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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2010

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 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 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
Integrated: HD 3300, HD 4290

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, HD 4250

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)
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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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    gxpbecker , December 21, 2010 11:55 AM
    Love the compition between AMD/Nvidia

    Dear Tom's
    Please for the love of everything holy remove those Jump ads afeter EVERY page change. Thanks - frustrated Tom's User
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    jjb8675309 , December 21, 2010 4:06 AM
    pretty much reciprocates my thoughts exactly
  • 1 Hide
    Tamz_msc , December 21, 2010 4:49 AM
    Great article as usual.
  • 4 Hide
    duk3 , December 21, 2010 5:46 AM
    Ties everywhere, I love it
  • 1 Hide
    ShahJahan , December 21, 2010 6:35 AM
    Along with the "Check Prices" link, please also provide a "Full Review" link for every graphic card.
  • 5 Hide
    Silmarunya , December 21, 2010 8:06 AM
    reprotectedIt's funny how ATI's fixed Crossfire scaling proves useless against Nvidia's original unimproved SLI.

    Actually, since 69XX Crossfire's scaling is more or less on par with SLI, depending on the title.

    Still, I agree with SLI's merits. Of course, ATI also has its merits (far superior performance per watt and often per dollar as well for example).

    It's a good time for PC enthousiasts. For the first time in months both ATI and Nvidia now have something worth buying (unlike in the original Fermi era, where ATI ruled alone).
  • -2 Hide
    dEAne , December 21, 2010 8:43 AM
    Thanks for the update tom - I need that.
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , December 21, 2010 9:46 AM
    I still love it when you state " is the most powerful card you can buy that doesn't require an auxiliary PCIe power cable" as this is always my card of choice. The type of card simplifies things and still would think I got the best card. :p 
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 21, 2010 10:33 AM
    they should've included the ~600$ twin 6950's.. since an extra 80$ will walk all over the geforce 580.. i know that 80$ isn't a small amount, but when you're building a pc with ~2000$ budget, two of those rather than one 580 does seem pretty logical...
  • 0 Hide
    christop , December 21, 2010 10:48 AM
    Nice info..
  • 0 Hide
    youssef 2010 , December 21, 2010 11:40 AM
    Great Article. BTW has any body seen this wicked $169.99 HD5850 at newegg?

    or this $179.99 GTX 460 1 GB (seen only in the cart)
  • 0 Hide
    nafhan , December 21, 2010 11:41 AM
    Just a thought about the Sandy Bridge comment at the start of the article:
    It looks like Sandy Bridge may be in the same performance category as the truly low end discrete parts (i.e. Radeon 5450/GT 210). That's a huge improvement for Intel IGP's (and IGP's in general), but those GPU's are basically to slow for gaming and much slower than the 4650. So, I don't think Sandy Bridge should impact the recommendation for the 4650.
  • 13 Hide
    gxpbecker , December 21, 2010 11:55 AM
    Love the compition between AMD/Nvidia

    Dear Tom's
    Please for the love of everything holy remove those Jump ads afeter EVERY page change. Thanks - frustrated Tom's User
  • 1 Hide
    jedi940 , December 21, 2010 12:32 PM
    ^+1 Agreed. PLEASEEE!!!
  • 0 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , December 21, 2010 1:19 PM
    for ~600 bucks, two 6950s in crossfire kicks ass massively..
  • 1 Hide
    NuclearShadow , December 21, 2010 1:25 PM
    reprotectedIt's funny how ATI's fixed Crossfire scaling proves useless against Nvidia's original unimproved SLI.

    ATI has finally remedied that problem. So I don't see how its "useless"
    go ahead and check the benchmarks with the 6850's CF and the 1GB 460's
    SLI. At this point any gamer should really just decide on price and maybe Physx if the gamers personal preferences desire it.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , December 21, 2010 1:35 PM
    I appreciate the addition of power-usage remarks among the recommendations. With multiple cards able to provide the required performance, power usage becomes a valid criterion for making a final selection. All else being [effectively] equal, there is no sane reason not to choose the card that draws less power.
  • 0 Hide
    wolfram23 , December 21, 2010 1:41 PM
    Good list. This is the one thing I hate about PCs... I just got two 5850s for $299 each back in April/May which was a great deal at the time... Now I could get more for less. Oh well, the good news is they're able to crush anything I throw at them so I can't really complain. Still... 6950s at that price point makes me sad lol.
  • 0 Hide
    flyinfinni , December 21, 2010 1:57 PM
    Toms- you dropped the ball here on the 450/5750. The reviews actually show the 5750 and 450 to be very close in single card configurations, but show the 5750 PULLING AHEAD in dual card configurations. You state the opposite in this article. Might be worth an edit here.
  • -2 Hide
    rpgplayer , December 21, 2010 2:19 PM
    reprotectedIt's funny how ATI's fixed Crossfire scaling proves useless against Nvidia's original unimproved SLI.

    which is a direct product of AMD's terrible driver support, AMD/ATI needs to exert more effort in driver development, and driver optimization. Their hardware has always been great, software support on the otherhand has always been where they are lacking.
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