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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December '09

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

Discrete: HD 5970
Discrete: GTX 295Discrete: HD 4870 X2

Discrete: 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


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
  • 12 Hide
    cleeve , December 7, 2009 1:42 PM
    juliomThe bias from Tom's favouring Nvidia is more clear with each passing day... How I miss Tom's from the old days...

    I've been writing this article since it started, Juliom. I didn't see you complaining that AMD was being favored unfairly when I gave the 4850 got top honors at $100 for months on end.

    Now that the prices have changed I suppose you'd consider it more 'fair' if I recommended AMD cards at every price point even though other cards offer better value? How does that work?

    Everytime price/performance shifts from one vendor to the other I get fanboys crying foul.

    These aren't sports teams, they're graphics card vendors. If you want a blind biased report that always recommends one vendor over the other, you probably won't like my stuff. Find a writer who only gives props to your favorite team.
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    knightmike , December 7, 2009 5:37 AM
    Thanks for this wonderful article. I look forward to it every month. I was able to pick up a PNY GTS 250 1GB for $73. It's connected to an Acer 21.5" 1920x1080 monitor I got for $84. I paired it with an AMD 240. I'm currently playing Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Left 4 Dead getting a smooth 60 FPS on all three games at high settings.
  • -9 Hide
    WINTERLORD , December 7, 2009 6:08 AM
    why 2 5770 in crossfire with the slow bandwidth bus? 3d and faster refresh screens will be here soon and kinda wondered bout that
  • 7 Hide
    shubham1401 , December 7, 2009 6:12 AM
    Nice to see Old 9800GT and HD4830 in the recommended list.

    I'm surprised how much time 9800GT/8800GT have remained in the recommended list.
  • 3 Hide
    rutoojinn , December 7, 2009 6:52 AM
    tacoslavei lol'd when i saw the 295 as an honerable mention. By the way where is this 5890 they mention?

    There is no 5890, and yes how ATi label their models is kinda confusing but it goes to this order 5770, 5870, 5970 and replace the 70 with a 50 for the 2nd tier of that group.
  • -2 Hide
    rutoojinn , December 7, 2009 6:54 AM
    Sorry for double post but there is no 5950 lol.....
  • 5 Hide
    falchard , December 7, 2009 8:27 AM
    Lack of research alert. You listed a $200 card for $150. I mean seriously, did you need to create all those new categories so you can squeze in a nVidia. Since nVidia still hasn't dropped prices its only logical in 1 price segment, $100~$130.
  • 5 Hide
    basket687 , December 7, 2009 9:11 AM
    Good Article, but I have two comments:
    1- Shouldn't you switch the GT 240 GDDR5 and DDR3 positions in the list?
    2- Why do you consider the GTX 280 to be of the same level of HD 5850 (in the list), isn't the 5850 significantly faster?
  • 7 Hide
    jj463rd , December 7, 2009 9:53 AM
    Yeah HD5970 is at the TOP of the graphics card hierarchy chart and GTX 295 bumped into the second tier sobbing.
  • 8 Hide
    Syndil , December 7, 2009 9:53 AM
    I fail to see how a non-DX11 card ties with a DX11 card. If the two offer similar performance at a similar price point, but one offers more future-proofing, then there is a clear winner.
  • 2 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , December 7, 2009 10:27 AM
    It gets a little confusing with so many categories.
  • -4 Hide
    grimjester , December 7, 2009 10:47 AM
    falchardLack of research alert. You listed a $200 card for $150. I mean seriously, did you need to create all those new categories so you can squeze in a nVidia. Since nVidia still hasn't dropped prices its only logical in 1 price segment, $100~$130.

    "Like many cards, the GeForce GTX 260 is becoming very hard to find, and may soon be end-of-life'd"

    The prices have changed heavily since the article was written. Presumably someone who bothers to read articles like this knows enough not to pay $200 for a GTX260 anyway. Agree that Nvidia needs to drop prices, but it needs to be added that the 295 is still very competitive.
  • 0 Hide
    ubernoobie , December 7, 2009 10:49 AM
    error with the 4670, 1000(4000) effective? it's gddr3 not 5
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 7, 2009 10:52 AM
    There really isn't much to see here. HD 5000 are fast but they are so scarce that their impact on the mainstream gamers is small.
  • 0 Hide
    cinergy , December 7, 2009 11:35 AM
    This watch artificially pushes geforces to every random price point. 9600GT @ $85, GTS250 @ $110, GTX295 @ $465. What is this best card for $123.45 logic? Why not mention e.g. HD4870x2 ~$429?
  • 0 Hide
    huron , December 7, 2009 11:39 AM
    Thanks again for the article. I always check it out each month, even if I won't be in the market to purchase.

    It's amazing to me that even though it has been awhile, the 8800GT/9800GT and the GTS 250 (rebadged 8800GTS/9800GTX, etc) still make the chart and do OK.

    I guess it's not quite time to upgrade (still playing OK).

    Thanks again for the article.
  • -1 Hide
    juliom , December 7, 2009 11:54 AM
    The bias from Tom's favouring Nvidia is more clear with each passing day... How I miss Tom's from the old days...
  • -1 Hide
    cinergy , December 7, 2009 11:57 AM
    basket687Good Article, but I have two comments:1- Shouldn't you switch the GT 240 GDDR5 and DDR3 positions in the list?2- Why do you consider the GTX 280 to be of the same level of HD 5850 (in the list), isn't the 5850 significantly faster?

    HD5850 IS faster than GTX285 no matter how they put it. Well, if they bench Last Remnant, Last Remnant and Last Remnant, then perhaps not.
  • 8 Hide
    superpowter77 , December 7, 2009 12:15 PM
    4890 is currently the top dog for conscious gamers under $200, no point discussing here a fact already proven on tomshardware article a few days ago. I currently own a 3870, 9800Gtx+, gtx 260 core 216, gtx 275, 4890 and a gtx 295(yes, I'm a freaking maniac) and just realized how overpriced the gtx 200 series are with the sole expection of the fantastic and unique for its price/performance ratio: gtx 295. If you don't have an Icore 7 you are wasting your money on gtx 200 series cards(Including the amazing gtx 295), simply because nvidia cards don't scale properly on heavy games as farcry 2 and crysis warhead(with very high settings) . I was checking prices today at newegg trying to find 4870x2 and saw a EVGA OC gtx 275 for a ridiculous price of $349. 4890 and gtx 275 are basically on same league and just got my 4890 for $169(on sale), why we need to spend almost double or at least $100 more on a video card which perform identical to 4890. people need to start reading and checking specs on real games with real configuration based on their current CPU/GPU combination to get the most of it. Currently nvidia gtx260,gtx 275 and gtx 285 are a rip off for customers.
  • 6 Hide
    eaclou , December 7, 2009 12:23 PM
    Unfortunately, scant availability forces us to regulate the Radeon HD 5850 to Honorable Mention status

    should be "relegate"
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