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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Video Cards For The Money: Dec '08
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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. 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 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 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 tiers based on a lot of information, many of the laptop chipset positions on 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 graphic chipsets.

GRAPHICS CARD HIERARCHY CHART
GeForce Radeon
4870 X2
GTX 280 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 ATI 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 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 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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  • 2 Hide
    dieseldre2k , December 4, 2008 4:49 AM
    just wanted to say thanks for the update for this month =)
  • 1 Hide
    kelfen , December 4, 2008 5:12 AM
    I liked the update thanks
  • 0 Hide
    tigerwraith , December 4, 2008 5:31 AM
    opps sorry didnt know there was a 4850 X2
  • -1 Hide
    randomizer , December 4, 2008 5:34 AM
    tigerwraith4850 X2 dont you mean 4870 X2?

    You're kidding right? Why would they put the same card in the $370 and $400+ categories and with a different description?

    EDIT: Nvm, I'm too slow to respond.

    If the GTX260+ is not labelled any different, then it can't be a different price to the GTX260 can it?
  • 0 Hide
    unreal104 , December 4, 2008 6:01 AM
    Mistake!! RadeonHD 3870 is 256bit
  • 0 Hide
    slomo4sho , December 4, 2008 6:16 AM
    Thanks for the write up.

    Since you are including on-board chipsets on your GPU hierarchy chart, it would be highly appreciated if you could provide detail as to where the Intel on-board GPUs end up on the spectrum.
  • 0 Hide
    ifko_pifko , December 4, 2008 7:21 AM
    Another mistake.... According to my knowledge HD4830 has 16 ROPs.
  • 0 Hide
    troll , December 4, 2008 11:21 AM
    Great article, thanks for the update!
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 4, 2008 11:45 AM
    4850 X2 has higher clock compares with regular 4850?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 4, 2008 11:58 AM
    According to your own charts the 9800GTX+ beats the 4850 in nearly all tests. It has a pretty large lead in the overall FPS of all games in that category too. So using this site as a guide to purchase a 9800GTX+ (which I am very happy with) I now wonder why you say "The Radeon HD 4850 will usually best the GeForce 9800 GTX+."
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 4, 2008 12:23 PM
    http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/gaming-graphics-charts-q3-2008/Half-Life-2-Episode-2,766.html

    There's a typo, but the leading card is the 4850x2 on that chart. HL2 EP2 @ 1680x1050.
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , December 4, 2008 12:37 PM
    Yes please, as Slomo requested, please add the Intel Graphics Media Deccellerator IGPs to the chart, if only to assist laptop buyers to know if they have any hope of playing games. Thanks.
  • 0 Hide
    computerninja7823 , December 4, 2008 12:57 PM
    While the Radeon HD 4830 offers the 8800/8900 GT its first competition in its price class, the card remains a strong contender and is still a viable option. bottom of page 3 typo....last i checked there was no 8900gt...
  • 0 Hide
    computerninja7823 , December 4, 2008 1:20 PM
    one quick thing. Radeon HD 4870 1GB probably is not that good unless you play at high resolutions...you might wanna opt for a 512MB versoin if you play at low resolutions.
  • -2 Hide
    cruiseoveride , December 4, 2008 2:28 PM
    I hate ties
  • 3 Hide
    Onus , December 4, 2008 2:30 PM
    Me too, so fortunately my job doesn't require that I wear one :-D.
  • -2 Hide
    malveaux , December 4, 2008 2:34 PM
    Prices falling for the GTX260 is great. I keep watching it dip below $200. At $150, I'm buying!

    Cheers,
  • 0 Hide
    Huttfuzz , December 4, 2008 2:45 PM
    As usual, very good article, i read it each month and i love it. If there is one thing i'd like to see, it's in the Graphic's Card Hierarchy Chart. I'd like to see SLI'd card against single card of the same force. For example. 8800 GT in SLI on par with a single 4870. (This is an example)
  • 0 Hide
    3lvis , December 4, 2008 3:22 PM
    supertrekieAccording to your own charts the 9800GTX+ beats the 4850 in nearly all tests. It has a pretty large lead in the overall FPS of all games in that category too. So using this site as a guide to purchase a 9800GTX+ (which I am very happy with) I now wonder why you say "The Radeon HD 4850 will usually best the GeForce 9800 GTX+."


    While the Nvidia 9800 gtx+ and the ATI 4850 have similar specs and price points, It is more expensive to run a pair of 9800gtx in SLI then a pair of 4850's in crossfire. This is due in part to the premium price of the Nforce chipset over a comparable P45 chipset. I think this is why they choose ATI over Nvidia.
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