Budget graphics card comparison test

One thing we’ve all been noticing is that the requirements of games have been slowly going down.

One thing we’ve all been noticing is that the system requirements of games have been slowly going down. The best example of this is the upcoming id Software RAGE game title. Any gaming enthusiast will tell you that id Software makes some really intensive games and Doom 3 pushed the boundaries when it came out back in 2004. RAGE it seems, will be able to run on three year old graphics cards. A mid-range range card today then makes ideal sense for those on a tight budget, but who still want to game. There’s no shortage of these cards, but which one do you buy? To find out, we called up all of the graphic card manufacturers in India, asking them to send us all their budget graphics cards. We’re happy to report we received 19 of them, all priced roughly between the Rs. 6,000 and Rs. 8,000 range.


The cards

We received products across chipsets and features from brands such as ASUS, Galaxy, MSI, Palit, Sapphire, XFX and ZOTAC. There were also some new comers. Forsa, for example, is a relatively new brand and HIS, a brand not so commonly known in India was also present for the test. Chipsets ranging from NVIDIA’s GTS250 to AMD’s Radeon 6790 were all present. The point of the test was to try and pinpoint the best graphics card around in this price range. Users using 22-inch and 24-inch displays and wanting a graphics solution in a somewhat tight budget would find these cards suitable.


Test procedure

Being graphics cards, the key factor that governs the buying decision is the performance. In order to do this, we ran a barrage of benchmarks, which included the synthetic benchmark 3DMark Vantange. Games such as Resident Evil 5, Mafia 2, Far Cry 2, DiRt 2 and Just Cause 2 were also run. This ensured that we covered most popularly used game engines across developers. We ran games at two resolutions - 1280x1024 and 1680x1050. We also wanted to see how well the cooling solution on these cards would perform. Many of the systems running these cards might be run as 24/7 rigs. Temperatures under gaming load also must be under reasonable levels, so we took a separate reading to see how hot the cards would get under load.



There was one card that stood out across all tests in this comparison and that was the XFX Radeon HD 6790 (HD-679X-ZH). This card, which looked larger than most other cards was the fastest of all by far. It just about managed to make it within our price range for this test. Priced at just under Rs. 8,000 in the market, it manages to be faster than all the other cards by a good bit. The only games where it drops below some of the other cards are Mafia 2 and Far Cry 2. The GeForce GTX550 Ti cards from Sparkle and Galaxy are the ones that rise to the top. One of the surprising scores is from the ASUS GeForce GTS 450 TOP, which with its overclocked core manages to come somewhat close to the GTX 550 Ti cards. 


Dirt 2

Budget graphics card comparison test

Dirt 2 test scores (Click for larger image)

Both the XFX Radeon 6790 and the Sparkle GTX 550 Ti come very close in this test. Between these three chipsets, there’s hardly a 5 percent performance difference. With frame rates touching 70fps at 1680x1050 resolutions, one can easily crank up the resolution to 1920x1080 and notice a small hit in performance. 


Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 test scores

Far Cry 2 test scores (Click for larger image)

A bigger performance boost can be seen in Far Cry 2, where the GTX 550 Ti cards again, from Sparkle and Galaxy seem to dominate. Some of the slightly older cards such as the MSI GTS450 and the overclocked ASUS ENGTS450 TOP also make an appearance here. 

Just Cause 2

Just Cause 2 test scores

Just Cause 2 test scores (Click for larger image)

In Just Cause 2, NVIDIA cards take a hit again as the XFX Radeon 6790 and Radeon 6770 dominate in this test. Being able to run Just Cause 2 at pretty high settings with frame rates reaching as high as 55 fps at 1680x1050 is pretty impressive, considering the level of detail.


Mafia 2

Mafia 2 test scores

Mafia 2 test scores (Click for larger image)

The gap between the cards across GPU manufacturers is cut down in this test. The high-end Radeon and GeForce cards all manage to get similar frame rates across the tests. Cards such as the Sapphire Radeon 6570 and the Palit GT440 are the worst hit with average frame rates dropping below 30 fps.


Resident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5 test scores

Resident Evil 5 test scores (Click for larger image)

The game engine used in Resident Evil 5, like the one used in Devil May Cry is a very pretty and refined engine that churns out high frame rates no matter what the hardware. It’s evident as many cards touch the 100 fps at lower resolutions. At 1680x1050 and with antialiasing touching 8x, frame rates only drop to 70 - 80 fps range. Even the slowest of cards can handle this title with these settings giving just about decent, playable performance.



It’s clear that across the board, the XFX Radeon 6790 wins. Priced at just Rs. 7,975 in the market including taxes, it offers good bang for your buck and it also happens to be one of the few Radeon 6790 to fall in this price bracket. Two good options available are the Sparkle GTX550 Ti and the Galaxy GTX 550 Ti.

XFX's Radeon HD6790

XFX's Radeon HD6790


They’re both priced almost identical to the XFX Radeon 6790. The ability to setup CrossFire and SLI is also an interesting proposition with these cards. With temperatures of these GeForce GTX 550 Ti cards not crossing 65C under load and 40C on idle, they make sense for dual-GPU setups. 




The slower ASUS GTS450 card with its passive cooling solution is dead silent and might make good sense for a HTPC, where you’d like to game occasionally. A good bang-for-your-buck card is the XFX Radeon 6770. It's priced at just Rs. 7,000, but it offers good performance for its price as compared to the Radeon 6790.

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