Usually when ever Graphics cards are mentioned, the image of a voltage eating, super hot running, and vacuum cleaner level loud mega sized chips of silicon comes to mind. While this may be true in case of hardcore gamers who will settle for nothing less than something similar, they justify it in terms of blazing fast games and super smooth frames per second in their favorite games. And perhaps, that is what drives technology in the PC world. Enthusiasts will go overboard with the biggest and most powerful graphics card money can buy and then over clock it to get the maximum out of it.
But while the biggest and baddest is what dedicated enthusiasts might be looking for, the amount of heat the cards generates require extensive cooling. Air cooling is the default method, but it is not efficient and very loud especially with smaller blades and high rpm. To overcome the noise, some may opt for liquid cooling which is silent and very efficient, but it is risky, and not everyone’s DIY cup of tea. Not to mention that it is very expensive, usually fits only one or two generations of the card and may become useless after an upgrade, it may also void your warranty if much tampering is done.
Everyone else might not be that daring, and not everyone is a hardcore gamers. Majority of people want a small affordable card with low noise which can serve their multimedia needs and run a few modern games at decent speed and quality. Most importantly they want a VGA card which runs windows vista and 7 Aero without hitches and are able to run the HD 1080p movies stutter free. Manufacturers realize that huge potential in the market. The A compromise between the best performance and tolerable noise and heat level is the sweet spot for majority population. We take a look at the top budget and mainstream graphics cards which are affordable, run HD movies perfectly, and offer enough gaming potential to run current games at good FPS.
1. Radeon 6770 / 6790
This card belongs to the family of budget cards by AMD/ATI. It lies in the middle between the 6750 and the 6790. Given the price point they are being sold at with a 10-20$ difference in between them, it makes little sense to get the 6750 unless you are on a very tight budget. The 6770 is the perfect balance. It is moderately sized, doesn’t run loud and is capable of playing most games at above 60 FPS, which is the standard benchmark for any card. It is also DX11 capable and has hardware decoding for HD movies. Most manufacturers offer custom cooling solutions for this card in a single slot, having a larger fan with low rpm and thus better heat dissipation. People who might be looking for a bit extra performance can go for the 6790 which has slightly higher performance and costs around 15 $ more.
2. Radeon 6670
In the Sub 100$ price range, the Radeon 6670 is a gem. It’s a low profile card perfect for HTPC setup. Available in single slot configurations and small size, you will be hard pressed to find an HTPC where fitting it might be a problem. Depending on the manufacturer, there are totally silent versions of this card available in a fan less configuration, ideal for placing them in HTPC in the living room. Imagine 480 streaming processors and 1GB DDR3 memory, the 6670 is perfect to get visual immersion on your PC screen. It will also be able to run recent games like Star Craft 2 or Call of duty at medium settings. Considering the amount of money you pay for this card, and in most cases the free game it is usually bundled with, it’s an absolute steal.
3. Geforce 450 GTS
Although it is getting increasingly difficult to find, the GeForce 450 GTS is the budget friendly version of the Fermi family from the graphics giant Nvidia. In the early days of Fermi, there were issues of extreme heat generation and thus the big and loud coolers required to support it, but Nvidia fixed that in their latter revisions and now we have a much cooler and quite powerful graphics cards. With the recent price drop, it is now available in the 100$ price bracket and maybe dip a bit more this Christmas. It is a really great card if you want to occasionally game and are low on budget or you just need hardware decoding of HD movies for the true cinema experience. It won’t give you all the power you need to REALLY enjoy today’s games in HD resolution and Anti aliasing but they will be decently playable on medium settings. It is also light on the Power supply, so you have the option to retain your current PSU and upgrade latter.
4. Geforce 550 Ti
The updated big brothers of the Fermi 400 Series, the 500 Series bring all the goodies of the last generation high end to the budget conscious. Case in point, the Geforce 550Ti. A step down from the wildly popular 560 Ti which was designed for the middle end segment, the 550 Ti ships with slightly less clock speeds and performance but still manages to cost almost half its price and retain all the main features. Offering superb DirectX 11 working and first rate tessellation by giving the rendering power required to play games in high resolution and watch or stream HD lag free. Support for PhysX and SLI-Ready are just the cherry on the cake. It may not be the quietest card of this review nor the cheapest, but it sure does produce high frame rates while running DX11 games of this year.
5. Geforce 460 GTX / Radeon 6850
For those who are looking for some extra performance and special features like 3D vision or multi monitor support, they couldn’t get a better choice than either of these two cards. It’s so difficult to recommend either one of them over the other as both are feature packed and only have a very slight edge over each other. Both cards are fully DirectX 11 capable with Shader Model 5.0, and HD audio bit-streaming capabilities. The Radeon offers its Eyefinity multi-monitor support, while the GeForce board boasts Nvidia’s 3D Vision for 3D gaming and Blu-ray 3D support. Both are exceptionally fast cards with 256 bit 1GB Ram, churning out FPS at every modern 2011 3d game at medium to high settings and hardware decoding support to growing number of HD multimedia players and 3d Rendering softwares. Consumers who are willing to spend a bit extra now to save upgrading till the next year, and who can live with the slightly higher noise levels, these cards offer the best price /performance ratio in their class.
Jolein is a tech enthusiast and writer. He runs a handy coupon code website, where you can save big amounts by using different coupon codes and discounts while purchasing from stores like Diamond.com, or autotrader. You will find these discounts at Diamond.com coupon and autotrader coupon.