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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: September '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 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 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
Discrete: GTX 295



Discrete: HD 4870 X2
Discrete: GTX 280, GTX 285 Discrete: HD 4850 X2
Discrete: 9800 GX2, GTX 260, GTX 275 Discrete: HD 4870, HD 4890
Discrete: 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+,
GTS 250
Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 4850
Discrete: 8800 GTX, 8800 GTS 512 MB
Go (mobile): 280M
Discrete: HD 4770

Discrete: 8800 GT 512 MB, 9800 GT
Go (mobile): 260M (112)
Discrete: HD 4830
Discrete: 8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT Discrete: HD 2900 XT, HD 3870
Discrete: 8800 GS, 9600 GSO
Go (mobile): 260M (96)
Discrete: HD 3850 512 MB, HD 4670
Mobility: 3870

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

Discrete: 7950 GX2 Discrete: X1950 XTX, HD 4650 (DDR3)
Discrete: 7800 GTX 512, 7900 GTO, 7900 GTX Discrete: X1900 XT, X1950 XT, X1900 XTX
Discrete: 7800 GTX, 7900 GT, 7950 GT Discrete: X1800 XT, X1900 AIW, X1900 GT, X1950 PRO, HD 2900 GT
Discrete: 7800 GT, 7900 GS, 8600 GTS, 9500 GT (GDDR3)
Go (mobile): 7950 GTX
Discrete: X1800 XL, X1950 GT, HD 4650 (DDR2)
Mobility X1800 XT

Discrete: 6800 Ultra, 7600 GT, 7800 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), 8600M GT, 8700M GT
Go (mobile): 6800 Ultra, 7600 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

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
Mobility: X800, 3470
Integrated: HD 3300

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 4200

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

Discrete: 4 Ti 4600, 4 Ti 4800, FX 5700 Ultra, 6200, 8300, 8400 GS Discrete: 9600 PRO, 9800 LE, X600 PRO, HD 2300
Mobility: 9700 (128-bit), X600, X1300
Integrated: Xpress 1250

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

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

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
  • 21 Hide
    doomtomb , September 10, 2009 6:37 AM
    I agree, a good article but really there is nothing new to report. The graphics card market has been very stagnant for the past year... We want 5XXX and 3XX series please.
  • 21 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 10, 2009 6:29 AM
    Still the best monthly feature here at Tom's and the hierarchy chart is a great reference list. As always a great job.
Other Comments
  • 21 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 10, 2009 6:29 AM
    Still the best monthly feature here at Tom's and the hierarchy chart is a great reference list. As always a great job.
  • 21 Hide
    doomtomb , September 10, 2009 6:37 AM
    I agree, a good article but really there is nothing new to report. The graphics card market has been very stagnant for the past year... We want 5XXX and 3XX series please.
  • 7 Hide
    drealar , September 10, 2009 6:43 AM
    I have always browse through first 3 pages and the hierarchy page ONLY :D  Yeah call me cheapskate :p  Oh well I'm always on a budget for everything.

    Anyway was it last month or earlier did Tom's update the hierarchy chart with 'discrete','integrated','mobile' tags?
    Didn't notice it till today, and I found it very useful for quick lookup.
  • 2 Hide
    haplo602 , September 10, 2009 6:49 AM
    adding the best price listings just hit you in the face ... 9600GT 129.99$ :-) talk about cheap cards ...
  • 5 Hide
    Proximon , September 10, 2009 7:01 AM
    GTX 260 is out of the picture I see. I had to go check prices for myself and sure enough NVidia seems to be having trouble competing. Hopefully they'll have something going by next month.
  • 0 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 10, 2009 7:35 AM
    There's only a few games where i'd pop for the extra $20 or $30 for a Nvidia card right now, and only for the games (WoW is one) where Nvidia has a large edge.
  • 1 Hide
    anamaniac , September 10, 2009 7:37 AM
    Just waiting for the 5xxx already...
    My main concern.. What will the power consuption of the 5870 be?
    Will I need a new PSU just to use one, nevermind crossfire?

    I bought a 4870 1GB, but I regret not getting a 4890. =/

    Is it me, or, other than a few prices, this chart hasn't changed in a long long time? (excluding 4770)
  • -2 Hide
    dragoon190 , September 10, 2009 7:43 AM
    The lower part of the hierarchy chart looks messy...

    Are they really offering that many varieties of mobile graphic cards out on the market at the moment?
  • 7 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , September 10, 2009 8:27 AM
    @ Cleeve : Two things :

    1) page 1 : "The flagship will of course would be the Radeon HD 5870 X2" not brillaintly written.

    2) Are you sure all those dual card setups with 512mb memory are actually a good recommendation? I know you're recommending them every month, but still. Even my single 4870 is appearently more often limited by its 512 memory than it is by computation power - and crossfire only adds computation power. Sure it'll add more fps in most games, but as you often point out yourself, the improvement is only relevant if it's improving the gameplay experience.
  • 1 Hide
    maulataur1 , September 10, 2009 8:28 AM
    I found an XFX 4870x2 for $299 at mwave.com about a month ago. I wasn't looking for a new card but I immediately purchased it when I saw it. Replaced my 8800GT.
  • -1 Hide
    knekker , September 10, 2009 8:44 AM
    what do they mean with Discrete, when they write "Discrete: HD 4850 X2" any able to enlighten me?
  • 2 Hide
    IronRyan21 , September 10, 2009 9:01 AM
    knekkerwhat do they mean with Discrete, when they write "Discrete: HD 4850 X2" any able to enlighten me?


    Discrete: Separate; distinct; individual; Non-continuous. All Video Cards are discrete. The only video that isn't, is called "integrated" graphics, like Intel GMA. Some Mobos have Integrated, some dont. Integrated is built in with the mobo and already has a VGA or DVI port.
  • -1 Hide
    micky_lund , September 10, 2009 9:55 AM
    ok i have a question....where it always says "cards in SLI offer advantages in titles that run better with Nvidia's GT200 architecture" , what games actually run better for Nvidia ? and what games are favored for ATi

    any help...
    MICK
  • 1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , September 10, 2009 10:17 AM
    micky_lundok i have a question....where it always says "cards in SLI offer advantages in titles that run better with Nvidia's GT200 architecture" , what games actually run better for Nvidia ? and what games are favored for ATi any help...MICK

    Check out the i5 platform comparison by Chris. That clearly sais that, at least in the games they tested, sli scales a lot better than cf. Ofc. most ati cards perform better than nvidia ones (taking price into account), but they don't scale as well.
    Typical scaling for sli I'd say would be around 30-50% more performance (ie 130-150% of single card performance), and for cf it's often more like 20-40% or something. It's highly dependant on the game, resolution and driver though, so it's like impossible to say. In genenral games with the 'nvidia' logo in the intro are supposed to work better with sli than cf, but even that isn't always the case.
  • -1 Hide
    masterjaw , September 10, 2009 10:40 AM
    Nice article. Still no big news since the release of the ATI 4800 series, just miniature price adjustments.
  • -2 Hide
    mikepaul , September 10, 2009 12:34 PM
    I think there should be a new user category for GPU apps like BadaBoom: Crunchers. Like Gamers, they want a GPU that screams through whatever they throw at it. Rating new video cards on the apps they run will be easier when the universal GPU API eventually launches, but knowing how well the existing card-specific apps work will help some of us out...
  • 0 Hide
    theubersmurf , September 10, 2009 1:02 PM
    I can't understand why you couldn't have waited a pair of days for the new radeons to be released so that they could be included in your review (should they make the cut).
  • -2 Hide
    grimrod518 , September 10, 2009 1:29 PM
    I am curious as to why there has been no listing for 8800GT 512MB SLI on the performance charts in a long time. I have 1 rig with 2 of those oldies but goodies and am curious as to where they stack up so I can determine if it's time to replace them
  • 3 Hide
    streak , September 10, 2009 2:38 PM
    I'm still amazed the venerable 8800GTX sits so high up in the hierarchy chart after almost three years. It has served me very well and despite the excellent pricing over the past several months on some great cards like the 4870 and GTX 260, it just hasn't been worth the money to get an incremental upgrade when the next generation of cards is rapidly approaching. Crossing my fingers that the upcoming wave of DX11 cards from AMD and Nvidia will be as impressive as the 8800GTX was when it was first released.
  • -1 Hide
    eyemaster , September 10, 2009 2:41 PM
    I don't want to feel bad for buying the MSI OC ATI 4890 card. Once it's bellow 200$ CAN, I'll buy a 2nd one and Crossfire them... For now, CnC3 is running quite well on that! :D  he he

    I need new games!
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