Graphics Card guide

When building a modern PC, the graphics card choice can be very important. The mian reason it needs to be carefully considered is playing games. Even if you are a casual gamer, it is important.
This guide is designed to lead you through the variety of options availble at the moment, work through the techie model numbers and specs and give you a clear choice. One of the factors that helps is a relative performance indicator (RP), to help you quantify differences in price. Two figures are provided, the first is low quality (1024x768) and the second high quality (1280x1024 with AA on). It is only meant to be used as a relative indication of differences/simularities in performance between cards - two figures cannot tell you everything.
If you are replacing an existing card, it is important to know two things - what slot it is in, and what your power supply can manage. Any pc over two years old is likely to have an AGP slot, and most modern cards are PCI-express only. Most lowerend cards are available in AGP too, but the numbers are dropping fast and it doesn't make sense to upgrade to a dying technology. There is no actual performance impact between the two slots.
High end cards generally require a 450 or higher power supply, and the new nvidia 8800 even more. If you upgrade and keep getting random crashes in games in an otherwise stable computer, it may be an underpowered graphics card.
The guide doesn't cover specific cards, only known chipsets. Actual cards will vary a bit, and you may find "OC" varients that are overclocked for greater speed, but they must use one of these chipsets.
Note: you will not actually find a sub-model of "vanilla" - this means it will not be followed by any extra characters, like GT or XT.

To compare your existing card to the cards in this guide, use this handy comparision function.

To see the data in tabulation with filters and sorting, use the graphics card table.


ATI Radeon HD2900 - High end sector, 8th Generation
ATI/AMDs first graphics card. Directx10 and slightly more forward thinking than Nvidias 8th generation. Potentially more powerful, but the current XT has a vast number of transistors producing tons of heat and uses more power than even the 8800 ultra, yet it barely equals the 8800GTS. Don't be fooled by its 320 "processors"- on average, they perform more like 100 of Nvidias 8 series "processors". At the moment not a good buy, but future drivers could improve performance a fair bit due to how its architecture is designed. A future die shrink could help a lot, but is not expected soon.

  • GT - RP 2.87/3.30 -
  • XT - RP 3.59/5.25 - The first card of the series. More are expected soon.

ATI Radeon HD3870 - Mid/High end sector, 8th Generation
With this product refresh, ATI/AMD have changed their naming methods. Rather than XT/GT/GTO/PRO etc, they will be based on numbers alone - the higher the better. This is the only reason for the big number change - really this should be a 2950 XT. By going to a 256bit memory controller, they can reduce costs. The die shrink brings power and heat back to sensible levels too. The 3870 is technically a cut down 2900XT with improvements, and these improvements actually allow it to just beat the 2900XT.

  • - RP 3.95/5.67 - AMDs latest mid range card.
  • X2 - RP 4.90/8.55 -

ATI Radeon HD3850 - Mid range sector, 8th Generation
With this product refresh, ATI/AMD have changed their naming methods. Rather than XT/GT/GTO/PRO etc, they will be based on numbers alone - the higher the better. This is the only reason for the big number change - really it should be a 2950pro. By going to a 256bit memory controller, they can reduce costs. The die shrink brings power and heat back to sensible levels too. The 3850 is a reduced speed 3870.

  • - RP 3.52/4.20 - AMDs latest mid range card.

ATI Radeon HD2600 - Mid-range sector, 8th Generation
A cropped 2900 chip. Halving the processing is common for these ranges, but the quarter memory controller really kills it. Competes best with the lower 8600 - ATI/AMD have no competitor for the 8600GTS currently.

  • Pro - RP 1.42/1.42 - Cut down further still than the XT, A significant drop. Cannot even compete with the 7600!
  • XT - RP 2.00/2.03 - A cut down 7900 - quarter memory performance, less than half the processing power.

ATI Radeon HD2400 - Low range sector, 8th Generation
Cropping the performance still further, this chipset competes best with the 8500, but can't compete with the previous generation like the x1600 and 7600.

  • pro - RP 0.68/0.39 -
  • XT - RP 0.94/0.97 - An even further cut down 2900, with very low performance. Competes well with Nvidia 8500s.

ATI Radeon x1950 - High end sector, 7th Generation
Very little improvements were made for the x1950 range. The real advantage was with the new DDR4 memory, which could run faster and cooler than DDR3. As the x1 series really thrives on memory performance, it gave noticeable improvements.

  • Pro - RP 2.61/3.14 - The same pipelines as the X1900GT, but the extra clock speeds really help it to approach the XT.
  • XT - RP 2.95/3.87 - Runs at the same speeds as the x1900XT, so no performance gain noticable, but the newer memory reduces power and heat.
  • XTX - RP 3.09/4.31 - Much the same as the x1900XTX, but the massive gigahertz memory speed helps it perform even better.

ATI Radeon x1900 - High end sector, 7th Generation
ATI rethought their chipset with the product refresh. Raising the pixel shaders had a significant impact on some games, not none on others. The LE model was scrapped, but a GT introduced between the GTO and XT, still with reduced pipelines. The pros were scrapped, and a XTX introduced above the XT.

  • GTO - RP 2.00/2.20 - Same clock speeds as the x1800GTO but an increase due to core improvements.
  • GT - RP 2.37/2.64 - Small clock increases on the GTO.
  • XT - RP 2.95/3.87 - With the memory bandwidth of the XT, the small improvements of the new core could finally be noticed.
  • XTX - RP 3.04/4.02 - One of the worst value for money of the series - an extra ?70 for a few extra mhz on the clocks.

ATI Radeon x1800 - Mid-high range sector, 7th Generation
ATI released an abundance of models of the x1800. The LE and GTO have a few less pipelines, but the others only differ in clock speed.

  • LE - RP 1.70/1.85 - The most cut down X1800. It isn't really a step up from the 1650.
  • GTO - RP 1.76/1.98 - An increased clock speed LE.
  • XL - RP 2.06/2.40 - With full pipelines but a reduced clock speed from the XT, this was good value.
  • Pro - RP 2.06/2.40 - Exactly the same as the XL, the new name is just so it matches the latest convention.
  • XT - RP 2.50/2.91 - Nvidia was forced to release a new card to compete with ATI - the XT outperformed it in nearly everything.

ATI Radeon x1650 - Mid range sector, 7th Generation
Realising the problem, ATI updated the x1600 to compete better. The Pro was little more than a small speed increase, but the XT has more pipelines (between x1600 and x1800) increasing performance a fair bit more.

  • Pro - RP 1.77/1.79 - Not much extra performance due to its tiny speed increase over the x1600XT.
  • XT - RP 1.75/1.95 - Finally a equal for the 7600GT, but hot and power hungry for a midrange due to those extra pipelines.

ATI Radeon x1600 - Mid range sector, 7th Generation
Half memory, quarter GPU performance. It was cut down too much to compete well with the Nvidia series.

  • Pro - RP 0.94/1.11 - The slow memory performance slows it down, even at low quality, due to DDR2.
  • XT - RP 1.21/1.45 - Nearly equals the 7600 series, but the high price gave it little success.

ATI Radeon x1300 - Budget sector, 7th Generation
The x1300 is literally a cut down x1600, with one exception. Bizarrely, the x1300XT is exactly a x1600, and was introduced when the x1650 was added to ATIs lineup. The HM version should be avoided, due to its quarter memory controller - the others have half.

  • HM - RP 0.56/0.56 - The quarter memory controller kills the performance of the x1 chipset.
  • Pro - RP 0.74/0.73 - The higher speeds improve performance a notch.
  • Vanilla - RP 0.72/0.76 - Half memory controller, but the low memory speed doesn't improve matters much.
  • XT - RP 0.84/0.86 - The GPU is clocked slower than the Pro, but the extra pipelines more than make up.

ATI Radeon x850 - Mid range sector, 6th Generation
The X800 needed a little extra to compete better with Nvidia. Nvidia never properly answered, but the increases were small and came at the cost of power and heat and therefore noise.

  • Pro - RP 1.60/1.80 - Reduced pipelines, but a significant speed increase over x800s.
  • XT - RP 1.93/2.17 - Basically the same as the x800 XT PE.
  • XT PE - RP 2.00/2.30 - Even faster XT.

ATI Radeon x800 - Mid range sector, 6th Generation
The new x series was flawed in comparision to the Nvidia 6 series. It was a step behind in support, and did not manage to compete in performance too well either, requiring the x850 update to keep up. It went for the brute-force approach rather than the clever technology approach, resulting in hot and power consuming cards.

  • GT - RP 1.15/1.15 - A slower clocked SE!
  • SE - RP 1.20/1.20 - More of a X700 with a double memory controller than a X800.
  • Vanilla - RP 1.25/1.30 - Nearly the same as a GT, just a touch quicker
  • GTO - RP 1.33/1.37 - Significantly faster memory, but the pipe decrease lets it down a lot at HQ.
  • Pro - RP 1.60/1.70 - Slightly slower memory, faster core. The loss of pipelines reduces HQ performance.
  • XL - RP 1.63/1.84 - The first variation with full pipelines.
  • XT - RP 1.88/1.95 - The highest version available in any quantity.
  • XT PE - RP 1.93/2.17 - Not much quicker, and very few were available.

ATI Radeon x700 - Budget sector, 6th Generation
ATIs poor x600 series had to be replaced, so ATI used the x800, removed pipelines and finally it could compete with the 6600s. The price remained too high and ATI had to adapt the x800 series to fill the gap instead.

  • Pro - RP 0.96/0.94 - The only one even seen - ATI adapted the x800 series to fill this gap in the end.
  • XT - RP 1.00/1.00 - Never seen in existance.

ATI Radeon x600 - Budget sector, 5th Generation
Actually half a 9800 - i.e. a 9600. It had no chance against the 6600 series. A serious ATI mistake.

  • Pro - RP 0.43/0.41 - Slower than a 9800XT in clock speeds, and released to compete with Nvidia cards nearly two generations on.
  • XT - RP 0.57/0.50 - The extra clock speeds did not help much.


Nvidia Geforce 8800 - Very high end sector, 8th Generation
Completely redesigned from the ground up, this is a very different beast from the seventh gen. It would be near immpossible to describe what has been done without techie information, but basically the core processing is roughly doubled and the memory uprated by about a half. However, the power and heat has gone up as well, and it is big enough physically to pose a difficult installation.

  • GTS - RP 3.66/5.36 - Much like a 7950GX2 with a little extra, but in a single core.
  • GT - RP 3.88/5.92 -
  • GTX - RP 4.08/6.58 - Extra processing gives a large jump, and the highest memory speed to date helps keep it fed. We cannot tell its full performance yet - cpus just can't keep up.
  • GTS 512 - RP 4.10/6.70 -
  • Ultra - RP 4.14/6.84 - A refresh with a speed bump on the GTS - nothing more. Design to fight it out with the forthcoming Radeons.

Nvidia Geforce 8600 - High end sector, 8th Generation
Basically, a much cut down 8800 with a 128bit memory controller and roughly quarter performance. When released, prices were too high so buying a 7900 or x1950 makes more sense, as nothing had been released which makes best use of its abilities - hopefully prices will drop enough so it competes more with the 7600 range. Recent games which rely heavily on shaders are already favouring the 8600 over say a 7900GS, so the outlook is positive, but the 128 bit controller limits its abilities at higher resolutions or when using AA.

  • GT - RP 1.95/1.96 - A lower clocked 8600GTS
  • GTS - RP 2.27/2.29 - Cut down 8600. The 128bit controller means lower performance at higher resolutions and when AA is on.
  • GT - RP 2.10/2.50 -

Nvidia Geforce 8500 - Low range sector, 8th Generation
A much cut down 8600. Even unified, its shaders can't keep up with the previous gens mid range (7600)

  • GT - RP 0.97/0.94 - A cut down 8600, aimed at the low end market (7300, x1300)

Nvidia Geforce 8400 - Budget sector, 8th Generation
Basically, a 8500 with a crippled memory controller. Not normally available in the shops - mainly for PC makers to provide a "Nvidia DX10 Vista Aero dedicated GPU".

  • GS - RP 0.72/0.57 - An 8400 with half the memory performance, which really kills any idea of high resolution games.

Nvidia Geforce 7950 - High end sector, 7th Generation
No real change to the core, only speeds. These were uprated to compete better against ATIs lineup.

  • GT - RP 2.81/3.32 - Lies between the 7900 GT and GTO.
  • GX2 - RP 2.81/3.32 - Just a rename of the older 7900GX2.

Nvidia Geforce 7900 - Mid-high range sector, 7th Generation
Nvidia knew how to squeeze a bit extra from its core and did so with its product refresh. It also reduced power and heat to boot. A worthwhile unpgrade, which is rare with a refresh. To compete with ATI, they were forced to release their first official dual-core board - the GX2.

  • GS - RP 2.27/2.30 - More than the 7800GT in configuration, a large step up from the 7800GS.
  • GT - RP 2.80/3.20 - Actually outpeforms the 7800GTX in some cases, due to increased speeds possible with the new core.
  • GX2 - RP 2.81/3.32 - Basically two 7900s stuck together, needing an SLI board to operate. Nvidias only possible answer to the x1900.
  • GTO - RP 2.90/3.50 - A large increase on the GT in speeds.
  • GTX - RP 3.02/3.78 - Another small step in speeds, this time memory speed only.

Nvidia Geforce 7800 - Mid-high range sector, 7th Generation
The original high end of Nvidias 7th gen cards, before core inprovements, now dropped in price to the midrange. With the full performance memory controller and high speed it is probably still enough for lower resolution gaming. It is well known for its heft requirements of power and heat.

  • GS - RP 1.85/1.85 - The little brother of the series. With slower clocked memory and less pipes, it isn't much quicker than a 7600GT.
  • GT - RP 2.05/2.07 - The middle child. Not quite full pipes, but enough to hold its own.
  • GTX - RP 2.35/2.40 - A fair step up from the GT due to increased pipes and speeds.
  • GTX 512 - RP 2.81/3.36 - its not the extra memory but mainly the increased clock speeds that helps. Designed to run against the x1800 series.

Nvidia Geforce 7600 - Low-mid range sector, 7th Generation
The 6600 of the this generation, and due to core improvements, a sizable jump too. Probably one of the best "bang for the buck" cards at the moment, particually the GT.

  • GS - RP 1.27/1.21 - With its slower DDR2, it is quite different in performance from the GT.
  • GT - RP 1.70/1.70 - The increased core speeds, pipes and faster DDR3 give this quite a lead in performance.

Nvidia Geforce 7300 - Budget sector, 7th Generation
A cut down 7600, with varying memory speed. You may be able to play a few things with it, but not much.

  • LE - RP 0.43/0.42 - With slower speeds, this is a drop from the GS.
  • GS - RP 0.51/0.51 - The quarter memory controller lets down its core speed.
  • GT - RP 0.82/0.68 - Better than the GS due to a half speed memory controller.

Nvidia Geforce 6800 - Low-mid range sector, 6th Generation
The high end card of the last generation, which had a price tag to match. The LE, GE, GS and GTO were cut down versions aimed at various price segments, the GT a lower clocker ultra.

  • LE - RP 0.90/0.65 - A further cut down version, only a small step above the 6600 series but with a the full memory controller.
  • Vanilla - RP 1.00/0.70 - Has DDR1 so avoid
  • GS - RP 1.15/0.85 - DDR3 and slightly increased speed, much cooler memory.
  • GE - RP 1.15/0.85 - DDR1 with increased clocks, not much better.
  • GTO - RP 1.20/0.90 - New core, but with DDR1. Best avoided over the GT which has more pipes.
  • GT - RP 1.30/1.12 - New core but with more pipes. Lower clocks mean a small increase.
  • Ultra - RP 1.49/1.31 - the highest end version, with full pipes and best speed.

Nvidia Geforce 6600 - Budget sector, 6th Generation
The 6600 was one of the surprises of the last generation. Coupling good speed with a excellent price, it is still popular to date. It only has half the memory controller of the 6800, but the memory was usually clocked at a high enough speed to nearly compensate.

  • Vanilla - RP 0.78/0.61 - A significant drop from the 6600GT. Avoid in DDR1 form, it is even worse.
  • GT - RP 0.93/0.75 - An overclocked version, with substantially increased performance due to DDR3

Nvidia Geforce 6200 - Budget sector, 6th Generation
Roughly half a 6600, due to both the pipes and memory being cut in half again. Started the introduction of TurboCache - provide less memory and use system memory to make up the difference. Some actually have a quarter of the 6600 memory controller,making them useless.

  • TC - RP 0.23/0.15 - Due to differences in the memory controller in each, the performance can vary, but it is always awful.
  • Vanilla - RP 0.33/0.23 - Has the same memory controller as the 6600, so makes up a little ground on them.


Intel x3000 - Budget sector, 8th Generation
Intels refresh for Vista. Still cannot play games on it, but at least Vista works properly on it.

  • Vanilla - RP 0.19/0.15 -

Intel GMA950 - Budget sector, 6th Generation
Intels directx 9 core - usually integrated into laptops. Cannot compete with dedicated graphics from ATI and Nvidia, whatever Intel may say. Pretty good for windows though.

  • Vanilla - RP 0.09/0.06 -


The 2600GT is close, but the 8600 tips it. Avoid DDR2 versions.
Excellent performance in this range
8800GTS 320MB
Nothing else in this range with the performance.
8800GTS 640MB
HD x2900XT
Small increase on the 320MB, but newer games benefit more.
Newer drivers have helped it equal or better the 8800GTS.
No card worthwhile in this range, OC varients aren't worth it.
For those with money to burn. 8800s are fine for most purposes.
If you have more money than sense.

Last modified: 23/09/2007