Best of the Best - Part 4 - NVIDIA GPUs

This is part four of my "best of the best" series, and in this post I'll be looking at NVIDIA GPUs, again in three price brackets - Budget, mainstream and high-end.

With great choice, comes great responsibility when it comes to picking the right part for the right job. One type of question that I field a lot is "What's the best XYZ for $XXX?"

To try to lift some of the fog surrounding what the best bang for the buck when it comes to CPUs and GPUs I've put together a series of posts that I will update on a regular basis looking at just that.

This is part four of my "best of the best" series, and in this post I'll be looking at NVIDIA GPUs, again in three price brackets - Budget, mainstream and high-end.

Previous posts in series: Intel CPUs | AMD CPUs | AMD GPUs

Note: If you are interested in purchasing any of these components do a search using the terms I've highlighted in bold either via a search engine or at your favorite supplier. Also note that all prices are approximate.

Quick-jump: Budget | Mainstream | High-end | Home Theater PC

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Budget

I remember a time when there was no such thing as a good budget GPU. You could buy a cheap GPU or a good GPU. Now, thanks to competition and progress, it's no possible to buy a really good graphics card for under a $100. Sure, it's not going to do everything or offer the same power that, say, a $200 will do, but you still get a very good graphics card for your money.

The budget NVIDIA card that I recommend here is the ZOTAC ZT-20203-10L GeForce GT 220. For your $70 you get a decent processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, an HDCP-ready, CUDA, PhysX, and HDMI/DVI/D-SUB ports.

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Mainstream

The goal of buying a mainstream graphics card is to have a card that you can throw any game at and get a great gaming experience.

It's tricky to pick the right GPU from the ballooning mainstream market, but the best buy currently is the EVGA 768-P3-1360-TR GeForce GTX 460, which is powered by the Fermi GPU. It has 768MB of GDDR5, a core running at 675MHz and a shader clock running at 1350MHz.

You also get CUDA and PhysX support, DirectX 11 support, and offers a mini HDMI and two DVI ports. All this for $170.

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High-end

Buying at the high-end means spending insane amounts of cash.

Let's spend some cash! The graphics card I've gone for here is the ZOTAC AMP! ZT-40102-10P GeForce GTX 480. This is a monster of a card, featuring a Fermi GPU humming along at 756MHz, 1536MB of GDDR5 RAM, a shader clock running at 1512MHz, and 480 processor cores.

Also present is CUDA and PhysX support, DirectX 11 support, 3-way SLI, and offers a mini HDMI and two DVI ports. Price ... a cool $520.

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Home Theater PC

This category has been inserted into the list by popular demand!

A good HTPC graphics card needs to tick the following boxes:

  • Handle video and HD video
  • Fanless cooling to keep the noise down
  • HDCP ready
  • Low-profile (if being fitted into a small HTPC chassis)

I've not found a card to tick all the boxes but the best all-rounder is the ZOTAC ZT-20404-20L GeForce GT 240. It's not a low-profile card so you'll have to make sure that you have a chassis capable of handling it, but other than that, this $90 card ticks all the boxes.

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