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Conclusion

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: May '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


HD 4870 X2
GTX 280, GTX 285 HD 4850 X2
9800 GX2, GTX 260, GTX 275 HD 4870, HD 4890
8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+,
GTS 250
HD 3870 X2, HD 4850
8800 GTX, 8800 GTS 512 MBHD 4770
8800 GT 512 MB, 9800 GT HD 4830
8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT HD 2900 XT, HD 3870
8800 GS, 9600 GSO HD 3850 512 MB, Mobility 3870, HD 4670
8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB, GO 8800M HD 2900 PRO, HD 3850 256 MB, Mobility 3850
7950 GX2 X1950 XTX, HD 4650 (DDR3)
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, HD 4650 (DDR2)
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, HD 3650 (DDR3), HD 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, HD 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.

Don’t worry too much about which brand you choose, because all of the cards out there are pretty 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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  • 4 Hide
    boudy , May 20, 2009 6:23 AM
    Hmmm, ATI has the majority of honorable mentions and best cards (for the price point). I wonder how/if Nvidia will respond to such great deals.

    Great article, keep it up.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , May 20, 2009 6:29 AM
    Without reading any further than the cover page, this article sounds out of date for its glowing praise of the 4770's value. 4770s are going for $110 on Newegg right now, meanwhile the lowest priced 4850s are getting as low as $95 after MIR. Are these 4850 prices just a temporary blowout or will the 4770 soon be available for cheaper?
  • 6 Hide
    cangelini , May 20, 2009 6:54 AM
    Well, they're actually going for as little as $99, but that's not the problem. The real issue is that nobody seems to have them in stock right now. I've sent a note to ATI asking for an official response and will tie that into this piece tomorrow morning, hopefully. I'd rather have a 512MB 4770 vs. a 512MB 4850, FWIW. Also, we don't count MiRs when we look at pricing. Think of that as icing on the cake, if you actually send it in!
  • 2 Hide
    doomtomb , May 20, 2009 7:03 AM
    Good list. I think the Crossfire 4770s is the best deal in a long time.
  • 0 Hide
    IronRyan21 , May 20, 2009 7:35 AM
    cangeliniWell, they're actually going for as little as $99, but that's not the problem. The real issue is that nobody seems to have them in stock right now. I've sent a note to ATI asking for an official response and will tie that into this piece tomorrow morning, hopefully. I'd rather have a 512MB 4770 vs. a 512MB 4850, FWIW. Also, we don't count MiRs when we look at pricing. Think of that as icing on the cake, if you actually send it in!


    I was on Newegg recently lookin for the 4770s, they were all out of stock. Newegg has a habit of also announcing new products and featuring them promenintly on home page.... like the 4890s or Phenom II etc...
    IMO seems they would like to advertise these cards. At least I would.
  • 3 Hide
    tacoslave , May 20, 2009 7:39 AM
    oooh i love ati upping the game and lowering prices.
    remember the days when spending $150 got you something that can barely game and now (thanks to ati) we can get beasts for that price.
  • -1 Hide
    scook9 , May 20, 2009 7:57 AM
    I know you all like recommending the 4850x2 (exclusively by saphire), but you all need to mention case compatibility, not just motherboards. That card is well OVER 11 inches long. Making it one of the longest cards ever. MOST cases will not fit that without some modification. The cooling on it is also not ideal due to the fan type note getting needed air if another card is next to the graphics card - you all said this yourself. Despite what is said this month, I am still looking forward to my GTX275 SLI setup on the way (since I can get them for $230 each before MIR - thanks to an employee program).

    Oh ya, and PLEASE stop referencing the GTX 280, it is dead. Refer to the better and same priced GTX 285.
  • 0 Hide
    PanSola , May 20, 2009 8:05 AM
    I would like to see a Radeon HD 4850 X2 2 GB included on the Gaming Graphics Chart 2009, if possible.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , May 20, 2009 8:13 AM
    scook9I know you all like recommending the 4850x2 (exclusively by saphire), but you all need to mention case compatibility, not just motherboards. That card is well OVER 11 inches long. Making it one of the longest cards ever. MOST cases will not fit that without some modification. The cooling on it is also not ideal due to the fan type note getting needed air if another card is next to the graphics card - you all said this yourself. Despite what is said this month, I am still looking forward to my GTX275 SLI setup on the way (since I can get them for $230 each before MIR - thanks to an employee program).Oh ya, and PLEASE stop referencing the GTX 280, it is dead. Refer to the better and same priced GTX 285.


    I count seven GTX 280 SKUs still selling on Newegg for as low as $259 and 16 GTX 285 SKUs selling for as low as $319, just FYI.

    I'll let Don comment on the Radeon HD 4850 X2, as I've never had the chance to test the card myself and couldn't give it a thumbs up or down.

    With that said, a pair of GTX 275s is also a sweet setup, as suggested in this piece right here.
  • 5 Hide
    morpheas768 , May 20, 2009 11:35 AM
    In the Honorable Mentions of the 4890 and 4870x2 there are 2 errors;
    Memory Speed for the 4890 is 975 (3900 effective not 3750).
    Memory Speed for the 4870x2 is 900 (3600 effective not 3200).

    Great and very useful article as usual!
  • -4 Hide
    morpheas768 , May 20, 2009 11:35 AM
    In the Honorable Mentions of the 4890 and 4870x2 there are 2 errors;
    Memory Speed for the 4890 is 975 (3900 effective not 3750).
    Memory Speed for the 4870x2 is 900 (3600 effective not 3200).

    Great and very useful article as usual!
  • 3 Hide
    terr281 , May 20, 2009 11:38 AM
    A mention that the 4770 is just about the best "high performance" card to put in smaller cases could also be added.

    The inverse to the comment about the 4850 X2 being too long, all of the other "high performance" cards are over 9 inches in length. I recently built 2 systems where the number 1 requirement was that they be built in a "larger desktop" style case. (As opposed to a mid-tower.)

    Luckily, I found a case that could support a full size ATX MB, but even it could not handle any video cards longer than the 4770.
  • 3 Hide
    cynewulf , May 20, 2009 11:48 AM
    Can't wait to see what ATI come up with next on the 40nm process.
    This is getting interesting!
  • 3 Hide
    avatar_raq , May 20, 2009 12:58 PM
    I admire this series of articles. They were the ones that brought me to Tom's. They helped make numerous decitions for me and my friends. Keep'em coming!.
    One thing I dislike is the notes "good ????x???? performance......some with lowered details". I believe they give false impression since they don't apply to all or even "most" games. In fact, games vary so much in their requirements.
  • 0 Hide
    copperfox , May 20, 2009 1:03 PM
    Radeon 4890 is not $235. I purchased mine (Sapphire) for $220 in late April, and that also includes a $20 MIR, making the final price 200. It's a great performer, despite being bottle-necked by my Pentium 4 (single core).
  • 6 Hide
    gwolfman , May 20, 2009 2:36 PM
    Suggestion: How about alternating the colors (white/gray) again on the hierarchy chart? Too hard to see where one section starts/ends. Thanks!
  • 4 Hide
    Onus , May 20, 2009 2:42 PM
    Ok, since the HD4670 was [again] recommended at its price point, please add it to the recently updated graphics card performance charts. Thank you.
  • 5 Hide
    glawk , May 20, 2009 2:45 PM
    How about separate articles for single vs. multi-gpu cards? Does Tom's even acknowledge "micro stutter" (god, I hate that term) as a potential issue in SLI/CrossFire setups?

    A few articles on micro stutter:

    http://www.pcgameshardware.com/aid,653711/PCGH-proves-micro-stuttering-on-the-Radeon-HD-4870-X2/Practice/

    http://www.overclockers.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4420:microstutter&catid=60:videocards&Itemid=4266

    http://www.pcgameshardware.de/aid,631668/Video-proof-Micro-stuttering-may-destroy-the-performance-gains-from-current-multi-GPU-technologies/Grafikkarte/Test/

  • 4 Hide
    esquire468 , May 20, 2009 3:02 PM
    Can anyone explain to me how 2 4770s can even be considered as "Best PCIe Card For ~$200"? I understand Tom's current infatuation with the card, especially with two in crossfire, and I do not dispute their performance or their value in such a configuration. However, I thought the whole point of this article is to rank the cards individually by performance at specific price points. I understand to a certain extent the intent is still there (best bang for the buck), but to me recommending multiple cards in either CFX or SLI setups changes the parameters and purpose of the article, i.e., best "card" in performance at specific price points. Putting multi-card setups into the fray fails to take into consideration whether most users can even install such a configuration on their motherboard. It does not take into consideration the number of available PCIe slots, whether they'll run in 16x/16x mode or if the mobo chipset will even support the configuration (CFX vs. SLI; 790FX vs. 790SLI vs. X58 etc.) Moreover, it doesn't even touch upon whether the PSU is adequate, both in power and number of available connectors. When you factor in these additional considerations, and the possibility that the configeration may require additional upgrades (new mobo; new psu), it sort of defeats the whole purpose of the article, in my opinion.

    I want to see what is the best available card in one slot, even if it s a multi-GPU card (GTX 295; 4870X2; 4850X2). Leave the multi-card setups for the specialty articles, such as the recent "GTX 295 vs. GTX 275 SLI" article.
  • 1 Hide
    hixbot , May 20, 2009 3:46 PM
    Amen. Why can't we see single cards evaulauted seperately? There are many reasons people want to know the best value of single GPUs at different price points. Dual cards, and multi GPU cards still suffer from microstuttering!
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