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Conclusion

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: Feb. '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
GeForceRadeon
GTX 295


4870 X2
GTX 280, GTX 285 4850 X2
9800 GX2, GTX 260 4870
8800 GTX, 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+ 3870 X2, 4850
8800 GT 512 MB, 8800 GTS 512 MB, 9800 GT 4830
8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT HD 2900 XT, 3870
8800 GS, 9600 GSO 3850 512 MB, Mobility 3870, 4670
8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB, GO 8800M HD 2900 PRO, 3850 256 MB, Mobility 3850, 4650
7950 GX2 X1950 XTX
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
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, 3650 (DDR3), 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, 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, 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
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
2 GTS, 4 MX 440, 2 Ultra, 2 Ti, 2 Ti 200 7500
256, 2 MX 200, 4 MX 420, 2 MX 400 SDR, LE, DDR, 7000, 7200
Nvidia TNT Rage 128


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, and we've tried to help out as much as possible there by linking some of the best values we were able to find on Newegg's site.

Don’t worry too much about which brand you choose, because all of the cards out there stick pretty close to Nvidia’s and AMD’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
    xx12amanxx , February 16, 2009 6:03 AM
    Alot of performance for soo little cash have to thank AMD for that!
Other Comments
  • -7 Hide
    romulus47plus1 , February 16, 2009 5:19 AM
    Woo! Tomshardware's been sponsored by Newegg! I wonder if that's the reason why it took so long for them to come out with this month's best bang of the buck. And looks like Tom's love AGP no more.
  • 13 Hide
    xx12amanxx , February 16, 2009 6:03 AM
    Alot of performance for soo little cash have to thank AMD for that!
  • 5 Hide
    Silluete , February 16, 2009 8:37 AM
    my his radeon hd 4650 just arrive (after 2 times rma) , never see such a performance from $62 bucks card, i even can run assain creed at (almost)max setup without any hassle ^^
  • 3 Hide
    rlevitov , February 16, 2009 9:27 AM
    actually i have a 42" monitor and the 4670 doing great in most titles at 1920*1080 so who needs nore
  • 5 Hide
    romulus47plus1 , February 16, 2009 9:36 AM
    rlevitovactually i have a 42" monitor and the 4670 doing great in most titles at 1920*1080 so who needs nore


    Try running it with a Geforce 285 and see the difference ;) 
  • 6 Hide
    sstym , February 16, 2009 9:47 AM
    I fully expected to see two Radeon 4830 in crossfire configuration in the $200 price bracket. Is it an omission or did they deliberately scratch it? They were the ones praising the capabilities of such a setup.
  • -6 Hide
    Tindytim , February 16, 2009 10:20 AM
    You screwed up the GeForce 9800 GTX+ specifications on page 3.

    Apparently it's 55 nm, runs DX 10.1, and was codenamed RV770
  • 0 Hide
    ilikesoup , February 16, 2009 11:18 AM
    I just took a look at newegg, and there is only 1 ATI 4870 card under $200, also it's only a 512mb version, at least all of the 4870x2 cards are 2gb (1gb effective). Even the 4870 card they link to in the article is $229. Did we miss a big price cut that has been reversed since the article was written?
  • 4 Hide
    JeanLuc , February 16, 2009 11:31 AM
    ilikesoupI just took a look at newegg, and there is only 1 ATI 4870 card under $200, also it's only a 512mb version, at least all of the 4870x2 cards are 2gb (1gb effective).


    They said in the article prices were likely to change so the prices at the time of writing may still not be there at the time of publication.
  • 2 Hide
    JeanLuc , February 16, 2009 11:33 AM
    Also I thought the 4870X2 could address all of it's Vram and that the issue with the memory had been resolved with the updated Crossfire bridge chip.
  • 3 Hide
    JPForums , February 16, 2009 11:53 AM
    It seems Tom's disagrees with their own assessment in the graphics hierarchy (at least in one case). In the Graphics charts it seems that the GeForce 8800GTS 512Mb outperforms the Radeon HD4850 512Mb in the majority of benchmarks including the sum total at given resolutions. However, in this chart the HD4850 is considered a level above the 8800GTS. With all the sites that show the HD4850 beating the 9800GTX(+), I was inclined to disregard the charts.

    Coincidentally, I own both an HD4850 and an OCed 8800GTS 512Mb. I got the HD4850 thinking it would give me 9800GTX level performance. At 1680x1050, the 8800GTS actually gets slightly higher frames per second. At the end of the day, both cards give me the same gaming experience.

    So it seems that Tom's graphics charts were more in line with my experience (which leads me to wonder what they are using for there hierarchy chart as it disagrees in this regard). The HD4850 only pulls slightly ahead at 1920x1200 w/AA in the charts, so its only better at high resolutions with AA.
  • 3 Hide
    sublifer , February 16, 2009 12:48 PM
    sstymI fully expected to see two Radeon 4830 in crossfire configuration in the $200 price bracket. Is it an omission or did they deliberately scratch it? They were the ones praising the capabilities of such a setup.


    I also noticed it was left out... I would think that a pair of 4830's would outperform a 4870 512MB version and only lose to the 1GB version at the highest resolutions. Of course I own neither but I am curious to know if thats the case.

    What do you think Don, is a pair of 4830's worthwhile or does the GDDR3 hurt its performance enough to not be worth the mention against the 4870?
  • 0 Hide
    billiardicus , February 16, 2009 1:56 PM
    JPForumsIt seems Tom's disagrees with their own assessment in the graphics hierarchy (at least in one case). In the Graphics charts it seems that the GeForce 8800GTS 512Mb outperforms the Radeon HD4850 512Mb in the majority of benchmarks including the sum total at given resolutions. However, in this chart the HD4850 is considered a level above the 8800GTS. With all the sites that show the HD4850 beating the 9800GTX(+), I was inclined to disregard the charts.Coincidentally, I own both an HD4850 and an OCed 8800GTS 512Mb. I got the HD4850 thinking it would give me 9800GTX level performance. At 1680x1050, the 8800GTS actually gets slightly higher frames per second. At the end of the day, both cards give me the same gaming experience.So it seems that Tom's graphics charts were more in line with my experience (which leads me to wonder what they are using for there hierarchy chart as it disagrees in this regard). The HD4850 only pulls slightly ahead at 1920x1200 w/AA in the charts, so its only better at high resolutions with AA.


    Yeah, I noticed this too.
  • 5 Hide
    mmc4587 , February 16, 2009 1:58 PM
    Funny HOW NewEGG prices have increased $20 for the first 2 reccomendations...
  • 3 Hide
    Stillglade , February 16, 2009 2:03 PM
    If Tom's was shocked at seeing a 4850 X2 at $260, I wonder what they think about it being available at the egg for $225 after rebate. The 2GB version is $260 after rebate from Amazon.com - I wonder where they would fit in given the new prices. The 4850 X2 for $225 would explain the omission of a 4830 crossfire setup.
  • 2 Hide
    billiardicus , February 16, 2009 2:04 PM
    I agree that the 4850x2 1gb, and 4850x2 2gb are awesome on paper, but I won't buy either. I can only find the Saphire version of this card available, and if you check out the reviews on Newegg, 19% of the buyers give it 1 or 2 eggs(2gb version). The biggest complaint is driver issues (Saphire has to release the driver, and they're always late) and horrible customer service. THIS IS WHY THEY ARE SO CHEAP.

    I think Tom's should consider this stuff before recommending GPU's.
  • 3 Hide
    Onus , February 16, 2009 3:45 PM
    I see that many of the ATI and nVidia IGPs are on the chart, but where do the Intel Graphics Media Deccelerators fit in? Are they so low as to be in the dungeon beneath the chart?
    It doesn't matter at all for the [semi] gaming rigs most of us seem to be building, but for cheap general and/or business use, it would be nice information to have.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , February 16, 2009 3:48 PM
    Oh, and rlevitov you may have a point. I probably didn't really need that 4850 that I've got waiting to install...
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , February 16, 2009 3:58 PM
    TindytimYou screwed up the GeForce 9800 GTX+ specifications on page 3.Apparently it's 55 nm, runs DX 10.1, and was codenamed RV770


    Fixed
  • 3 Hide
    Snillet , February 16, 2009 4:41 PM
    I thought that the GTX 295 is only about 5-15% more powerful than my hot 4870X2, since that is about the same amount the GTX 260 get's beaten by the 4850 - How come the GTX 295 sits a porch above the 4870X2?

    The performance gap i even smaller after the 8.12 Hotfix.
    Guess I'm fighting over cold heatsinks...

    Additionally, I think I feel good about you leaving AGP out of the picture, as that standard's getting close to five years old.
    Five years, almost as if we were buying 130nm parts today... (2000-2001)

    Oh wait - the X58!
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