1. EVGA GTX 680 Signature 2
The GTX 680 is still an impressive piece of technical engineering this far down the line. Released back in March, Nvidia's current flagship card is still at the top of the graphics tree, duking it out with AMD's HD 7970 for GPU supremacy. That's impressive given the fact that its GK104 is a far simpler bit of silicon compared to the Tahiti XT behemoth in the AMD card.
The GK104 is a 3.5bn transistor chip verses the 4.3bn transistor Tahiti XT core, and as such is smaller and more power efficient. That's quite a change compared to the Fermi generation where the top GTX 480 and GTX 580 housed massive, power-hungry GPUs chock-full of CUDA cores and SM units.
2. Sapphire HD 7970 GHz Edition Vapor-X
The HD 7970 GHz Edition is the fastest consumer graphics card, and the best news is it's not the most expensive. When Nvidia released the GTX 680, AMD was able to counter with the upgraded GHz Edition of its HD 7970, upping the clockspeed to cope with the new kid on the block and retain its top-GPU crown.
This is the card to get if you're powering a hi-res screen or three. It's got the graphics processing chops to run pretty much any game at 2,560 x 1,600, on the highest settings, without batting a silicon eyelid. It may only be a little faster than the GTX 680 in most tests, but in the compute-heavy titles, such as the lighting-intensive DiRT Showdown, it has a clear lead.
3. Asus GTX 670 Direct CU II
Featuring an only slightly cut-down GK104 GPU compared to the top-end GTX 680, we were big fans of the GTX 670 when it first tipped up. It was only a little slower than the top GeForce card and was much cheaper. It also had a performance lead on the HD 7950 and was on par with the original HD 7970.
Time hasn't been kind to the GTX 670 though and with prices staying relatively high since launch, its relevance has diminished. The new GHz Edition of the HD 7970 put it out in front of both top Kepler cards and the Catalyst driver optimisations, and more compute-oriented game engines have made the HD 7950 a rather tantalising prospect in comparison.
4. Asus HD 7950 Direct CU II
There's a tremendous sense of value when you get this Asus version of AMD's HD 7950 out of the box. It really is rather massive. The triple-slot cooling array, means that you're going to have to think long and hard about whether you've got enough space inside your PC chassis to house such a behemoth of a card. That said it's not a bad little performer, especially at this price point.
AMD has managed to be incredibly aggressive on pricing as new Nvidia-shaped competitors have hit the streets, and to have this sort of performance for much less than £300 is impressive.
This card swaps performance leads with the more expensive GTX 670 across our benchmarking suite, showing that it has the chops at both hi-res and in the more compute-oriented games/lighting engines we've started to come across.
5. EVGA GTX 660 Ti Superclocked
When we first saw the GTX 660 Ti from EVGA it was hovering around the $400 - $425 price mark and was then bumping heads with the HD 7950 and that was a battle it was never going to win. Unlike a lot of the other Nvidia cards, though, this has had a little price cut in recent times.
Now it's available for just under $350 and that makes it much more of an interesting proposition. At this price it's smack bang in the middle of the HD 7950 and HD 7870, and in performance terms too that's exactly where it ought to be.
Broadly speaking it's a quicker card than the HD 7870, even the overclocked Gigabyte version we're looking at in this test. There are a couple of instances where it suffers by comparison, but then only very slightly. Interestingly it's actually quicker than the HD 7870 in the traditionally AMD-centric DiRT Showdown.
6. Gigabyte Radeon HD 7870 OC Edition
When the HD 7870 first tipped up in March we weren't that fussed about it. Sure, it delivered decent numbers in the benchmarks, but at about £260 it was way overpriced and left us feeling rather cool towards this mid-range Radeon card.
Thanks to Nvidia finally getting its act together with its own mid-range cards, AMD has started aggressively pricing and now the HD 7870s, and even this overclocked edition, are sitting below the $300 mark. At this price there really isn't anything Nvidia can do to compete.
Now the GTX 660 Ti's prices have come down, though, it does represent a little more competition for AMD's mid-range master. Still, the Pitcairn XT is pretty much all the GPU you need for your 1080p screen - it will throw polygons around at impressive speeds in any game you care to throw at it.
7. EVGA GTX 660 Superclocked
When Nvidia finally got the GTX 660 out of the door it was all set to go head-to-head with AMD's HD 7850. And that would have been completely right - both offer similar performance figures. Among the Nvidia-favouring titles it does better, and vice versa with the AMD-centric games.
Had the situation stayed static then Nvidia's cards would've had their own place in the world. Yay. But AMD held its pricing at a level before Nvidia's mid-range hit the streets and thanks to its cards being out for a good while longer, AMD's been able to slash its price tags. That means the straight GTX 660 is now going up against the vanilla HD 7870.
Despite the overclocked nature of this EVGA card, it still can't beat the stock-clocked Radeon. Even on the Nvidia-sponsored games, like Max Payne 3, it's second best to the current mid-range king.
8. Sapphire Radeon HD 7850 2GB
The performance of the HD 7850 when it first came out, combined with its relatively low price tag, made for a very enticing mid-range card. That impressive start has only gotten better as time has moved on and the price has dropped ever lower. Once it dropped below $300 it was hard to really recommend anyone with a 1080p screen spending more.
Now it's sub-£200 graphics card crown has slipped as its HD 7870 big brother has usurped the HD 7850's place by making itself a whole lot cheaper than it used to be. Still, at $230 you'd surely expect us to still be pretty taken with the HD 7850.
And while it's still a great mid-range card, there has been one other sibling to make us take a second look. And that's the 1GB version of this GPU. You might expect the extra gigabyte of graphics memory to push this graphics card significantly ahead in the high-res benchmarks - but you'd be wrong.
9. Zotac GTX 650 Ti AMP!
So, you thought things looked bad for the HD 7850 in standard 2GB trim when the 1GB version came out, but spare a thought for the poor ol' GTX 650 Ti. Bless its little silicon socks, it's really trying.
Throwing off the shackles of the GK107 GPU, Nvidia decided to lumber the standard GTX 650 with this Ti version, which is rocking the same pumped-up pixel-pusher as the GTX 660. That means it's actually much more of a reasonable gamer's graphics card than the standard version. Were it simply going head-to-head with an equivalently priced HD 7770 then it would have beaten the AMD card hands down.
Sadly it's all shifted around and this AMP! edition of the GTX 650 Ti sits in between the 1GB and 2GB versions of the HD 7850 - and suffers by comparison with each of them.
10. MSI HD 7850 1GB
We have to admit this was a bit of a surprise. We wanted to get the 1GB version of the HD 7850 to test it against the HD 7770 more than anything else - assuming this would be the card it'd be going up against. After all, the 2GB frame buffer of the stock HD 7850 must be partly responsible for its impressive showing at hi-res, right?
And that's putting post-processing such as anti-aliasing in the mix. How wrong we were. It seems that the bottleneck to the Pitcairn Pro's performance is not the memory at all - the GPU itself bottlenecks performance well before the memory gets anywhere near making things crawl.
What does that mean though? Well, it means the 1GB version of the HD 7850, especially the slightly overclocked version supplied by MSI, is more than able to keep pace with the stock 2GB version of the Pitcairn Pro card.
11. MSI HD 7770
This is as good as it gets if you're looking for a genuinely gaming-capable card at the sub-$150 level. Granted, it's only just under $150, but compared with the competing GTX 650, at this price point it's the gamer's only real option.
Heaven is a great metric for comparing GPU performance in isolation of any marketing nonsense, or any company specific extras, and the figures don't lie. The HD 7770 is considerably faster than the GTX 650 in Heaven 3.0 with only Batman: AC actually giving any parity of performance between the two cards. Across all the other benchmarks, whether at 1080p or 2,560 x 1,600, the AMD graphics card has a pretty significant advantage. When you look at the different GPU architecture it's easy to see why.
12. PNY GTX 650
What both iterations of the GTX 650, in either this or the speedier, pricier Ti-trim, have going for them is their diminutive size. They're both pleasingly small little graphics cards, ideal for the wee PC. Well, ideal for the wee PC that you don't really have any interest in getting decent gaming frame rates from in any case.
Okay, that's a little unfair - the traditionally Nvidia-lovin' Batman: AC will still let you top 40fps at 1080p at the top settings. Elsewhere, though, you're going to have to seriously tighten your graphical-pretties belt in order to make sure you're getting decent frame rates.
This is the same GK107 GPU that we've seen in a number of laptops recently - that twin SMX GPU being perfect for the power- conscious mobile crowd - and if you're running a 720p screen, at 1,366 x 768 or similar, then you're going to be able to get some decent gaming speeds.
13. Sapphire HD 7750
This far down the pecking order of graphics cards you will really struggle to get anything close to decent gaming frame rates out of a normal 1080p screen. With the Sapphire HD 7750 you're not going to be pushing much past 20 frames per second in most games without seriously knocking back the graphics settings or resolution.
This version of the HD 7750, with the 2GB of relatively slow DDR3 video RAM, is almost irrelevant in gaming terms. That said, though, you can pick up a low-profile version which could go into a small machine to stick under your TV.
With Steam's TV mode, and a drop in resolution, you'll be able to get almost gaming-capable speeds at 720p on your telly. For another $30, though, you can get double the gaming performance with an HD 7770, and $80 extra will get you the awesome HD 7850 1GB.
14. Zotac GT 640 ZONE
The main, indeed probably only, selling point of the GT 640 Zone is the fact that it's completely silent. With a chunky passive cooler sitting atop the GPU and memory chips, there are no spinning fans whirring away like a mini-turbine inside your PC. That means that despite its standard card height it would make a pretty decent media centre GPU.
Like the HD 7750, you'll struggle to get any decent gaming frame rates out of the card at standard 1080p resolutions and top settings, but lower your expectations and you'll be able to hit reasonable gaming speeds.
Nowadays, lower settings in current games don't make them look much worse than their console counterparts but, still, for an extra $30 you can pick up much more bona fide gaming cards.