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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: Jan. '09
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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 or not ?

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 or not. The first is the graphics card hierarchy chart, which 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
GeForceRadeon

4870 X2
GTX 280 4850 X2
9800 GX2, GTX 260 4870
8800 GTX, 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+ 3870 X2, 4850
8800 GT 512 MB, 8800 GTS 512 MB, 9800 GT 4830
8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT HD 2900 XT, 3870
8800 GS, 9600 GSO 3850 512 MB, Mobility 3870, 4670
8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB, GO 8800M HD 2900 PRO, 3850 256 MB, Mobility 3850, 4650
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, Mobility 3670
6800 GT, 6800 GS (PCIe), Go 7800, Go 7900 GS, 8600 GT (DDR2) X800 XL, X800 GTO2/GTO16, Mobility X800 XT, HD 2600 PRO, Mobility HD 2600 XT, 3650 (DDR2), Mobility 3650
6800 GS (AGP), Go 6800 Ultra, Go 7600 GT, 8600M GT, 8700M GT X800 GTO 256 MB, X800 PRO, X850 PRO, X1650 GT, Mobility HD 2600
6800, Go 6800, 7300 GT GDDR3, 7600 GS, Go 7700, 8600M GS X800, X800 GTO 128 MB, X1600 XT, X1650 PRO, Mobility X1800
6600 GT, 6800LE, 6800 XT, 7300 GT (DDR2), Go 7600 (128-bit), 8500 GT, 9400 GT 9800 XT, X700 PRO, X800 GT, X800 SE, Mobility X800, X1300 XT, X1600 PRO, HD 2400 XT, HD 3300, Mobility 3470, HD 4350, HD 4550
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, Mobility 3450
FX 5800 Ultra, FX 5900 XT, Go 6600, Go 7600 (64-bit) 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, 9300M G, 9300M 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, 8200M, 9200M GS, 9100M 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 Rage 128

Summary

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, 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 Nvidia’s and AMD’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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  • 1 Hide
    kyeana , January 7, 2009 8:14 AM
    Really no change sense Decembers review. I wonder how much the GTX 295 will change things up?
  • -2 Hide
    fudgeboy , January 7, 2009 8:50 AM
    would be interesting to have a dual card section in the hierarchy chary and go back over the older models to see how they shape up (where applicable). i'd love to see where my 7600gt would sit as compared to a single card...
  • 7 Hide
    V3NOM , January 7, 2009 9:31 AM
    i think they should reformat it... pick a bunch of resolutions and show us the best cardsssssssss fpr low, medium and high settings for the majority of the games. or three different pric ranges for a specific res.
  • 1 Hide
    xsamitt , January 7, 2009 11:10 AM
    Quote"It turns out that the Radeon 4870, when equipped with a whole gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, can up the ante to compete against the GeForce GTX 260+ in some titles".

    Interesting way of wording it.......Since it was the nvida card that was beefed up to the Radeon card,which by the way was out first.

    All in the wording isn't it?
  • -4 Hide
    Pei-chen , January 7, 2009 11:56 AM
    A few days too early. GTX 285 will lunch on January 9th. It's basically a die shrank version of 280 with higher clock speed.
  • 0 Hide
    Lans , January 7, 2009 12:37 PM
    A report by Fudzilla shows it is questionable that the GTX 295 will actually debut at the $500 MSRP... Early indication is closer to $600.

    Good news is there are signs that the prices of GTX 280 are dropping and as mentioned in article, others will likely to follow with the actual launch of the GTX 295 (and the GTX 285). :-)

    Yeah, I am going to have to stay tuned for Feb. charts. :-)
  • 0 Hide
    theblade , January 7, 2009 1:28 PM
    It would be nice to have some numbers to inform the readers further about the average performance per dollar of each card recommended, also to have the best bang for the buck at the targeted resolution and in general.
  • 1 Hide
    smirnovovich , January 7, 2009 1:47 PM
    I believe this to be the first time Tom's acknowledge the existence of the 4870 1GB end even now it is being acknowledged as "It turns out that the Radeon 4870, when equipped with a whole gigabyte of GDDR5 RAM, can up the ante to compete against the GeForce GTX 260+ in some titles."

    I think it would be better if you would turn this around because GTX 260+ was only launched to match the 4870 1GB.

    (btw, i am no fanboy cause i am gonna sell my 4870 to get a 260+ because it is slightly better :) )
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , January 7, 2009 2:03 PM
    The GTX 280 is only $315 on newegg I think it should be on the list between the 4850 x2s.
  • 3 Hide
    cleeve , January 7, 2009 3:03 PM
    The GTX 280 is certainly looking better, as prices have dropped sharply in the last week. Clearly they're getting rid of the stock to set up the soon-to-be-here 285.

    UNfortunately, that's the nature of this article - it's a 'snaphot', and on a month like this when new products are coming out, things are going to change quite a bit.
  • 1 Hide
    JonnyDough , January 7, 2009 3:26 PM
    Pei-chenA few days too early. GTX 285 will lunch on January 9th. It's basically a die shrank version of 280 with higher clock speed.



    Shrank ain't a word cuz my teacher said it ain't. I think you meant shrunk, which happens to be the past tense of the word shrink.
  • -1 Hide
    drixle45 , January 7, 2009 3:48 PM
    V3NOMi think they should reformat it... pick a bunch of resolutions and show us the best cardsssssssss fpr low, medium and high settings for the majority of the games. or three different pric ranges for a specific res.


    I agree. I have always felt that there could be a better way of formatting these articles but didn't know what to suggest. I would make my decision based on quality, not price. V3NOM's idea bears consideration as an alternative.
  • -4 Hide
    badagliacca , January 7, 2009 4:32 PM
    Any recommendations for non-gamer applications? Text[crispness], video editing, etc.
  • 5 Hide
    Pei-chen , January 7, 2009 4:42 PM
    JonnyDoughShrank ain't a word cuz my teacher said it ain't. I think you meant shrunk, which happens to be the past tense of the word shrink.

    Thank you.
  • 2 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , January 7, 2009 4:42 PM
    So...finally we see the end of the AGP section (sorry Cleeve, someone had to bring it up :)  ). I'm actually surprised you kept it this long, but from someone who has read your "Best Gaming Cards For The Money" articles since you were putting them in the forums--heh, brings back memories...

    ...Okay I'll shut up now.
  • 2 Hide
    jerreece , January 7, 2009 4:47 PM

    Have to agree. Would be nice to a also see the performance differences visually, along with pricing. Would be a cool addition to these monthly reports.
  • 2 Hide
    cerulean , January 7, 2009 5:12 PM
    V3NOMi think they should reformat it... pick a bunch of resolutions and show us the best cardsssssssss fpr low, medium and high settings for the majority of the games. or three different pric ranges for a specific res.


    I was thinking the same thing as I was reading through this article. The format of this article is the same month after month and that's great if you know exactly how much you want to spend on a video card--but it tells you nothing of how good each card's performance is relative to the others in adjacent price ranges. For instance, a card might be the best within a particular price range, but if it's just slightly faster than a card, which is $50 less, it might not be justified to some buyers.

    I would like to see these articles formatted differently and, as per V3NOM's suggestions, rate the cards based on their overall performance per dollar at different resolutions using a standard set of benchmarks. As new benchmark apps and new hardware are introduced, you can change your standard set of benchmarks and add a date/revision so we have a reference point to compare the results. This will allow the readers to rate the cards not only on their price but on their relative performance.
  • 3 Hide
    marraco , January 7, 2009 5:29 PM
    This series of articles are great, but the last page "GRAPHICS CARD HIERARCHY CHART" needs some performance comparison orientation.

    Also, it would be more useful to include Crossfire/SLI setups.
  • -7 Hide
    theubersmurf , January 7, 2009 5:37 PM
    GTX 265 is the name, not GTX 260+.
  • 5 Hide
    cleeve , January 7, 2009 6:24 PM
    I'll address some of your comments here:

    - This article will never have benchmarks for a direct performance comparison. Why? Because this is an editorial article based on my knowledge and experience, it's purpose is to provide quick refrence for people who don't want to look at mountains of data. To add a ton of benchmarks would be in direct conflict with the purpose and spirit of this article; if you're not satisfied with this general overview or are curious about how a specific card performs, google a review of that particular card.

    - I hesitate to add Crossfire and SLI to the heiarchy. Why? Multi-card performance can be very inconsistant. Truth be told, I'm not even 100% comfortable with the dual-GPU cards on the chart, but it's important to have them there so I do the best approximation I can muster.

    - ubersmurf, I'm not talking about the upcoming 265 (if there is an upcoming 55nm version of the 260), I'm talking about the newer versions of the 260 with more stream processors than the original 260 had. Hence, the unofficial designation "260+".
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