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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For the Money: March 2011

What about this other card that’s not on the list? How do I know if it’s a good deal or not?

This will happen. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen, because inventory 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 is a resource to help you judge if a card is a good buy or not. The graphics card hierarchy chart groups graphics cards with similar overall performance levels 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 graphics and integrated chipsets to the hierarchy chart. I want to make it clear that there is very little performance data available for these graphics solutions. While the discrete video cards in the chart are placed in tiers based on a lot of information, many of the mobile and integrated devices in the chart are guesstimates based on their specifications. At worst, I don’t think they’re more than one tier away from their actual performance, but this is something to keep in mind when considering mobile graphics chipsets.

Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart
Discrete: GTX 580Discrete: HD 5970
Discrete: GTX 295, GTX 480, GTX 570
Discrete: HD 4870 X2, HD 6970

Discrete: HD 4850 X2, HD 5870, HD 6950

Discrete: GTX 470, GTX 560 Ti Discrete: HD 5850, 6870
Discrete: 9800 GX2, GTX 285, GTX 460 1GB, GTX 465 Discrete: 6850

Discrete: GTX 260, GTX 275, GTX 280, GTX 460 768 MB, GTX 460 SE
Discrete: HD 4870, HD 5770, HD 4890, HD 5830
Mobility: HD 5870

Discrete: 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+, GTS 250, GTS 450 Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 4850, HD 5750
Mobility: HD 4850, HD 5850

Discrete: 8800 GTX, 8800 GTS 512 MB
Go (mobile): GTX 280M, GTX 285M
Discrete: HD 4770
Mobility: HD 4860

Discrete: 8800 GT 512 MB, 9800 GT
Go (mobile): 9800M GTX, GTX 260M (112), GTS 360M (GDDR5)
Discrete: HD 4830, HD 5670
Mobility: HD 5770, HD 5750

Discrete: 8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT, GT 240 (GDDR5)
Go (mobile): 9800M GTS, GTX 160M
Discrete: HD 2900 XT, HD 3870, HD 5570 (GDDR5)

Discrete: 8800 GS, 9600 GSO, GT 240 (DDR3)
Go (mobile): GTX 260M (96), GTS 150M, GTS 360M (DDR3)
Discrete: HD 3850 512 MB, HD 4670, HD 5570 (DDR3)
Mobility: HD 3870, HD 5730, HD 5650

Discrete: 8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB
Go (mobile): 8800M
Discrete: HD 2900 PRO, HD 3850 256 MB, 5550 (GDDR5)
Mobility: HD 3850

Discrete: 7950 GX2 Discrete: X1950 XTX, HD 4650 (DDR3), 5550 (DDR3)
Discrete: 7800 GTX 512, 7900 GTO, 7900 GTX, GT 430 Discrete: X1900 XT, X1950 XT, X1900 XTX
Discrete: 7800 GTX, 7900 GT, 7950 G, GT 220 (DDR3) Discrete: X1800 XT, X1900 AIW, X1900 GT, X1950 PRO, HD 2900 GT, HD 5550 (DDR2)

Discrete: 7800 GT, 7900 GS, 8600 GTS, 9500 GT (GDDR3), GT 220 (DDR2)
Go (mobile): 7950 GTX
Discrete: X1800 XL, X1950 GT, HD 4650 (DDR2)
Mobility X1800 XT, HD 4650, HD 5165

Discrete: 6800 Ultra, 7600 GT, 7800 GS, 8600 GS, 8600 GT (GDDR3), 9500 GT (DDR2)
Go (mobile): 7800 GTX, 7900 GTX
Discrete: X800 XT (& PE), X850 XT (& PE), X1650 XT, X1800 GTO, HD 2600 XT, HD 3650 (DDR3), HD 3670
Mobility: X1900, 3670

Discrete: 6800 GT, 6800 GS (PCIe), 8600 GT (DDR2)
Go (mobile): 7800, Go 7900 GS
Discrete: X800 XL, X800 GTO2/GTO16, HD 2600 PRO, HD 3650 (DDR2),
Mobility: X800 XT, HD 2600 XT, 3650

Discrete: 6800 GS (AGP)
Go (mobile): 6800 Ultra, 7600 GT, 8600M GT, 8700M GT
Discrete: X800 GTO 256 MB, X800 PRO, X850 PRO, X1650 GT
Mobility: HD 2600

Discrete: 6800, 7300 GT GDDR3, 7600 GS, 8600M GS
Go (mobile): 6800, 7700
Discrete: X800, X800 GTO 128 MB, X1600 XT, X1650 PRO
Mobility: X1800, HD 5145, HD 5470 (GDDR5), HD 5450, 

Discrete: 6600 GT, 6800LE, 6800 XT, 7300 GT (DDR2), 8500 GT, 9400 GT
Go (mobile): 7600 (128-bit)
Discrete: 9800 XT, X700 PRO, X800 GT, X800 SE, X1300 XT, X1600 PRO, HD 2400 XT, HD 4350, HD 4550, HD 5450
Mobility: X800, 3470, HD 5470 (DDR3), HD 5430
Intel HD Graphics 3000
Discrete: FX 5900, FX 5900 Ultra, FX 5950 Ultra, 6600 (128-bit)
Go (mobile): 6800 (128-bit)
Integrated: 9300, 9400
Discrete: 9700, 9700 PRO, 9800, 9800 PRO, X700, X1300 PRO, X1550, HD 2400 PRO
Mobility: X1450, X1600, X1700, 2400 XT, X2500, 3450
Integrated: HD 3200, HD 3300, HD 4200, HD 4250, HD 4290 

Discrete: FX 5800 Ultra, FX 5900 XT
Go (mobile): 6600, Go 7600 (64-bit)
Discrete: 9500 PRO, 9600 XT, 9800 PRO (128-bit), X600 XT, X1050 (128-bit)
Mobility: 9800, X700, X1350, X1400, X2300, HD 2400
Intel HD Graphics (Core i5-6x1), 2000
Discrete: 4 Ti 4600, 4 Ti 4800, FX 5700 Ultra, 6200, 8300, 8400 G, G 210, G 310 Discrete: 9600 PRO, 9800 LE, X600 PRO, HD 2300
Mobility: 9700 (128-bit), X600, X1300
Integrated: Xpress 1250
Intel HD Graphics (Core i3 5x0, Core i5-6x0)
Discrete: 4 Ti4200, 4 Ti4400, 4 Ti4800 SE, FX 5600 Ultra, FX 5700, 6600 (64-bit), 7300 GS, 8400M GS, 9300M G, 9300M GS Discrete: 9500, 9550, 9600, X300, X1050 (64-bit)
Mobility: 9600
Intel HD Graphics (Pentium G)
Discrete: 3 Ti500, FX 5200 Ultra, FX 5600, FX 5700 LE, 6200 TC, 6600 LE, 7200 GS, 7300 LE
Go (mobile): 5700, 8200M, 9200M GS, 9100
Integrated: 8200, 8300
Discrete: 8500, 9100, 9000 PRO, 9600 LE, X300 SE, X1150
Mobility 9700 (64-bit)
GMA X4500
Discrete: 3, 3 Ti200, FX 5200 (128-bit), FX 5500,
Go (mobile): 5600, 6200, 6400, 7200, 7300, 7400 (64-bit)
Discrete: 9000, 9200, 9250
Mobility: 9600 (64-bit), X300

Discrete: FX 5200 (64 bit)
Go (mobile): 7200, 7400 (32-bit)
Integrated: 6100, 6150
Discrete: 9200 SE
Integrated: Xpress 200M, Xpress 1000, Xpress 1150
GMA X3000, X3100, X3500
Discrete: 2 GTS, 4 MX 440, 2 Ultra, 2 Ti, 2 Ti 200 Discrete: 7500 GMA 3000, 3100
Discrete: 256, 2 MX 200, 4 MX 420, 2 MX 400 Discrete: SDR, LE, DDR, 7000, 7200 GMA 500, 900, 950
Discrete: Nvidia TNT Discrete: Rage 128 Intel 740


There you have it folks; the best cards for the money this month. Now all that’s left to do is to find and purchase them.

Don’t worry too much about which brand you choose, because all of the cards out there are close to Nvidia’s and ATI’s reference designs. 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 deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!

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  • 2 Hide
    Annisman , March 7, 2011 3:41 AM
    Not much new to this months list, why not wait a few days until the 6990 launches to release this article ? With that being said, the 6990 probably won't be in the category of 'best card for the money'
  • 2 Hide
    Darkerson , March 7, 2011 5:09 AM
    2 x Radeon HD 6950 1 GB in CrossFire
    Universal Shaders: 2816* (2 x 1408) instead of the 1816 you have it listed :p 
    Anyway nice article none the less.
  • -1 Hide
    akorzan , March 7, 2011 5:23 AM
    It is very interesting to see how over a 6 month period the power consumptions of each architecture evolved. Half a year ago, Fermi 100 architecture consumed a lot more power than the similarly performing ATI/AMD cards, but now a faster GTX 580 consumes less power than the slower AMD 6970.
  • 2 Hide
    psyndrome , March 7, 2011 6:26 AM
    I am a little surprised that the HD 4870 X2 are so high in the list. Are they still that capable?
  • 0 Hide
    Luay , March 7, 2011 6:30 AM
    Too soon to add performance level @ 5760x1200 and raise the cap to $600? Instead of the current 2560x1600 capped to $500?? AMD is trying to push this standard into mainstream.
  • -2 Hide
    old_newbie , March 7, 2011 6:47 AM
    Once again, good information here; but the article still confuses me due to lack of some sort of pricing scale. It would make MUCH MORE sense to me if you:
    A) pick ONE winning card in the price ranges you list, (e.g. best card: $100 To $175 is the $125 Radeon 5770) then go on to list the reason for the recommendation.
    B) pick a "best card" at a regular increment, say every $25. (i.e. best card for ~$100, ~$125, ~$150, ~$175...)

    Thanks to to your awesome hierarchy chart at the end of the article, I ALREADY KNOW which cards compare/compete with each other, preformance wise. What I DO want to know is which one should I buy if I have a certain budget and why you think so.
  • 2 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 7, 2011 6:50 AM
    MSI6950 2GB is available ~$250 with rebate.The additional memory helps at higher resolutions and antialiasing.

    Most of the GTS 250s are close the HD5770 price point.IMO it doesn't deserve recommendation.
  • 3 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 7, 2011 7:15 AM
    akorzanIt is very interesting to see how over a 6 month period the power consumptions of each architecture evolved. Half a year ago, Fermi 100 architecture consumed a lot more power than the similarly performing ATI/AMD cards, but now a faster GTX 580 consumes less power than the slower AMD 6970.

    Where did you get that info ? Their power consumptions are not even close,2818-21.html

    take a look if you understand graphs ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    killerclick , March 7, 2011 8:37 AM
    Why is there a TIE in cases where one card uses 20% more power than the other? If the cards are close in price and performance but one card uses 20% more power then it's not a TIE - the more efficient card is better. Same with CPUs, you're giving recommendations for CPUs that use a lot more power than the price/performance equivalent competing products. Why?

    Take a stand, Tom's!
  • 1 Hide
    geok1ng , March 7, 2011 9:41 AM
    "2 x Radeon HD 6950 1 GB in CrossFire"
    "Excellent 2560x1600 performance"

    I beg to differ. At $500+ users are looking for insane AA levels@25x16 or multimonitor setups. In both of these scenarios the 6950 fails to be "excellent":

    "In Battlefield: Bad Company 2 ...In the case of the AMD Radeon HD 6950 2GB video card, we were able to play this game with Transparency Antialiasing enabled at 4X AA. The 1GB Radeon HD 6950 1GB video card struggled when we enabled Transparency Antialiasing at 8X and 4X AA."
    "Running Civilization V at 8X MSAA at 2560x1600 exposed the memory limitations on the 1GB Radeon HD 6950. For almost the first entire minute of gameplay performance dropped to a few frames per second until the frame buffer could catch up and texture everything out correctly. At that point performance was still erratic and choppy and overall slower than the 2GB Radeon HD 6950."
    "F1 2010...When we tried to run this game at 8X MSAA on the 1GB Radeon HD 6950 and 1GB GeForce GTX 560 Ti we experience framerates in the 0-3 FPS range, which rendered playing the game impossible. However, the 2GB Radeon HD 6950 was completely playable at 8X MSAA!"
    "In Metro 2033 we could not enable 4X MSAA at 2560x1600 on the two 1GB video cards in this game. Similar to the game above, this game was also unplayable with that enabled at this resolution. The 2GB Radeon HD 6950 was not playable with 4X AA enabled, but it was possible to do a run-through at least, it just had slow framerates, but it wasn’t near as low as the two 1GB video cards."

    These are strong points to consider before rating the 1GB 6950CF an excellent rating at 2560x1600. Factoring in that these cards can not be unlock to 6970, and the 2GB 6950 becomes even more attractive at 25x16 and higher resolutions.
    I believe that the 580 stands alone at the $500 price point, but Price x Performance wise there is little reason not to stretch the budget to 2GB 6950 in CF.

    I better plan is to get a single 2Gb 6950, unlock it, see if it meets the games needs and add a secod card later.
  • 0 Hide
    wribbs , March 7, 2011 10:16 AM
    I fail to see why your suggesting the 6870 in xfire when the same reason you are against it is still valid for a xfire setup. Also, you really should be recommending the 6950 2GB model for xfire at the top end because you will want that extra memory to keep from bottlenecking at the resolutions you'll likely run with those.
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , March 7, 2011 10:46 AM
    Thanks Don ... good work.
  • 0 Hide
    preolt , March 7, 2011 11:44 AM
    I would much rather buy the gtx 560ti with an after market cooler. They have 2x the headroom of the 6950. Not a fan boy I just believe in bechmarks for comaprisons not overall company review.
  • 0 Hide
    lhowe005 , March 7, 2011 11:50 AM
    Good review but I would still buy the best single card you can afford now so you have the option to upgrade to a crossfire or sli setup as games become more demanding. Also the price of a second matching video card will have come down by then.
  • -1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 7, 2011 11:51 AM
    Why are the amd 4500 series mobile chips absent in the last page list?
    one of those is residing in my i5 notebook (hp 6540b).
    Can do wow if need be, but too slow for flatout or newer games.
  • 0 Hide
    JPForums , March 7, 2011 1:51 PM
    First off, we're mentioning a deal that may not last: the HIS Radeon HD 5550 GDDR5 is on Newegg for $61 right now.

    First off, since it isn't a sale or mail-in-rebate price, your suggestion that it may not last is pure speculation. They could have a warehouse full of these. High supply and low demand tends to drive prices down. Besides it only needs to last a single month to be valid as you'll update your recommendation again next month.

    The Radeon HD 5550 with GDDR5 never seemed to take off, but HIS was an early adopter, and with the only model that we can find, we're wondering if the low price reflects a discontinued product.

    As you said, the GDDR5 model never really took off. As far as I'm aware, there were never very many manufacturers of this card. It may be true that this card is going to be discontinued, but you don't really have any strong evidence of that. A simple call to the manufacturer would resolve this issue. Even if they have been discontinued, if they have large stores, supplies could still last more than a month. (Especially with low demand)

    If there was more than a single model available, we'd easily give this card a full recommendation.

    In your February Edition of Best Gaming CPUs, you recommend a product (Sandy Bridge) that, by your own words, had zero usable models at the time(due to chipset issues). This card with its single model is already in a better position than that. It wouldn't even need to last a full month.

    My point is, this is a list that gets updated monthly. If new products are coming to market or old products are leaving the market, by all means mention it. If there are real indications of low supply, we want to hear about it. I'm not even opposed to giving honorable mentions to alternate products based on these facts. However, full recommendations should only be made for products available at the time of writing and available products should not be dismissed over speculation.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , March 7, 2011 1:54 PM
    Remember to check individual benchmarks for the games you want to play! For example, if it's Civilization V, even a GTX460 outperforms the HD6950:
  • -1 Hide
    dgingeri , March 7, 2011 3:36 PM
    again, predominantly AMD cards at the low end. However, what this does not take into account is Linux support and HDTV support. Yes, I spent $80 on a GT430 so I could use my Linux system as a HTPC on my HDTV. The Radeon 4650 I had just would not work properly with Linux, and under Windows it would leave huge black borders around the screen. With my GT430, it takes up the whole screen and works properly with Linux. I think it deserves mention at the $80 mark just for that.
  • 0 Hide
    gm0n3y , March 7, 2011 4:26 PM
    I too would like to see Eyefinity resolutions included, though since Nvidia doesn't support them it would be a little unfair to them. Perhaps you could include Eyefinity performance qualifiers for the AMD cards and 3D for Nvidia?

    I'm currently considering running 3x 24" 1920x1080 monitors and it would be nice to have those values listed (though I can always look at reviews elsewhere).
  • 5 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 7, 2011 4:26 PM
    dgingeriagain, predominantly AMD cards at the low end. However, what this does not take into account is Linux support and HDTV support. Yes, I spent $80 on a GT430 so I could use my Linux system as a HTPC on my HDTV. The Radeon 4650 I had just would not work properly with Linux, and under Windows it would leave huge black borders around the screen. With my GT430, it takes up the whole screen and works properly with Linux. I think it deserves mention at the $80 mark just for that.

    This article is based on gaming - if you're using linux or osx you're not using the computer with gaming in mind.
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