Graphics Cards for All Budgets (Part 2) - Radeon HD 7770, GeForce GTX 560, Radeon HD 7850, GeForce GTX 660

11/14/2012 9:33:24 AM

Arguably the cheapest card worth recommending to serious gamers, the Radeon HD 7770 is almost 30% faster than the Radeon HD 7750, but it has steeper requirements; not only is it double-wide, it also needs its own six-pin power supply That's not to say it's a power-draining monster (it only uses one six-pin plug, at least), but you're reaching the point where a budget system would baulk at powering it.

The main problem with this card is that it's the point where NVidia and AMD start to become more competitive with one another. There's only a tenner's difference between this and the GeForce GTX 560 SE, but the latter performs substantially better (around 20% faster under real-world conditions.)

Description: Radeon HD 7770

Radeon HD 7770

The average price for the card is $160, putting it at the absolute bottom of its price range, but if you can find it cheap or absolutely can't afford more, it's worth considering as a solid performer that can keep up with modern games. Expect 30fps even in full HD resolution with most details enabled. Buy it, and you'll be satisfied with the performance, but only if you don't look at what a few pounds more could have got you.

$160 - $240: GeForce GTX 560

If you're aiming to buy in the $160 - $240 bracket, the NVidia GeForce GTX 560 (note - not the SE or Ti version) is a good choice. Do be careful, though, because its the specs are all over the place. This is because no NVidia reference version was produced at launch, meaning manufacturers were free to clock it however they liked. Its base rate is 810MHz and the fastest run at speeds of 950MHz, so use that number to inform your purchase.

Even at the standard speed, this is a hot-running card and the dual-fans on most versions audibly reflect that. This is a card for headphone-wearing gamers, there's no doubt about it. Even so, speeds are high, and the low price makes it worth putting up with its more irritating qualities.

Description: GeForce GTX 560

GeForce GTX 560

HD performance is good, and ultimately you won't find better-looking graphics delivered by cheaper cards. Visually it competes with those that cost a great deal more, because rather than worry about noise levels, temperature and power consumption (it uses two six-pin power supplies) they've just packed in the power. If you care more about raw visuals than micro-managing overall performance, this is the card to go for.

$240 - $320: Radeon HD 7850

The Radeon HD 7850 sits in the $256 - $288 price bracket, and at this point you really start to see how spending money on a graphics card can improve what you get. Performance at 1920x1200 is nothing short of excellent, and you can even run in the likes of 2560x1600 if you'll accept lower detail settings.

In performance terms, it's competing with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti and the GeForce GTX 570, but it more or less equals their output at a lower price while taking up less power. If you're feeling extravagant, benchmarks peg the Radeon FID 7870 (the next card up in the range) as having roughly 20% better performance, but math’s fans will notice that it's more than 30% more expensive.


Radeon HD 7850

Of the available choices. Sapphire perhaps offer the best deal, coming in below average price even though it's slightly overclocked all of its FID 7850s out of the box, which is useful if you don't want to risk doing it yourself. The trade-off is a shorter two-year warranty, but if you're gaming, two years is long enough to hang onto any card.

$240 - $320: GeForce GTX 660

It’s taken its sweet time getting here, but the GeForce GTX 660 has finally put a decently powered 6-series GPU on shelves for under $320. While NVidia’s Kepler cards have been tearing up the high end of the market, they’ve been out of reach of all but the most dedicated enthusiast until now. A 2GB card that you can pick up around $288, the GeForce GTX 660 offers fantastic clock speeds starting at 980MHz, with NVidia’s GPU Boost technology capable of pushing that even higher (cooling permitting).

Description: GeForce GTX 660

GeForce GTX 660

Priced between AMD’s Radeon HD 7850 and 7870, it’s fair to say the card is of comparable power to both - a little better than the former, a little worse than the latter, but closer to it than you might expect. Given the lower price, it’s fair to say that the GeForce GTX 660 offers better value, giving you the kind of performance you could expect from a card costing over $320. We can’t help but recommend it.

The GeForce GTX 660, then, is ideal for frequent gamers who want the latest compatibility but don’t have unlimited amounts of money to spend pushing polygons. You can find cards that do more, but none of them offer such good value.

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