Best of the Best - Part 3 - AMD GPUs

This is part three of my "best of the best" series, and in this post I'll be looking at AMD GPUs, again in three price brackets - Budget, mainstream and high-end.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

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

Previous posts in series: Intel CPUs | AMD CPUs

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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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.

Right now, the $60 to $70 price range is the sweet spot, and there are a few AMD GPUs that fall into this price range - HD 4650, HD 4670, HD 5450, HD 5550, and the HD 5570.

One of the best cards that both falls into this price and utilizes one of these GPUs is the XFX HD-555X-ZNF2 Radeon HD 5550. This features 1GB of DDR2 RAM and the clock runs at 550MHz. These cards don't offer anywhere near as much power as you'll see in the mainstream and high-end categories, but it's still a very, very good card for $69.

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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.

The sweet spot in terms of GPU is the Radeon HD 5770, and one of the best cards featuring this GPU is the SAPPHIRE 100283L. This card has a GPU running at 850MHz and a memory clock running at 1,200MHz and 1GB of GDDR5. the card also supports DirectX 11.

This is a great card for gamers, but there's more to this card than games. This card is great for video encoding and decoding, able to handle HD video like Blu-ray easily.

On top of that you get Eyefinity technology, allowing you to hook up three screens to a single card.

All this is reasonably priced at $170.

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

The insanest graphics card currently available is the ASUS ARES Radeon HD 5870 X2which offers a monster graphics card in exchange for $1,299! It's a hell of a price, but you do get a heck of a card for your money. The HD 5870 X2 GPU races along at 850MHz and the memory clock ticks along at 4,800MHz. There's 4GB of GDDR5 RAM fitted and the whole affair is cooled by a massive heatsink and fan.

This card is undoubtedly the king, offering a 32% performance advantage over the reference Radeon HD 5970.

If you want to spend a little less, you could pick up an XFX HD-597A-CNB9 Radeon HD 5970 Black Edition. This card has a core clock running at 725MHz and a memory clock running at 4,000MHz. This card is kitted out with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM. All this is yours for $720!

Both cards offer HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI ports, DirectX 11 support, Eyefinity and all the power you can buy!

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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)

A graphics card that fulfils all these criteria is the SAPPHIRE 100252HDMI Radeon HD 4550. It offers bags of power without needing a nuclear power station to supply it with juice and a huge cooler to take away all the waste heat. Price is reasonable $45.

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