XFX Radeon HD 5770 - £82
AMD budget graphics
The Radeon HD 5770 from AMD is getting a little elderly now. Released in late 2009 you'd be forgiven for thinking it a little irrelevant in these days of £600 multi-GPU graphics and HD 6xxx series GPUs flooding the market.
But there's still a place for this plucky ol' card - it's not quite soiling its plastic pants in a dusty corner of an old GPU's home just yet. Like the impressive HD 4850 before it, this always bargainous card has seemingly got better and better with age, like fine vinegar.
Now it's dropped well below the £100 mark it's a fantastic low-end upgrade that will make a significant difference to the gaming prowess of older rigs without making a huge impact on your bank balance.
The Juniper XT GPU beating inside the HD 5770 has got enough DirectX 11 goodness to cope with most of today's games at the modest end of the resolution spectrum. So running a 22-inch monitor with a native resolution of 1,680 x 1,050 will give you access to pretty much all the post-processing PC gaming can offer.
EVGA GTX 460 1GB - £139
Nvidia budget graphics
Nvidia's GTX 460 is one card that I think I've written more about over the last 12 months than any other card in existence. Ever.
Nvidia's Fermi graphical architecture showed us how DirectX 11 cards could be done, and done properly. Unfortunately, both the GTX 480 and GTX 470 were incredibly expensive cards and the GTX 480 especially was one hot, loud beast of a GPU.
So that meant that despite its lead in graphical power the still impressive Radeon HD 5850 was looking like the DX11 card of the day. Nvidia did try and bring in lower-end cards, but the short-lived GTX 465 was too weak and too expensive to make any dent in AMD's mid-range graphical superiority.
That is until the superlative GTX 460 turned up. In 1GB frame buffer flavour the GTX 460 almost overnight made the GTX 465, and even the GTX 470, seem completely obsolete. The price/ performance ratio from this little card was nothing short of astounding, harking back to the good ol' days of the 8800GT.
Sapphire HD 6950 2GB - £216
AMD upgrade graphics card
Right, we're getting into serious graphics card territory here, and inevitably that means serious money too. At over £200 that's a lot to spend on a single component if you're talking about an upgrade purchase. But it's AMD's latest, and arguably greatest, GPU technology inside that Cayman processor and it's got some heavy-weight DirectX 11 graphical architecture backing it up.
Taking the seriously GPU taxing DirectX 11 tessellation-heavy benchmark of Metro 2033 there is no NVIDIA card that can come close to managing doublefigure frame rates at the highest 2,560 x 1,600 resolution until you get up to the £400-odd GTX 580. And even that card can only manage an extra 2fps over this impressive GPU.
It was an odd one from AMD's perspective as it launched both the HD 6950 and the other Cayman-powered card, the HD 6970, at the same time. Despite the fact there was a gulf of around £80 in cost, there was very little between them in terms of raw performance.
In the overclocking stakes the HD 6970 had the edge, but that was only down to the fact AMD had artificially limited the clockspeeds on the HD 6950 so as not to allow people to push the cheaper card as far as it's slightly more powerful brethren.
Stranger still was the fact that barely a week after release there was a BIOS flash for the HD 6950 that enabled you to open the dormant parts of the Cayman GPU to essentially turn it into a HD 6970 for free.
Zotac GTX 570 - £277
Nvidia upgrade graphics card
When it comes to this upgrade group test, this is the daddy in graphics cards terms. At a chunk under £300 it's a card that will more than likely take up most of your upgrade budget, so is it worth that outlay on a single component?
Well, as we've shown the answer is not that easy. Dropping in the fastest, most expensive GPU is not always the magic pill to deliver instant frame rate bonuses for your favourite games. But this GF 110-powered graphics card is a quite excellent example of just why the Fermi architecture is so good, especially in this second generation of Nvidia's GPU.
Despite the naming conventions this is not really a direct replacement for the GTX 470 from the previous generation, it's actually got far more in common with the top-card of that line, the GTX 480.