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Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: February 2011

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 is a resource to help you judge if a card is a good buy or not. The graphics card hierarchy chart 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: GTX 580Discrete: HD 5970
Discrete: GTX 295, GTX 480, GTX 570
Discrete: HD 4870 X2, HD 6970

Discrete: HD 4850 X2, HD 5870, HD 6950

Discrete: GTX 470, GTX 560 Ti Discrete: HD 5850, 6870
Discrete: 9800 GX2, GTX 285, GTX 460 1GB, GTX 465 Discrete: 6850

Discrete: GTX 260, GTX 275, GTX 280, GTX 460 768 MB, GTX 460 SE
Discrete: HD 4870, HD 5770, HD 4890, HD 5830
Mobility: HD 5870

Discrete: 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+, GTS 250, GTS 450 Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 4850, HD 5750
Mobility: HD 4850, HD 5850

Discrete: 8800 GTX, 8800 GTS 512 MB
Go (mobile): GTX 280M, GTX 285M
Discrete: HD 4770
Mobility: HD 4860

Discrete: 8800 GT 512 MB, 9800 GT
Go (mobile): 9800M GTX, GTX 260M (112), GTS 360M (GDDR5)
Discrete: HD 4830, HD 5670
Mobility: HD 5770, HD 5750

Discrete: 8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT, GT 240 (GDDR5)
Go (mobile): 9800M GTS, GTX 160M
Discrete: HD 2900 XT, HD 3870, HD 5570 (GDDR5)

Discrete: 8800 GS, 9600 GSO, GT 240 (DDR3)
Go (mobile): GTX 260M (96), GTS 150M, GTS 360M (DDR3)
Discrete: HD 3850 512 MB, HD 4670, HD 5570 (DDR3)
Mobility: HD 3870, HD 5730, HD 5650

Discrete: 8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB
Go (mobile): 8800M
Discrete: HD 2900 PRO, HD 3850 256 MB, 5550 (GDDR5)
Mobility: HD 3850

Discrete: 7950 GX2 Discrete: X1950 XTX, HD 4650 (DDR3), 5550 (DDR3)
Discrete: 7800 GTX 512, 7900 GTO, 7900 GTX, GT 430 Discrete: X1900 XT, X1950 XT, X1900 XTX
Discrete: 7800 GTX, 7900 GT, 7950 G, GT 220 (DDR3) Discrete: X1800 XT, X1900 AIW, X1900 GT, X1950 PRO, HD 2900 GT, HD 5550 (DDR2)

Discrete: 7800 GT, 7900 GS, 8600 GTS, 9500 GT (GDDR3), GT 220 (DDR2)
Go (mobile): 7950 GTX
Discrete: X1800 XL, X1950 GT, HD 4650 (DDR2)
Mobility X1800 XT, HD 4650, HD 5165

Discrete: 6800 Ultra, 7600 GT, 7800 GS, 8600 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, HD 5145, HD 5470 (GDDR5), HD 5450, 

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, HD 5450
Mobility: X800, 3470, HD 5470 (DDR3), HD 5430
Intel HD Graphics 3000
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 3300, HD 4200, HD 4250, HD 4290 

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
Intel HD Graphics (Core i5-6x1), 2000
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
Intel HD Graphics (Core i3 5x0, Core i5-6x0)
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
Intel HD Graphics (Pentium G)
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!

Display all 63 comments.
  • 3 Hide
    anacandor , February 10, 2011 5:04 AM
    I love this competition, if only AMD's CPU's could compete at the same high level...

    Anyone else get the feeling that nVidia and AMD cut back on the performance of their cards simply to slot into a pricepoint?
  • 4 Hide
    haplo602 , February 10, 2011 5:44 AM
    can you include the e-350 iGPU 6310 in the charts since you do include the previous integrated GPUs ? I know it's slow but just to have the chart almost complete.

    I am missing DX version support information on the cards, since raw performance does not help with lacking features.
  • 1 Hide
    executor2 , February 10, 2011 6:27 AM
    I unlocked the HD 6950 and over clocked it to HD 6970 specs. Works great and stable in different games.
  • 1 Hide
    mi1ez , February 10, 2011 6:41 AM
    Hilarious how they put in vendor prices that show that their chosen cards at the lower price points aren't even close to retailing at the price point they claim!
  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , February 10, 2011 6:45 AM
    And don't even get me started on the fact they're all US...
  • -2 Hide
    haplo602 , February 10, 2011 8:24 AM
    mi1ezAnd don't even get me started on the fact they're all US...

    these articles are compiled over some timeframe and the current prices do not have to reflect the prices when the article was finished.

    and since you are on a US site, do you expect Euro prices?
  • 2 Hide
    joytech22 , February 10, 2011 8:41 AM
    AMD makes great GPU's but can't even keep up in the CPU space?
    Better to be good at one thing than to be mediocre at both I guess.
  • 2 Hide
    maurbeast , February 10, 2011 9:41 AM
    one suggestion that i am obliged to make is to add to the hierarchy chart sli/crossfire configs as well.
    would be most useful!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 10, 2011 10:24 AM
    kinda have to agree with mi1ez, the prices listed here for the radeon 6800 series cards is a little inflated. i've been shopping around on newegg and tigerdirect for about a month, price optimizing a new system, and the 6850s can be had as low as $160 and the 6870s as low as $200 with mail in rebates. AMD currently has nvidia beat on prices, imo
  • -2 Hide
    cmartin011 , February 10, 2011 10:44 AM
    yawwnnn... my 295 gtx still near the top of the chart now there is a surprise
  • 1 Hide
    cmartin011 , February 10, 2011 10:47 AM
    so funny to see intel can't trade punches with a 8800gt yet wow who would have thought!
  • -1 Hide
    tony singh , February 10, 2011 10:50 AM
    My old 4650 still hangs on..
  • 1 Hide
    dirtmountain , February 10, 2011 10:54 AM
    A pretty big jump from $120 to $185 from the 5770 to the GTX 460 1GB. The GTX 460 768MB at $150-$160 would have been a great midpoint there.
  • 0 Hide
    haplo602 , February 10, 2011 11:47 AM
    joytech22AMD makes great GPU's but can't even keep up in the CPU space?Better to be good at one thing than to be mediocre at both I guess.

    that's a point of view question :-)

    I mean how much compute intensive tasks for an average user need a 6core i7 ? Even an Athlon II X4 is sufficient for 80% of people. So Intel taking the high end is just for show. Price is what sells today.
  • 1 Hide
    RazberyBandit , February 10, 2011 11:56 AM
    I've seen 5870's regularly priced below the $250 mark over the last couple weeks. With rebates, these same cards drop to $200-$220. That, to me, represents the best value in the $175 to $275 bracket, hands down.
  • -1 Hide
    vvhocare5 , February 10, 2011 1:22 PM
    haplo602can you include the e-350 iGPU 6310 in the charts since you do include the previous integrated GPUs ? I know it's slow but just to have the chart almost complete.

    This made my day!! An IGP? haha..... Man these parts arent even in the city where the ballpark is located
  • 0 Hide
    christop , February 10, 2011 1:32 PM
    I guess I will stick with my 5850 for now.
  • -1 Hide
    Onus , February 10, 2011 2:10 PM
    With the dollar soon to crash, the build I'm planning for late Spring/early Summer may be my last personal build for the foreseeable future. I'm thinking a GTX560Ti is probably where I want to be; higher than I need right now, but should remain viable for years.
  • 2 Hide
    caamsa , February 10, 2011 3:25 PM
    dirtmountainA pretty big jump from $120 to $185 from the 5770 to the GTX 460 1GB. The GTX 460 768MB at $150-$160 would have been a great midpoint there. [...] 6814127519

    I agree with you. The big problem is that every single card you buy now has a dang rebate. So you can get some great deal if you are willing to take the chance with the rebate. Am I the only one who hates all these rebates?
  • 0 Hide
    nottheking , February 10, 2011 3:30 PM
    mi1ezAnd don't even get me started on the fact they're all US...

    No one's stopping you from going and putting together a complementary article for other (non-USA) markets. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised that if you put in the time and effort to consistently make a monthly update like Cleeve (Mr. Woligroski) here has, Tom's just might offer to post it up alongside these.

    cmartin011yawwnnn... my 295 gtx still near the top of the chart now there is a surprise

    Not really. The dual-GPU (especially nVidia's) cards tend to last a Looooong time. However, they tend to only hold up particularly well in older shader models, and without using AA; in those cases two GPUs from an older generation will easily thump nVidia's next big thing. The same went for the generation before, when I noted to people that for those who didn't use AA, a 9800GX2 curb-stomped the supposed "latest and greatest" GTX 280 at a lower price. (oh, and also actually even putting a damper on the 4870's parade, too)
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