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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 295Discrete: HD 4870 X2
Discrete: HD 5870
Discrete: GTX 280, GTX 285Discrete: HD 4850 X2, HD 5850
Discrete: 9800 GX2, GTX 260, GTX 275Discrete: HD 4870, HD 4890, HD 5770
Discrete: 8800 Ultra, 9800 GTX, 9800 GTX+,GTS 250Discrete: HD 3870 X2, HD 4850, HD 5750
Discrete: 8800 GTX, 8800 GTS 512 MBGo (mobile): 280MDiscrete: HD 4770
Discrete: 8800 GT 512 MB, 9800 GTGo (mobile): 260M (112)Discrete: HD 4830
Discrete: 8800 GTS 640 MB, 9600 GTDiscrete: HD 2900 XT, HD 3870
Discrete: 8800 GS, 9600 GSOGo (mobile): 260M (96)Discrete: HD 3850 512 MB, HD 4670 Mobility: 3870
Discrete: 8800 GT 256 MB, 8800 GTS 320 MB, GT 220Go (mobile): 8800MDiscrete: HD 2900 PRO, HD 3850 256 MB| Mobility: 3850
Discrete: 7950 GX2Discrete: X1950 XTX, HD 4650 (DDR3)
Discrete: 7800 GTX 512, 7900 GTO, 7900 GTXDiscrete: X1900 XT, X1950 XT, X1900 XTX
Discrete: 7800 GTX, 7900 GT, 7950 GTDiscrete: X1800 XT, X1900 AIW, X1900 GT, X1950 PRO, HD 2900 GT
Discrete: 7800 GT, 7900 GS, 8600 GTS, 9500 GT (GDDR3) Go (mobile): 7950 GTXDiscrete: 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 GTXDiscrete: 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 GSDiscrete: 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 GTDiscrete: X800 GTO 256 MB, X800 PRO, X850 PRO, X1650 GTMobility: HD 2600
Discrete: 6800, 7300 GT GDDR3, 7600 GS, 8600M GS Go (mobile): 6800, 7700Discrete: 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, 3470Integrated: HD 3300
Discrete: FX 5900, FX 5900 Ultra, FX 5950 Ultra, 6600 (128-bit) Go (mobile): 6800 (128-bit)Integrated: 9300, 9400Discrete: 9700, 9700 PRO, 9800, 9800 PRO, X700, X1300 PRO, X1550, HD 2400 PROMobility: X1450, X1600, X1700, 2400 XT, X2500, 3450Integrated: HD 3200, HD 4200
Discrete: FX 5800 Ultra, FX 5900 XTGo (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 210Discrete: 9600 PRO, 9800 LE, X600 PRO, HD 2300Mobility: 9700 (128-bit), X600, X1300Integrated: 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 GSDiscrete: 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 LEGo (mobile): 5700, 8200M, 9200M GS, 9100Integrated: 8200, 8300Discrete: 8500, 9100, 9000 PRO, 9600 LE, X300 SE, X1150Mobility 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, 9250Mobility: 9600 (64-bit), X300
Discrete: FX 5200 (64 bit)Go (mobile): 7200, 7400 (32-bit)Integrated: 6100, 6150Discrete: 9200 SEIntegrated: Xpress 200M, Xpress 1000, Xpress 1150GMA X3000, X3100, X3500
Discrete: 2 GTS, 4 MX 440, 2 Ultra, 2 Ti, 2 Ti 200Discrete: 7500GMA 3000, 3100
Discrete: 256, 2 MX 200, 4 MX 420, 2 MX 400Discrete: SDR, LE, DDR, 7000, 7200GMA 500, 900, 950
Discrete: Nvidia TNTDiscrete: Rage 128Intel 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!

  • 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?