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Best Videocards For General Use Like HTPC & Movies

Don’t want to spend hours analyzing the relative merits of  the hundreds of graphics or video card upgrade options available for a purchase that  may only cost $40 to $100? This page is for users looking for a relatively  inexpensive video card upgrade for general use.   This includes surfing the net, using general applications like Microsoft  Word and Excel, home theater personal computers (HTPC), watching movies and  videos, and light video editing and gaming.   To make it quick and easy, we have narrowed the choices for upgrade down to the best  card models and even recommend some specific top rated graphics cards.

People looking to upgrade to moderate or enthusiast level gaming cards  can skip this page and go right to the next which provides information and  links to resources that can assist in a thorough review of gaming cards.  We assume at this point that you have already  gone through the process of identifying the objectives and requirements for your  upgrade as covered on the previous page.

One question we also assume 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 non-graphic  applications.  That being said, even a  good, low power $40 graphics card upgrade will run circles around IG when it comes to  graphics-related activities.

 

Recommended Video Card 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 4550
HD 5450
GT 220
HD5570
HD 5670
Recommended Use
G
GH
GHL
GHL
GHL
Ratings for:
General Use
5
5
5
5
5
HTPC
1
4
3
5
5
Light Gaming
1
1
3
4
5
Low Profile Available
YES
YES
YES
YES
YES
Power Supply Recommended (watts)
300
400
300
400
400
Max. Number of Monitors
2
3
2
3
3
Direct X
DX 10.1
DX 11
DX 10.1
DX 11
DX 11
HDMI Audio Support
YES
YES
YES
YES
Price Range
$40-55
$40-65
$60-80
$75-90
$80-100

∗ Some models may require adapters, depending on the make.
Other key specifications include:

  • All support monitor resolutions up to 2560×1600 for HTPC, except the HD4550 which supports one at that resolution or two at 1920×1200
  • The interfaces are all PCIe 2.0 or 2.1 (which are backward compatible with PCIe 1.0 motherboards as explained on the PCIe page)
  • None require an auxiliary connector to the power supply
  • Most of the models have two alternative speeds of memory, the recommendation is for the higher speed – GDDR5 over DDR3 over DDR2.1

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 1680×1050
4
Good performance up to 1280×1024
3
Slow play in most games at 1280×1024
1
Use for casual and older games, frame rates mostly under, sometimes well under, 30 fps at 1280×1024 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.

 

Upgrade Video Cards for HTPC

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.

For those interested, 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
GT 220
HD 5450
HD 5570
HD 5670
DVD Score
109
106
123
123
Blu-ray Score
122
146
163
163
Total
231
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
Nvidia GeForce 210 and GeForce GT 220   Review: Revenge of the Low-End? from  X-bit labs
AMD’s Radeon HD 5670: Sub-$100 DirectX 11 Starts Today 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 serveral 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

 

Recommended Video Cards for HTPC and General Use

The table below lists recommended upgrade cards.  Note that all cards include HDMI and DVI  ports and the table lists their third port, either a Display Port   or D-Sub port.

 

RECOMMENDED NON-GAMING GRAPHICS CARDS
Models/
Low
Cooling
Warranty
Third
Price
Cards
Slots
Profile
(Yrs.)
Port
HD 4550
Gigabyte
GV-R455HM-512
1
Yes
Fan
3
D-Sub
$40
Gigabyte
GC-R455D3-5121
1
No
Passive
3
D-Sub
$50
HD 5450
Sapphire
100292DDR3L
1
Yes
Passive
2
D-Sub
$55
HIS
H545H1G
1
Yes
Passive
2
D-Sub
$55
GT 220
EVGA
01G-P3-13226-LR
1
No
Fan
2
D-Sub
$75
ASUS
ENGT/220/DI/1GD3LP
1
Yes
Fan
3
D-Sub
$80
HD 5570
Sapphire
100293DP
1
Yes
Fan
2
Display
$70
XFX
HD-557X-ZNF2
1
Yes
Fan
Lifetime
Display
$80
HD 5670
MSI
R5670-52
2
Yes
Fan
2
Display
$80
XFX
HD-567X-YNF3
1
No
Fan
Lifetime
Display
$90
Sapphire
100289L
2
No
Fan
2
Display
$95

 

The prices shown above are recent ones from newegg.com, which has very  good prices and customer service.  Note  that some cards may have mail-in rebates at newegg.com,  not reflected above, or may be found on sale or at a better price  elsewhere.  Prices do not include taxes  and shipping.

Other brands from quality manufacturers may provide similar performance and you might be able to find a better upgrade deal, particularly on a sale card.

Source: upgradevideocards.com

 

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