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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2010
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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: HD 5970
Discrete: GTX 295Discrete: HD 4870 X2, HD 5870
Discrete: GTX 280, GTX 285 Discrete: HD 4850 X2, HD 5850
Discrete: 9800 GX2, GTX 260, GTX 275 Discrete: HD 4870, HD 4890, HD 5770
Discrete: 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+,
GTS 250
Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 4850, HD 5750
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, GT 240 (GDDR5) Discrete: HD 2900 XT, HD 3870
Discrete: 8800 GS, 9600 GSO, GT 240 (DDR3)
Go (mobile): 260M (96)
Discrete: HD 3850 512 MB, HD 4670
Mobility: 3870

Discrete: 8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB, GT 220
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)
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

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 G, G 210, G 310 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
  • 11 Hide
    shubham1401 , January 11, 2010 5:22 AM
    Nice article as usual.

    Nvidia has nothing to compete after GTS 250.

    Though I like that they call 9800GT LEGENDARY.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 12:00 PM
    Notty = absolute tool. He is logging on his forum alts and giving people thumbs down. Randomizer caught him logging on forum alts last night too.

    IP ban this sad tool please.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 11:42 AM
    You're an idiot notty, the 5850 is at least 20% and more like 30-40% faster than the gtx280. The gtx295 is about 5-10% faster than the 5870 in selected titles.
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    shubham1401 , January 11, 2010 5:22 AM
    Nice article as usual.

    Nvidia has nothing to compete after GTS 250.

    Though I like that they call 9800GT LEGENDARY.
  • 7 Hide
    WheelsOfConfusion , January 11, 2010 5:52 AM
    The "Best PCIe Card For ~$155" says it's a Tie, but only lists the 5770.
  • 5 Hide
    The Lady Slayer , January 11, 2010 6:03 AM
    Australians might be interested to know that MSY have backstock of 512Mb 4850s that they're clearing out at
  • 5 Hide
    The Lady Slayer , January 11, 2010 6:04 AM
    ...clearing out at under $90 per card.
  • 0 Hide
    skora , January 11, 2010 6:23 AM
    Have you done any benchmarking of the 5770 in CF? Seems like the low 128bit bus might stifle performance too much if trying to run it hard at 1920 or at all at 2560.

    Great article, thanks for keeping this updated every few months!
  • 3 Hide
    skora , January 11, 2010 6:25 AM
    Also, at the $145 price point, you state the 5750, but the label for the spec chart says 5770. The specs are for the 5750 though.
  • -2 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , January 11, 2010 6:29 AM
    Not much new since last year really. Except availability changes.

    How much slower are two 4870-512 cards in cf in comparison to two 4790-1gb cards ? Do the 512mb memory in general hinder them @ 1680 or 1920 ? (the 'how much vram yada yada' article doesn't deal with cf far as I remember)
  • -1 Hide
    zinabas , January 11, 2010 7:05 AM
    I can tell you that a 4850 512mb can get slowed down on memory hungry games all the down at 1280x960. Oblivion would be my case and point. (Texture packs do that for those of you wondering.)
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 8:19 AM
    Nice article but the Heirarchy chart at the end is screwed up badly. If you are going to pretend the 5850 is the same speed as a gtx280 (seriously now), then at least pretend the 5870 is the same as the gtx295.

    I can assure you the 5870 is a lot closer to the gtx295 than either the gtx280 or gtx285 is to the 5850.

    Either give the 5850 it's own level in the chart or move the 5870 into the gtx295/4870x2 position please. The gtx280 should also be moved down a notch from the 4850x2/gtx285 I feel.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 8:51 AM
    I wonder what Fermi will do to this chart in the near future? Hopefully we'll see some ATI 5870 price cuts and we'll all be happy, only time can tell since we have no real information =(
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 8:55 AM
    Heh, I have 8800GT (G92 chip). I can't believe it's been more than two years since I bought it and it's still a competitive piece of hardware (both 9800GT and GTS 250 are essentially the same card).
  • 9 Hide
    shubham1401 , January 11, 2010 9:20 AM
    Quote:
    Heh, I have 8800GT (G92 chip). I can't believe it's been more than two years since I bought it and it's still a competitive piece of hardware (both 9800GT and GTS 250 are essentially the same card).



    Both 9800Gt and GTS250 are very different cards.
    GTS 250 is faster.

    You should say 8800GT and 9800GT are essentially the same cards. :sarcastic: 
  • 3 Hide
    AMW1011 , January 11, 2010 9:41 AM
    The same thing, the GTX 295 has no place in the market and the "notable gains" you speak of are not very notable at all.

    The GTX 295 has no place between the 5870, 5970, and 5850 crossfire.

    Also the 5870 is a far better deal than 2 4890s, Tom's seems to completely ignore the benefits of a single card over a dual solution:

    1. Higher minimum FPS = the single card tends to be smoother.
    2. Less bugs and glitches from SLI or CFX
    3. Much more linear scaling instead of SLI and CFX being all over the place at times.
    4. That whole cooler running and less power consumption can mean much better overclocking.
    5. Since the 5xxx series is new you CANNOT ignore that they will get better with time with driver improvements, the GTX 280 went from being beaten by the 9800 GX2 to tying with it and coming out on top at times with driver improvements, however the GTX 2xx and 4xxx series are at their peaks.
  • -1 Hide
    Efrayim , January 11, 2010 9:57 AM
    Thank you guys for taking the time and doing this! Great articulate as always.
  • 3 Hide
    Efrayim , January 11, 2010 9:59 AM
    Article*
  • 1 Hide
    leon2006 , January 11, 2010 11:16 AM
    It's still good to hold on to existing CF 4890.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 11:42 AM
    You're an idiot notty, the 5850 is at least 20% and more like 30-40% faster than the gtx280. The gtx295 is about 5-10% faster than the 5870 in selected titles.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , January 11, 2010 12:00 PM
    Notty = absolute tool. He is logging on his forum alts and giving people thumbs down. Randomizer caught him logging on forum alts last night too.

    IP ban this sad tool please.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , January 11, 2010 12:07 PM
    psycho sykesThe said article deal with it as it's known that CF/SLi don't double memory.

    No it doesn't deal with it!
    You know cf doesn't doublt vram. Good! That's EXACTLY my point.
    The article concludes that 512mb is enough for most cases. But the article doesn't deal with CF, and therefor does not deal with the effect of doubling the performance - which enables higher resolutions and more AA. 512mb is enough for 1680x1050 and 4xAA - fine - but what if you were to run at 1920x1280 with 8xAA and 16xAF ? Would 512mb still suffice in AFR mode on modern games? There's so much texture data these days that I'm not sure it does.
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