core speed of 850MHz making it the fastest single GPU AMD graphics card available.
Nvidia GTX 470 - $350
This card is Nvidia's next step down from the GTX 480 and while not quite as powerful as the GTX 480 or any of the more powerful Radeon card the GTX 470 is still considered one of the top of the line graphics cards available today. The GTX 470 comes with 1.28GB's of memory rated at 837MHz, a core/shader speed of 600/1,215MHz and also supports all the latest technology.
AMD Radeon HD 5850 - $300 to $400
The Radeon HD 5850 is AMD's next step down from the HD 5870 but can still be considered one of today's top of the line cards. This card is where we really start to see a price drop and because of this many enthusiasts will opt to buy two of these cards and run them together using AMD's crossfire to give them performance on par with the HD 5970 for slightly cheaper. The HD 5850 is available in a 1GB and 2GB version both of which are rated at 1,000MHz, have a core speed of 725Mhz and also support all the latest technology.
AMD Radeon HD 5830 - $240
This card is where we start to see the biggest drop in performance when compared to the higher rated graphics cards. The Radeon HD 5830 supports all current technologies and has 1GB of memory rated at 1,000MHz and has a core speed of 800MHz. This card may sound as though it is on par with cards that can be considered top of the line but it does not quite perform quite as well as it is the last step down in AMD's 5800 series of graphics cards.
Nvidia GTX 260 - $215
This card is where Nvidia starts to fall as far as performance and we also start moving onto the previous generation of graphics cards. The GTX 260 still performs quite well but does not support the newest technologies and has the least amount of memory of the cards so far listed, 896MB rated at 999MHz. The GTX 260 also has the slowest core/shader speed we've seen thus far at 576/1242MHz. Keep in mind this graphics card performs very well for its price.
AMD Radeon HD 4890 - $210
The Radeon HD 4890 is an older model graphics card however it still holds up against many of the others in this price range. The HD 4890 has 1GB of memory rated at 975MHZ, a core speed of 850 MHZ but does not take advantage of the newest technologies.
AMD Radeon HD 5770 -$160 to $180
The Radeon HD 5770 is basically a HD 4870 that has been updated to make use of the newest technologies. The HD 5770 is available in two versions, 512MB's and 1GB both rated at 1,200Mhz. The core speed of the HD 5770 is 850Mhz.
AMD Radeon HD 5750 - $140
The Radeon HD 5750 is a very nice performing graphics card for it's price. The HD 5750 has 1GB of memory rated at 1,150MHz, a core speed of 700MHz and can make use of all of the latest technologies. This is the card I would recommend for a gamer on a budget, if you have an extra $20 you could even go for the above listed HD 5770. These cards are great even though they do not quite pack the punch of the others around and slightly above this price range however they can make use of all the new technologies.
Thanks for checking out my graphics card guide, I'll do my best to keep it as up to date as possible. ( May 20th 2010)