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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: July '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
GeForceRadeonIntel
GTX 295



HD 4870 X2
GTX 280, GTX 285 HD 4850 X2
9800 GX2, GTX 260, GTX 275 HD 4870, HD 4890
8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+,
GTS 250
HD 3870 X2, HD 4850
8800 GTX, 8800 GTS 512 MB, 280M
HD 4770

8800 GT 512 MB, 9800 GT, 260M (112) HD 4830
8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT HD 2900 XT, HD 3870
8800 GS, 9600 GSO, 260M (96) HD 3850 512 MB, Mobility 3870, HD 4670
8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB, GO 8800M HD 2900 PRO, HD 3850 256 MB, Mobility 3850
7950 GX2 X1950 XTX, HD 4650 (DDR3)
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, HD 4650 (DDR2)
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, HD 3650 (DDR3), HD 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, HD 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, 8300, 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 GMA X4500
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 GMA X3000, X3100, X3500
2 GTS, 4 MX 440, 2 Ultra, 2 Ti, 2 Ti 200 7500 GMA 3000, 3100
256, 2 MX 200, 4 MX 420, 2 MX 400 SDR, LE, DDR, 7000, 7200 GMA 500, 900, 950
Nvidia TNT Rage 128 Intel 740

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.

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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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    rdawise , July 21, 2009 8:22 AM
    Funny, I was thinking to myself yesterday "It's almost August and no best graphics cards articles" and look what we have today. Maybe I should play the lottery today...

    Anyway, good article. Even included intel IGPs this time.

    coondayI cant help but feel like this article is showing me information that I have already seen several times before.


    It's a glitch in the matrix...
  • 10 Hide
    Onus , July 21, 2009 1:15 PM
    How can Intel even SAY "Graphics Media Accelerator" and keep a straight face? Epic FAIL is right.
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    doomtomb , July 21, 2009 6:37 AM
    I'm a little surprised that you consider the HD4850 as giving "Good 1920x1200 performance in most games"

    This card is good but definitely meant for 1680x1050. I don't see this card playing Far Cry 2 or any moderately new game on anything past medium on 1920x1200.
  • -1 Hide
    haplo602 , July 21, 2009 6:39 AM
    Radeon HD 4730? I found out about that card by accident. It seems to be a harvested 4870 (at least some sites report that).

    Will there be a review of this card (the Powercolor version seems better). Or is this too much low end for Tom's ???
  • 7 Hide
    masterjaw , July 21, 2009 6:40 AM
    Nice article you have there. Kudos!

    Intel IGPs are total wreck. They aren't even worth mentioning. :p 
  • -3 Hide
    masterjaw , July 21, 2009 6:43 AM
    haplo602Radeon HD 4730? I found out about that card by accident. It seems to be a harvested 4870 (at least some sites report that).Will there be a review of this card (the Powercolor version seems better). Or is this too much low end for Tom's ???


    I think this card is a mess. I've read a review somewhere that it performs like a 4670 but consumes power like 4870.
  • 1 Hide
    one-shot , July 21, 2009 7:29 AM
    It's tempting to get another GPU, but most games run so well on just one GTX 260 C216 I may just get a new Intel SSD instead. :) 
  • -1 Hide
    eddieroolz , July 21, 2009 7:40 AM
    Wow, it's a good time to buy a new graphic processor...I don't even see my GTS 250 recommended anymore, and that was only a month or two ago! Pace of innovation is fast, I say....
  • 3 Hide
    Ramar , July 21, 2009 8:07 AM
    doomtombI'm a little surprised that you consider the HD4850 as giving "Good 1920x1200 performance in most games"This card is good but definitely meant for 1680x1050. I don't see this card playing Far Cry 2 or any moderately new game on anything past medium on 1920x1200.


    Eh, if you're on that tight of a budget you can stand 20 fps or medium settings.

    @anyone tempted to buy now:
    Don't spend too much, you'll just be upgrading in six months anyway for a shiny new tessellation unit.
  • -6 Hide
    coonday , July 21, 2009 8:20 AM
    I cant help but feel like this article is showing me information that I have already seen several times before.
  • 14 Hide
    rdawise , July 21, 2009 8:22 AM
    Funny, I was thinking to myself yesterday "It's almost August and no best graphics cards articles" and look what we have today. Maybe I should play the lottery today...

    Anyway, good article. Even included intel IGPs this time.

    coondayI cant help but feel like this article is showing me information that I have already seen several times before.


    It's a glitch in the matrix...
  • 3 Hide
    juliom , July 21, 2009 9:45 AM
    masterjawI think this card is a mess. I've read a review somewhere that it performs like a 4670 but consumes power like 4870.

    Nope. It performs AND consumes in betwenn a 4870 and a 4670. Pretty good card, if you ask me.
  • -1 Hide
    skora , July 21, 2009 11:48 AM
    Not that I would ever buy one, but since you do address the enthusiast market, does the GTX 295 Hydro justify the cost over the vanilla 295?

    And since you also carve out some of the same GPUs with varying ram size, does the same type of performance increase with IGP? MSI has 1gb DDR3 sideport on their 790gx board available.

    And agreeing with doomtomb, can we get definitions of what good/exceptional performance is for the varying resolutions? I wouldn't but a 4850 up to 1920x1080. Maybe the 1 gb card, but the 512 is going to choke along the way, and I wouldn't consider that good performance.
  • -1 Hide
    scook9 , July 21, 2009 12:12 PM
    wow. FAIL at Intel Graphics department

    Nice to see my GTX 275 SLI are still being recommended :)  Now we just needs to see something new come out in the next month before my 90 day step-ups run out.....been a slow summer on the graphics front
  • 4 Hide
    San Pedro , July 21, 2009 12:36 PM
    Can't believe how good performance you can get for the money right now. It's unbelievable.

    I was pretty happy when I got my 4870 512mb for $250, and now it's almost half the price. Hopefully these prices will help grow the PC gaming market. Another $150 to most computers sold now give you a good gaming computer pretty much.
  • 2 Hide
    JeanLuc , July 21, 2009 12:53 PM
    masterjawNice article you have there. Kudos!Intel IGPs are total wreck. They aren't even worth mentioning.



    There so bad a lot of Intel's IGP can't even run Vista Areo Interface (Microsoft have already had a pop at Intel for the lack of Areo support)! It's almost as if Intel went all out the produce the crappiest video chipset they could possibly make.

    The Radeon HD 4870 1Gb is such as good deal at the moment it's hard to believe this was the 2nd best performing card on the market just sitting behind the GTX280 last summer. I'm tempted to get one to replace my 8800GT but the Radeon DX11 cards are just around the corner it seems almost pointless getting one now.
  • 10 Hide
    Onus , July 21, 2009 1:15 PM
    How can Intel even SAY "Graphics Media Accelerator" and keep a straight face? Epic FAIL is right.
  • 6 Hide
    gxpbecker , July 21, 2009 1:26 PM
    newegg has 4850s in the $80-$90 range, I dont think you can beat that bang for your buck.. I am hoping this is a sign of the soon to come 5xxx series >=D

    Side note: Where is the 2009 CPU Chart BTW?????
  • 0 Hide
    xsamitt , July 21, 2009 1:57 PM
    Yes ...Just where is that chart?
  • 0 Hide
    eyemaster , July 21, 2009 2:13 PM
    Funny looking at the chart. I went from Rage 128, GE Force 256, X850 Pro, to my current card the x1950 pro AGP. Next card will probably be HD 4870 X2.

    I really don't upgrade often! :) 
  • -1 Hide
    thebatman , July 21, 2009 2:15 PM
    xsamittYes ...Just where is that chart?


    This. From this point on, this comment thread will now be about petitioning that toms updates the CPU chart.
  • -1 Hide
    gxpbecker , July 21, 2009 2:24 PM
    xsamittYes ...Just where is that chart?


    .. -1 for my observational skills
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