When that's around 25fps for the AMD card against the 14fps for the Nvidia, the difference is essentially between being able to play and not being able to play at all.

HD heroes

The fact though that you can nail playable frame rates at the top settings - and that includes 4x AA as standard in our gaming benchmarks - at the familiar 1,920 x 1,080 resolution is fantastic. And it shows just how much graphical power is available for such a relatively small outlay these days. This is the sort of performance that we were seeing from the £200 to £250 graphics cards found in the previous generation. If that's the jump in performance from the last generation to this, what about the new GPUs that are on their way?

From what we've heard, the new HD 8000 and GTX 700 series of cards - from AMD and Nvidia respectively - are unlikely to herald the sort of performance improvements we've seen in the last round. The new graphics cards are only set to offer incremental improvements, so we wouldn't expect to see much more graphics pace coming out of the £100 segment in six months' time, unless you can find a cheap HD 7850 1GB under the ton mark.

That AMD card is our budget choice if you can stretch to the £125 it currently costs, as it absolutely hoses the competition in all of our benchmarks - it even offers playable frame rates at the crazy-high resolution of 2,560 x 1,600.

With a strict £100 limit on your upgrade, the HD 7770 won't disappoint - it's a proper gaming-capable GPU offering amazing performance for a great price.

Recommendation:

AMD Radeon HD 7770
Price: £89
Manufacturer: AMD
Web: www.amd.com
GPU: Cape Verde XT
Radeon cores: 640
ROPS: 16
Core clock: 1,000MHz
Memory clock: 1,125MHz
Memory capacity: 1,024MB

Processor

Cores for cash - that's the mantra for the budget CPU hunter

AMD FX-6300

When we were considering the various components to include in this feature, we agonised over whether or not to include processors and motherboards. Harsh words were spoken, mugs were thrown and tea and blood were spilt.

They are quite obviously the key upgrades for a PC, but generally when you're upgrading one it makes sense that you upgrade the other. And trying to keep below the £100 budget and pick up a decent mobo/CPU combo would be practically impossible, especially when you consider you're looking to improve the performance of your current rig.

In the end, we decided that including motherboards in the test would be an exercise in futility - if you're not upgrading the processor there's probably very little to be gained by changing motherboard as well.

On the flip side, we've kept in the CPU category for precisely the opposite reason. AMD has kept the same CPU socket for a few generations now, so older boards are still compatible with more modern CPUs, and you can pick up a decent AMD processor for less than £100. In terms of Intel, that's below where the bottom-end starts.

If you're looking to upgrade your CPU, there's probably not a lot of choices for your current Intel board as it's likely not going to be pin-compatible with the latest CPUs from the same company.

Core values

So, as with the graphics card market, AMD gets the value crown. If you've got an AMD AM3 board from the last year or so, there's a good chance that you'll just need a wee BIOS update to allow compatibility with the latest FX chips.

If you're looking to move up from an old Phenom X6, you may not necessarily be gaining a huge amount - the previous generation of AMD processors had superior single threaded performance, which is arguably more influential in gaming. But pick up anything below the top-end of the last AMD CPU generation and you're laughing.