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BEST VIDEO CARD UPGRADES FOR GENERAL USE & MOVIES

Looking for a relatively inexpensive video card upgrade for general use, such as surfing the net, using office applications, home theater personal computers (HTPC), watching movies and videos, and light video editing and gaming? On this web page you will find:

picture showing mother and baby playing on their computer

The Next Generation Is Ready

People looking to upgrade to moderate or enthusiast level gaming video cards can skip this page and go right to Gaming which provides information and resources to review faster gaming cards. 

If you are not sure what you want in a video card upgrade, or what video card upgrade your system might allow, see the Criteria web page.

Integrated Graphics

One question you have already asked yourself is “Do I really need a graphics card?”.  Many of today’s PCs typically come with fairly robust integrated graphics (IG) processors that are perfectly capable of handling general day-to-day use.  Graphics cards do little to assist or speed up activities like email, web surfing, and watching movies and other videos. However, even a low power $40 graphics card upgrade will run circles around IG when it comes to graphics-related activities such as gaming and may significantly speed up video editing. Larger computer monitors may also require a video card upgrade.

The Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart at Tom's Hardware shows how the performance of integrated graphics processors compares with standard video card models. See the last column in the chart - the integrated graphics processors are near the bottom.

Best Video Cards for HTPC and General Use

The table below lists the best video cards at different price levels. 

The name of each card is linked to Amazon.com, a vendor web site (with whom we affiliate because of their excellent prices, strong product line, and good service) where you can get additional details about the video card, and see current prices - including discounts and rebates that may be offered on some video cards but may not be reflected in the price shown below.


BEST VIDEO CARDS FOR NON-GAMING USE
Models/
Memory
Low
Warranty
Third 
Price  
   Cards
Size
Type
Profile
Cooling
(Yrs)
Port
($)
HD 5450
   Sapphire 100291DDR3L
512 MB
DDR3
Yes
Passive
2
D-Sub
35
   VisionTek 900311
512 MB
DDR3
Yes
Passive
Life
D-Sub
28
GT 430              
   XFX GT430XZAF2
1 GB
DDR3
No
Fan
2
D-Sub
58
   EVGA 01G-P3-1335-KR
1 GB
DDR3
Yes
Fan
2
D-Sub
63
HD 5570
   Sapphire 100293L
1 GB
DDR3
Yes
Fan
2
D-Sub
52
   XFX HD-557X-ZHL2
1 GB
DDR3
No
Fan
2
D-Sub
58
HD 6570
   Sapphire Radeon 100323L
1 GB
DDR3
Yes
Fan
2
D-Sub
50
   HIS H657H1G
1 GB
DDR3
Yes
Passive
2
None
70

Notes to table:

Best Video Card Upgrade Models

The table below shows, in our opinion, the best video card models currently available at several budget levels for general use (G), HTPC (H), light gaming (L) upgrades, and some combinations thereof, along with a few key specifications.


RECOMMENDED GRAPHICS CARD MODELS
  Video card model
HD 5450
GT 430
HD5570
HD 6570
  Recommended Use
GH
GH
GHL
GHL
  Ratings for:
      General Use
5
5
5
5
      HTPC
4
5
5
5
      Light Gaming (see explanation below)
1
3
4
5
  Low Profile Available
YES
YES
YES
YES
  Power Supply Recommended (watts)
400
300
400
400
  Max. Number of Monitors
3
2
3
3
  Direct X
DX 11
DX 11
DX 11
DX 11
  HDMI Audio Support
YES
YES
YES
YES
  Price Range
$20-45
$55-80
$55-85
$60-80
  
 

∗ Some models may require adapters, depending on the make.

Other key specifications common to all the video cards above include:

All of the upgrade cards listed above will easily play casual games. The “Light Gaming” rating above reflects their ability to play the more intensive games at the levels listed below.

 

Rating General Explanation
5
Excellent performance in most games up to a monitor resolution of 1680x1050
4
Good performance up to 1280x1024
3
Slow play in most games at 1280x1024
1
Use for casual and older games, frame rates mostly under, sometimes well under, 30 fps at 1280x1024 for current games

Recognize that it is hard to encapsulate performance and playability into a single ranking due to the high variability in different games and the impact of other system differences such as monitor resolution, system memory, and CPU for slower systems.  The above table assumes that video card performance is not limited by other system components such as the CPU, The quality settings chosen for each game also have major impact; the rankings assume low settings. The general rankings are further complicated by differences between card versions, most notably the speed of the memory and to a lesser extent the amount.  The increase in cost for faster memory is generally nominal, usually only about $10, a worthwhile investment in an upgrade. The rankings above assume the faster memory. 

Upgrading Video Cards for HTPC

Mother and daughter playing video game

Mother & Daughter Enjoying a Video Game

Selecting HTPC cards can be as complex as you want to make it, given the plethora of options for formats and codecs, the subjectivity of quality judgments and acceptable levels, and different target uses from simple viewing to editing.

A recent review article from X-bit labs provides a good review of more detailed aspects of the technology in HTPC cards and its current state, as well as an excellent review of the comparative quality of many current cards.  The article presents the results of tests covering such details as color upsampling errors, noise and artifact reduction, and image scaling and enhancements. Below is a link to the article followed by some summary scores on playback quality taken from the article that were used in preparing the above rankings.

The Kings of Multimedia Playback: Contemporary HTPC Graphic Cards Reviewed


VIDEO PLAYBACK QUALITY
   Video Card Model
HD 5450
HD 5570
HD 5670
    DVD Score
106
123
123
    Blu-ray Score
146
163
163
          Total
252
286
286

 

HTPC use does not get the same attention and number of reviews as gaming cards, but below are articles about some of the recommended HTPC upgrade models that might  provide additional insight:

ATI Radeon HD 5450 & HD 5570 Graphics Cards    from silentpcreview.com
ATI Radeon HD 5450: Eyefinity And HTPCs For Everyone?    from Tom’s Hardware Guide
AMD’s Radeon HD 5450: The Next Step in HTPC Video Cards    from anandtech.com
The Final Word on the Best Radeon HTPC Card    from anandtech.com
Video Quality Tested: GeForce Vs. Radeon In HQV 2.0    from Tom’s Hardware Guide

 

This review of the GTS 450 video card includes a section on multimedia performance that provides a detailed comparison of performance on several metrics for some of the cards listed above plus some higher quality video cards, including nVidia Geforce cards - the 220, 240, 9800, 450 and 460 and ATI Radeon HD cards - the 4770, 4850, 5570, 5670, and 5750:

GTS 450 Multimedia Functionality

Two more recent video card upgrades with strong HTPC features are the AMD HD 6570 and nVidia GT 430.  The HD 6570 has the advantage in ease of use for HTPC and performance for gaming while the GT 430 has the advantage in price, particularly after some rebates offered at this writing.  This review compares their HTPC performance:

Discrete HTPC GPU Shootout

While this review compares gaming performance with benchmarks for the two upgrade video cards:

AMD Radeon HD 6570 512 MB Video Card Review


For more information you can jump to:

 

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