Best Graphics Cards For The Money: November '09

Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart

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 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
Discrete: GTX 295
Discrete: HD 4870 X2

Discrete: HD 5870
Discrete: GTX 280, GTX 285 Discrete: HD 4850 X2, HD 5850
Discrete: 9800 GX2, GTX 260, GTX 275 Discrete: HD 4870, HD 4890, HD 5770
Discrete: 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+,
GTS 250
Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 4850, HD 5750
Discrete: 8800 GTX, 8800 GTS 512 MB
Go (mobile): 280M
Discrete: HD 4770

Discrete: 8800 GT 512 MB, 9800 GT
Go (mobile): 260M (112)
Discrete: HD 4830
Discrete: 8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GT Discrete: HD 2900 XT, HD 3870
Discrete: 8800 GS, 9600 GSO
Go (mobile): 260M (96)
Discrete: HD 3850 512 MB, HD 4670
Mobility: 3870

Discrete: 8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB, GT 220
Go (mobile): 8800M
Discrete: HD 2900 PRO, HD 3850 256 MB|
Mobility: 3850

Discrete: 7950 GX2 Discrete: X1950 XTX, HD 4650 (DDR3)
Discrete: 7800 GTX 512, 7900 GTO, 7900 GTX Discrete: X1900 XT, X1950 XT, X1900 XTX
Discrete: 7800 GTX, 7900 GT, 7950 GT Discrete: X1800 XT, X1900 AIW, X1900 GT, X1950 PRO, HD 2900 GT
Discrete: 7800 GT, 7900 GS, 8600 GTS, 9500 GT (GDDR3)
Go (mobile): 7950 GTX
Discrete: X1800 XL, X1950 GT, HD 4650 (DDR2)
Mobility X1800 XT

Discrete: 6800 Ultra, 7600 GT, 7800 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

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
Mobility: X800, 3470
Integrated: HD 3300

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 4200

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

Discrete: 4 Ti 4600, 4 Ti 4800, FX 5700 Ultra, 6200, 8300, 8400 G, G 210 Discrete: 9600 PRO, 9800 LE, X600 PRO, HD 2300
Mobility: 9700 (128-bit), X600, X1300
Integrated: Xpress 1250

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

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!

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    Your comment
  • wintermint
    Ahh the article finally came out :D
  • dirtmountain
    The 2 monthly articles by Mr. Woligroski (Best Graphic Cards for the Money and Best Gaming CPUs for the Money) are some of the best and most informative articles here at THW and should be required reading for anyone posting questions about a new gaming build or an gaming upgrade.
  • Onyx2291
    Finally another! Was wondering when it'd come out. November is a good month to take a look at this.
  • liquidsnake718
    A year and a half ago when I upgraded my 8800gt to a 9800gtx+ that card was considered one of the best and most efficient at a pricing/preformance standpoint. Now that card or any of its counterparts are nowhere to be seen..... Good job Ati for putting out the dismal 4850.....
  • noob2222
    would also be noteworthy to mention that the 58xx cards can be xfired for even better futureproofing. Honorable mention at 5850 290, recommended at $580 imo since its considerably faster than the 295 for $120 extra.
  • avatar_raq
    It makes sense to put the 5800 cards as honorable mentions, after all they are extremely hard to find online..I'm waiting to see their performance in DX11 games, probably I'll wait for the 2Gb version of 5870.
  • Isn't the 8600M GT a mobile variant?
  • To Nivdia.


    Merry Xmas from ATI, 2009
  • coonday
    Honorable mentions are lame.
  • eddieroolz
    Thanks for the great article as usual! This time around it was more fun to read than the other times for some reason.

    I also caught one typo in the hiearchy chart: HD 485?
  • Samamba
    Typo in last page
    Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 485, HD 5750

    **HD 4850**
  • manwell999
    September's hierarchy had the GTX295 one level above the 4870x2, this month they are on the same level.
  • xizel
    typo also in last page third tear mistake on the 4890
    Discrete: HD 4870, HD 489, HD 5770
  • skora
    Great article again. The ever changing GPU market keeps us on our toes.

    Is there any merrit to suggesting CF setups with the note of minimum PCIe lanes? I know once you get into the boards that really start to saturate the lanes, you're in a budget that shouldn't be using x8/x8, but it might be worth noting when that happens.

    The 9600GSO is listed with a 256bit memory bandwidth. Never seen anything higher than 192.
  • coconutboy
    Hey Don, question/comment. It's great to have mobile and integrated chipsets added to the hierarchy chart, but the huge amount of added text saying "discrete" makes things less readable. I think a good compromise would be to have a note at the top or bottom of the chart saying that all parts listed are assumed to be discrete unless otherwise noted. This will have the added benefit of making it easier to spot the mobile/integrated chipsets for those who are actually interested.
  • donovands
    Ok, how likely is it that we'll be seeing exclusive DX11 games anytime in the next five years? The 5800 series gets a mention here because of their DirectX11 compatibility as 'Futureproofing'. I strongly suspect that even if games are released with DX11 support, they will run just fine on 9 and 10. That being said, we're probably better off with a pair of 4890's rather than a single 5870.
  • donovands
    4890 x2 not on the list. Should be tier 1.
  • Zenthar
    I'd like to point out that for really high resolution like 2560x1600, the limited 512MB of the 4870 in crossfire could be a limiting factor. Then again, if you were planning on spending only 250$ on a card to play at that resolution, you might be delusional :P.
  • Zenthar
    donovands4890 x2 not on the list. Should be tier 1.

    The chart only include single cards, the X2 presents are for dual-GPU cards. Since there is no dual-gpu card based on the 4890, it isn't present. But if you are eager to see ATI on top, wait for the 5970 (aka 5870X2 ;)).
  • cleeve
    manwell999September's hierarchy had the GTX295 one level above the 4870x2, this month they are on the same level.

    You noticed that, huh? :)

    Yes, I went and ran a ton of cuurent results through a spreadsheet. To my surprise, there was less than a 5% performance spread between the 295 and the 4870 X2. Looks like ATI's drivers have pushed the card in the past months, or maybe I just assumed a bigger performance spread between the two cards. In any case, I tweaked the heirarchy to reflect that.

    The sad part is, based on availability it looks like the 4870 X2 is being end-of-lined. :(
  • cleeve
    xizeltypo also in last page third tear mistake on the 4890 Discrete: HD 4870, HD 489, HD 5770

    Thanks! Fixed
  • cleeve
    dirtmountainThe 2 monthly articles by Mr. Woligroski (Best Graphic Cards for the Money and Best Gaming CPUs for the Money) are some of the best and most informative articles here at THW and should be required reading for anyone posting questions about a new gaming build or an gaming upgrade.

    Thanks dirt! very kind of you to say. :)
  • cleeve
    SkywalkerIsn't the 8600M GT a mobile variant?

    Yes thanks, fixed!
  • shubham1401
    Nice article...
    Good to see so many cards in the list!