Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

What About This Other Card That's Not On The List? How Do I Know If It's A Good Deal?

The Best Graphics Cards for the Money: May 08
By

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. The first is the graphics card hierarchy chart, which groups graphics cards with similar overall performance 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 unless the replacement card is at least three tiers higher than the old one. 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 and integrated chipsets to the hierarchy chart. I want to make it clear that there is very little performance data available for these graphic solutions. While the discrete video chipsets on the chart are placed in their tiers based on a lot of information, many of the laptop chipset positions on the chart are guesstimates based on 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 graphic chipsets.

Geforce Radeon
9800 GX2
8800 GTX, 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX 3870 X2
8800 GT 512MB, 8800 GTS 512MB
8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT HD 2900 XT, 3870
8800 GS 3850 512MB
8800 GT 256MB, 8800 GTS 320MB HD 2900 PRO, 3850 256MB
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 X1800 XL, X1950 GT, Mobility X1800 XT
6800 Ultra, 7600 GT, 7800 GS, Go 7800 GTX, Go 7900 GTX, 8600 GT X800 XT (& PE), X850 XT (& PE), X1650 XT, X1800 GTO, Mobility X1900, HD 2600 XT, 3650 (DDR3), 3670
6800 GT, 6800 GS (PCIe), Go 7800, Go 7900 GS, 8700M GT X800 XL, X800 GTO2/GTO16, Mobility X800 XT, HD 2600 PRO, Mobility HD 2600 XT, 3650 (DDR2)
6800 GS (AGP), Go 6800 Ultra, Go 7600 GT, 8600M GT X800 GTO 256mb, X800 PRO, X850 PRO, X1650 GT, Mobility HD 2600
6800, Go 6800, 7300 GT GDDR3, 7600 GS, Go 7700, 8600M GS X800, X800 GTO 128mb, X1600 XT, X1650 PRO, Mobility X1800
6600 GT, 6800LE, 6800 XT, 7300 GT DDR2, Go 7600 (128-bit), 8500 GT 9800 XT, X700 PRO, X800 GT, X800 SE, Mobility X800, X1300 XT, X1600 PRO, HD 2400 XT
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
FX 5800 Ultra, FX 5900 XT, Go 6600, Go 7600 (64-bit), Go 8600M GS 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 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 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 ATI Rage 128

Summary

There you have it folks: the best cards for the money this month. Now all that’s left is to find and purchase them, and we leave that part up to you. The best prices will almost certainly be found online, but sometimes large retail outlets might surprise you with a good sale.

Don’t worry too much about which brand you choose, because all of the cards out there stick pretty close to the reference designs by Nvidia and ATI. 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!

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 39 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 0 Hide
    jamesl , May 5, 2008 4:58 PM
    is this correct on page 3
    "The 8800 GS is essentially a crippled 8600 GT ...".
  • 0 Hide
    jamesl , May 5, 2008 5:05 PM
    oh, and the links at the bottom of page 7 are not really links, just plain text
    "PCI Express: (LINK TO NEW VGA CHARTS)"

    "GP: (LINK TO OLD AGP CHARTS)"
  • 1 Hide
    jerreece , May 5, 2008 5:06 PM
    I have to say, I love that you guys are updating this so often lately. Especially since the GPUs available from ATI and nVidia keep changing over the last few months.

    Kudos to Tom's for providing us updates on graphics cards so often. I love keeping tabs on what's the best buy, as one of these days I'll be upgrading my GPU again.
  • 1 Hide
    Sorbert , May 5, 2008 5:19 PM
    9600 gx2 might need an 8 instead of a 6 ;p
  • -4 Hide
    aleluja , May 5, 2008 5:24 PM
    What about this other card.
    Well i have a GeForce 4 MX4000 which is not on the list. Could you please add it so i know what place it takes between the other cards?
  • -1 Hide
    jonsnow13 , May 5, 2008 6:26 PM
    What about all the 3000 series cards not included on the list? Like the HD3400, etc? Or what about the 780G Crossfire configuration with onboard video? I mean, you're excluding SO many cards! You should also include where the DDR2 versions and the DDR3 versions lie (as in the HD3600). You could also include the performance on the chart when combining with the 780G. Please. :) 

    I'm really tempted to pick up a 70 dollar HD 3000 card and crossfire it with my 780 board but I wanna know if it's worth a damn.
  • 0 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , May 5, 2008 7:02 PM
    jonsnow13: The reason these cards are not on the list is because they are not "the best video cards for the money". There are literally dozens of cards (if not hundreds) still available for purchase today, and having a list comparing every one of them to each other is just not feasible, especially to be updated every month. To compare cards to each other on that sort of scale, you can use the hierchy chart on the last page of the article as a general guide, but this article is written just to show the best cards at each price range.

    For the other poster: the GeForce MX 4000 ranks way down the list, you'll notice it in the third-to-bottom tier of the hierchy. That card was not designed for gaming, regardless of what Wal-Mart advertised.
  • 1 Hide
    Katreat , May 5, 2008 9:11 PM
    Same complaint as last month, put SLI in a separate category!

    For a great many people the option of going SLI does not exist unless they are building new. You cover AGP for those people who are still using an AGP MB. You should cover single slot PCIe the same way. Saying put in two cards works just about as well as telling people with AGP to install a PCIe video card……… It does not work!

    Finally, I would like to mention that your SLI option fails to take into account the cost of setting up SLI in the first place which more than often makes it NOT THE BEST option for the price range you quote.

    “Spending more than $350 will provide very little extra in the way of performance. Two 8800 GTs will outperform the 9800 GTX or 9800 GX2 in the great majority of situations.”

    That is nice, but the fact remains I can put a 9800 GTX in my P35 MB for under $400. Right now the price on the cheapest 780i MB with similar features is about $75 more than my P35. The price of buying a 700w PSU instead of a 550w PSU is approximately $25 more. So, your best option for $350 is actually more like $450. Now, taking all that into account makes the 9800 GTX for under $400 starts to look like a pretty sweet deal.

    When the best option includes buying a new MB and PSU it quickly becomes no option at all. Please compare them as two different Interfaces because from a practical stand point they are.

    Kat
  • 0 Hide
    royalcrown , May 5, 2008 9:23 PM
    Quote:
    Same complaint as last month, put SLI in a separate category!

    For a great many people the option of going SLI does not exist unless they are building new. You cover AGP for those people who are still using an AGP MB. You should cover single slot PCIe the same way. Saying put in two cards works just about as well as telling people with AGP to install a PCIe video card……… It does not work!

    Finally, I would like to mention that your SLI option fails to take into account the cost of setting up SLI in the first place which more than often makes it NOT THE BEST option for the price range you quote.

    “Spending more than $350 will provide very little extra in the way of performance. Two 8800 GTs will outperform the 9800 GTX or 9800 GX2 in the great majority of situations.”

    That is nice, but the fact remains I can put a 9800 GTX in my P35 MB for under $400. Right now the price on the cheapest 780i MB with similar features is about $75 more than my P35. The price of buying a 700w PSU instead of a 550w PSU is approximately $25 more. So, your best option for $350 is actually more like $450. Now, taking all that into account makes the 9800 GTX for under $400 starts to look like a pretty sweet deal.

    When the best option includes buying a new MB and PSU it quickly becomes no option at all. Please compare them as two different Interfaces because from a practical stand point they are.

    Kat


    First off, no one is forcing you to buy a 780 series board, you could get a 6 or 5 series sli, or own one already, so your $75 dollar point is not necessarily valid.
  • 1 Hide
    KyleSTL , May 5, 2008 9:26 PM
    KatreatSame complaint as last month, put SLI in a separate category!
    ...
    Kat

    Ditto. Associated costs should be included in the overall decision. SLI motherboards are more expensive than mid-range (read: P35) motherboards!
  • 0 Hide
    shmuls , May 5, 2008 9:59 PM
    I agree with Katreat and KyleSTL! SLI's should be in a seperate section! People who don't have an SLI MoBo would have to spend another few $100 for a new motherboard minimum!! Not to mention the time and effort to re-setup their system. What about those of us with a single PCI-E slot that want to spend $250 on a new graphics card? do we have no other options than to start from scratch?
  • 0 Hide
    SEALBoy , May 5, 2008 11:47 PM
    jamesLis this correct on page 3"The 8800 GS is essentially a crippled 8600 GT ...".


    No, I'm positive it should read 8800 GT, for 8600 GT.
  • 0 Hide
    ThreatDown , May 6, 2008 12:09 AM
    aleluja, I hope you are not serious... every one of these cards is MAGNITUDES better than that thing.
  • 0 Hide
    lbwsandiego , May 6, 2008 12:15 AM
    The lack of 9800GTX on these charts is a bit disappointing, the review of the card on this very site site is over a month old now, and I've had this card in my new rig for over 2 weeks!

    Thanks for the effort guys.
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , May 6, 2008 12:20 AM
    Quote:
    The 8800 GS is essentially a crippled 8600 GT with a smaller 192-bit memory interface.


    8600GT..think it should be 9600GT.
  • 1 Hide
    johnbilicki , May 6, 2008 12:55 AM
    On page 3 it should be corrected that the 8800GS is a crippled *8800GT* since the bus is reduced from 256 to 192 bit.
  • 0 Hide
    KyleSTL , May 6, 2008 12:59 AM
    Quote:
    What about this other card.
    Well i have a GeForce 4 MX4000 which is not on the list. Could you please add it so i know what place it takes between the other cards?

    IIRC the MX4000 is the same as the MX400 on a AGP 8x bus, hope that helps, but I can't help but agree with everyone else that it truly does not belong on the list, unless Tom's comes out with a "Best [Old-School] Cards for the Money".
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , May 6, 2008 7:15 AM
    Wild98600GT..think it should be 9600GT.
    Nope, definitely 8800GT. The 8800GS is G92 whereas the 9600GT is G94.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , May 6, 2008 9:47 AM
    I can't help but to notice people comain about the mx4000 - despite what some people think, it's not all that horrible. I have serveral socket a system running here and there with mx4 based cards, and they still play anno 1701 & worms forts just fine. They're definetly no match for anything in the geforce 6 series or better, but they're still performing better than anything onboard short of the ati x200 or better.
    In short - for agp it's definetly worth upgrading from that s3 virge 3d or igp i815 chipset if you need - after all those cards can be had for free pretty much everywhere. (and I mean free)

    ps. as noted on the previous page - is it correct that the charts meant 9800gx2 and not 9600gx2 at the top of the list (never heard of a 9600gx2)
  • 0 Hide
    elbert , May 6, 2008 11:30 AM
    Page 2 has the 2600XT, 8600GT, and 1950 in a 3 way win but I would think the 3650 ddr2 at $80 would be the best bang for the buck. At $80 the 3650 ddr2 only loss a few frames off the 2600XT and some times wins against the 8600GT. This slight loss in frame rate will be over turned soon as DX10.1 due to those cards needing to up sample to match quality or suffer a picture quality loss however you see the 3650 ddr2's advantage of DX10.1. The price difference of $20 should make the 3650 ddr2 a winner. An increase of $20 would have these cards against near the same price as the 3850.
Display more comments