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Wild Cards?

Best Video Cards For The Money: Sept '08
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What About This Other Card That’s Not On The List? How Do I Know If It’s A Good Deal?

This will happen! In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen because both stock levels and prices change quickly. So how do you know if that card you’ve got your eye on is a good buy in its price range?

Here are two resources to help you judge if a card is a good buy. The first is the graphics card hierarchy chart, which groups graphics cards with similar overall performance into "tiers.” The top tier contains the highest performing cards available, and performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there.

You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two cards, to see which one is a better deal and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I don’t recommend upgrading your graphics card unless the replacement card is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel and you may not notice a worthwhile difference in performance.

At the request of readers I have added mobile and integrated chipsets to the hierarchy chart. I want to make it clear that there is very little performance data available for these graphic solutions. While the discrete video chipsets on the chart are placed based on a lot of information, many of the laptop chipset positions on the chart are guesstimates based on their specifications. At worst I don’t think they’re more than a tier away from their actual performance but this is something to keep in mind when considering mobile graphic chipsets.

GRAPHICS CARD HEIRARCHY CHART
GeForce Radeon
4870 X2
GTX 280
9800 GX2, GTX 260 4870
8800 GTX, 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+ 3870 X2, 4850
8800 GT 512MB, 8800 GTS 512MB, 9800 GT
8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT HD 2900 XT, 3870
8800 GS, 9600 GSO 3850 512MB
8800 GT 256MB, 8800 GTS 320MB HD 2900 PRO, 3850 256MB
7950 GX2 X1950 XTX
7800 GTX 512, 7900 GTO, 7900 GTX X1900 XT, X1950 XT, X1900 XTX
7800 GTX, 7900 GT, 7950 GT X1800 XT, X1900 AIW, X1900 GT, X1950 PRO, HD 2900 GT
7800 GT, 7900 GS, Go 7950 GTX, 8600 GTS, 9500 GT (GDDR3) X1800 XL, X1950 GT, Mobility X1800 XT
6800 Ultra, 7600 GT, 7800 GS, Go 7800 GTX, Go 7900 GTX, 8600 GT (GDDR3), 9500 GT (DDR2) X800 XT (& PE), X850 XT (& PE), X1650 XT, X1800 GTO, Mobility X1900, HD 2600 XT, 3650 (DDR3), 3670
6800 GT, 6800 GS (PCIe), Go 7800, Go 7900 GS, 8600 GT (DDR2), 8700M GT X800 XL, X800 GTO2/GTO16, Mobility X800 XT, HD 2600 PRO, Mobility HD 2600 XT, 3650 (DDR2)
6800 GS (AGP), Go 6800 Ultra, Go 7600 GT, 8600M GT X800 GTO 256mb, X800 PRO, X850 PRO, X1650 GT, Mobility HD 2600
6800, Go 6800, 7300 GT GDDR3, 7600 GS, Go 7700, 8600M GS X800, X800 GTO 128mb, X1600 XT, X1650 PRO, Mobility X1800
6600 GT, 6800LE, 6800 XT, 7300 GT (DDR2), Go 7600 (128-bit), 8500 GT 9800 XT, X700 PRO, X800 GT, X800 SE, Mobility X800, X1300 XT, X1600 PRO, HD 2400 XT
FX 5900, FX 5900 Ultra, FX 5950 Ultra, 6600 (128-bit), Go 6800 (128-bit) 9700, 9700 PRO, 9800, 9800 PRO, X700, X1300 PRO, Mobility X1450, X1550, Mobility X1600, Mobility X1700, HD 2400 PRO, Mobility HD 2400 XT, Mobility X2500, HD 3200
FX 5800 Ultra, FX 5900 XT, Go 6600, Go 7600 (64-bit), Go 8600M GS 9500 PRO, 9600 XT, Mobility 9800, 9800 PRO (128-bit), X600 XT, Mobility X700, X1050 (128-bit), Mobility X1350, Mobility X1400, Mobility X2300, Mobility HD 2400
4 Ti 4600, 4 Ti 4800, FX 5700 Ultra, 6200, 8400 GS 9600 PRO, Mobility 9700 (128-bit), 9800 LE, X600 PRO, Mobility X600, Mobility X1300, Xpress 1250, Mobility HD 2300
4 Ti4200, 4 Ti4400, 4 Ti4800 SE, FX 5600 Ultra, FX 5700, 6600 (64-bit), 7300 GS, 8400M GS 9500, 9550, 9600, Mobility 9600, X300, X1050 (64-bit)
3 Ti500, FX 5200 Ultra, FX 5600, FX 5700 LE, Go 5700, 6200 TC, 6600 LE, 7200 GS, 7300 LE 8500, 9100, 9000 PRO, 9600 LE, Mobility 9700 (64-bit), X300 SE, X1150
3, 3 Ti200, FX 5200 (128-bit), FX 5500, Go 5600, Go 6200, Go 6400, Go 7200, Go 7300, Go 7400 (64-bit) 9000, 9200, 9250, Mobility 9600 (64-bit), Mobility X300
FX 5200 (64 bit), 6100, 6150, Go 7200, Go 7400 (32-bit) 9200 SE, Xpress 200M, Xpress 1000, Xpress 1150
2 GTS, 4 MX 440, 2 Ultra, 2 Ti, 2 Ti 200 7500
256, 2 MX 200, 4 MX 420, 2 MX 400 SDR, LE, DDR, 7000, 7200
Nvidia TNT Ati Rage 128

Summary

There you have it folks: the best cards for the money this month. Now all that’s left is to find and purchase them, and we leave that part up to you. The best prices will almost certainly be found online, but sometimes large retail outlets might surprise you with a good sale.

Don’t worry too much about which brand you choose, because all of the cards out there stick pretty close to the reference designs by Nvidia and AMD. Just pay attention to price, warranty and the manufacturer’s reputation for honoring the warranty if something goes wrong.

Also remember that the stores don’t follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month, and you’ll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to fluctuating prices. Good luck!

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  • 2 Hide
    buzzlightbeer , September 5, 2008 8:17 AM
    the 9800gx2 and the 260gtx doesnt not have directx 10.1
  • 3 Hide
    buzzlightbeer , September 5, 2008 8:19 AM
    take out the not heh sorry
  • -3 Hide
    goonting , September 5, 2008 9:21 AM
    surely would have love buying these cards now... i spent $250 on my HD3870 with Zerotherm cooler..huhuhu
  • -1 Hide
    goonting , September 5, 2008 9:22 AM
    late 2007
  • 0 Hide
    JeanLuc , September 5, 2008 9:44 AM
    Nice article but don't you guys read the comments?1?

    A lot of us don't have XFire or SLI motherboards!
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , September 5, 2008 10:22 AM
    @ JeanLuc: Yeah they do.. they mentioned at the end people with nvidia muthaboards or single pcie slot mobos would have to rely on some of the more expensive cards like the 4870 x2 or something like if they want to play at really high resolutions..
  • 3 Hide
    Pwnz0rz3d , September 5, 2008 10:35 AM
    Might be worth adding a comment along the lines that in the heirachy chart each tier is about a 20%(guess?) imporvement on the one below...
  • 0 Hide
    btoflinski , September 5, 2008 12:03 PM
    as of right now no 9800 gt card supports tri-sli. maybe when the refab the card to the new 55nm core they will add tri-sli. but for right now its just a rebadged 8800 gt.
  • 1 Hide
    dagger , September 5, 2008 12:15 PM
    By the way they sounded, 9800gx2 performed around the same as 4870/gtx260, when in fact it outperforms them both by a huge amount across the board and outperforms gtx280 majority of the time. All games within the last 3 years scale with dual gpu, earlier ones get hundreds of fps it doesn't matter anyway.
  • 3 Hide
    spaztic7 , September 5, 2008 12:29 PM
    OK, why did they not recommend the 4870x2 for over $350? It obliterates everything and crushes high resolutions. Not only that, in many games you get up to 4xAA without any performance hits. I guess this is just one of those things that we will never know... :( 
  • -1 Hide
    dobby , September 5, 2008 12:41 PM
    JeanLucNice article but don't you guys read the comments?1? A lot of us don't have XFire or SLI motherboards!

    well they never recommend multiple cards, just cards with GPU's on whihc do not require a SLi/Xf board
  • -2 Hide
    gxavier , September 5, 2008 1:16 PM
    Again, they give 3 cards for the AGP bus... but leave out single card solutions for those of us that don't care for SLI/Xfire.

    I'd gladly play a premium for the 4870x2 (and you do) in order to keep another bus open for a 4x or higher RAID card.

  • 3 Hide
    Aragorn , September 5, 2008 2:05 PM
    They mention the 4870x2 and SLI setups (in fact they recommend the 4850 Xfire as best for $340.
  • -1 Hide
    gto127 , September 5, 2008 2:21 PM
    Concerning not reccomending any cards for over $350. For an enthusiast site to say something like this just baffles me. Sure you have some diminishing returns but in anything that you get the best at you do pay a premium. An extra $200 to have the best card which I suppose would be a 470X2 is not that bad considering the price tag of the best cards not too long ago. People into high end audio will pay many times the price for something that only sounds 10% better. Having the best has always comanded a premium.
  • 4 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:27 PM
    gxavierAgain, they give 3 cards for the AGP bus... but leave out single card solutions for those of us that don't care for SLI/Xfire.


    No we didn't. Please read the whole article before blasting it, guys.
    Page 4:

    "On a final note, users with an Nvidia chipset or a single PCIe slot should remember that they are not able to purchase two Radeon 4850’s in CrossFire, as their motherboards will not accept them. In this case, options like two GeForce 9800 GTX+ cards, the GeForce GTX 280, and the Radeon 4870 X2 are more attractive options. While these solutions are powerful and might be ideal for a few users who are playing at resolutions higher than 1920x1200, the price performance ratio is not attractive enough for us to include them on our recommended list."
  • -1 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:30 PM
    buzzlightbeerthe 9800gx2 and the 260gtx doesnt not have directx 10.1


    Thanks. Fixed!
  • 1 Hide
    alvarobegue , September 5, 2008 2:32 PM
    This is a great guide, but it basically only considers two measures of a card's desirability: price and performance. The key information missing is power consumption. Well, or how hot it gets, or noise level; they are all related.

    It would be great if future editions of "Best Video Cards For The Money" would mention it somewhere in the specs of each card. An even better (for me) option would be an occasional "Best Video Cards For The Power" guide, but I understand that would probably not be of general interest.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:41 PM
    alvarobegueIt would be great if future editions of "Best Video Cardsvideo cards For The Money" would mention it somewhere in the specs of each card. An even better (for me) option would be an occasional "Best Video Cards For The Power" guide, but I understand that would probably not be of general interest.


    Hi Alvarobegue,

    Interesting suggestion, but the 'best cards for the money' article is all about two factors: price, and performance. I'm afraid that adding a third would dilute that focus.

    Having said that, I'll suggest a review focusing on the power consumption of current cards to the graphics review team. It's a good idea. :) 
  • -4 Hide
    gxavier , September 5, 2008 2:42 PM
    GTO127For an enthusiast site to say something like this just baffles me.citation]

    And thats why I no longer consider Tom's an enthusiast site. They're more of a "mainstream budget oriented" hardware site.

    Take a look at the "best gpu" articles from 2007 and older. There was always a $400+ card, a $500+ card, and sometimes even a $600+ level card (GTX ULTRA!). Now this price range doesn't even get it's own header!




  • 5 Hide
    cleeve , September 5, 2008 2:56 PM
    gxavier
    GTO127For an enthusiast site to say something like this just baffles me.citation]And thats why I no longer consider Tom's an enthusiast site. They're more of a "mainstream budget oriented" hardware site.


    Just because I'm an enthusiast doesn't mean I have to advocate overpriced hardware.

    I would argue a true hardware enthusiast would avoid the most expensive stuff, choosing instead the best price/performance hardware available... and then overclocking the shiznit out of it.
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