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Graphics Card Information

Jan 31, 2010 12:24AM PST

This can get people in a lot of trouble. AMD/ATI and Nvidia, the two major graphics card companies, number their cards, so you?d think that a higher number is better. However, each digit in a graphics card number has a different meaning.

The first number indicates the series of the card. Certain letters are also indicative of series.
Nvidia 8600M GT or AMD/ATI HD 2600
The series tells you how recently the card was released. More recent series do not always have better performance than previous series.

Nvidia?s newest series needs some special explanation. Older Nvidia series were released as follows:
9000M series: 2008
8000M series: 2007
7000 series: 2006
6000 series: 2005
5000 series: 2004 and earlier

AMD/ATI?s latest series are the HD 4xxx series. These cards were released in 2009. Older AMD/ATI series were released as follows:
HD 3000 series: 2008
HD 2000 series: 2007
X1000 series: 2006
X000 series: 2005
9000 series: 2004 and earlier

Please note that because ATI?s 9000 series was released earlier, their newer series titles/numbers may seem smaller, despite being more recent.

The second number indicates how powerful the card is within its series.
Nvidia 8600M GT or AMD/ATI HD 2600
This is the most important number to look at when comparing graphics cards. It represents the relative performance of the card within the series. The higher the number in the second digit, the better the performance of the card will be.

0-2 indicates a graphics card using shared system memory. These graphics cards, along with any graphics card made by Intel, have the lowest performance. You can only expect to be able to play older games with these cards. These cards can be found in any notebook.

3-5 indicates a lower powered graphics card. These will be able to play more recent games, but generally on lower settings. These cards can be found in all but the smallest notebooks.

6-7 indicates a midrange or performance graphics card. These will be able to play the latest games, but will not always be able to play them at high settings. These cards can be found on notebooks with a 14? screen and bigger.

8-9 indicates a high-end graphics card. These are designed to play the latest games at high settings. While there are a few notebooks with a 15? screen that have these, most notebooks with a high-end graphics card have 17? or larger screens.

While the performance number (second digit) is the most important one for graphics cards, the series number (first digit) also has an effect, since in general, newer series have better performance.

In general, for every 2 series, graphics cards gain one performance level. For example, an ATI 9800 (high-end, 4 series ago) will have approximately the same graphics power as an ATI x1600 (midrange performance, 2 series ago) and an Nvidia 6800 (high-end, 3 series ago) will have approximately the same graphics power as an Nvidia 8600M GT (midrange performance, 1 series ago)

The third digit in a graphics card number represents a revision and is generally unimportant. The fourth digit is always zero.

In Nvidia?s semi-recent cards, they have added suffixes to their card numbers, and these suffixes represent different performance levels within a particular graphics card.
G represents the lowest performance of the card
GS represents moderate performance of the card
GT represents higher performance of the card
GTS represents lower performance of high-end cards
GTX represents highest possible performance

Nvidia's most recent cards have changed these suffixes to prefixes, meaning the following:
Lower performance cards start with G, such as the G105M or G210M
Midrange performance cards start with GT, such as the GT130M or GT240M
Mid-high performance cards start with GTS, such as the GTS160M or GTS260M
High performance cards start with GTX, such as the GTX260M and GTX280M

Nvidia's new cards also have several other differences in comparison to their older cards and AMD/ATI's cards. Instead of having a last zero in the card number that means nothing, they dropped it entirely. In other words, the first number after the G, GT, GTS, or GTX is the generation number, the next is the performance number, and the last is the revision number. They also changed around the values of the performance numbering system, so (as an example) the 9600M GT was replaced with the GT130M, which would appear at first glance to be significantly less powerful due to the 3 in the performance column, but actually is slightly more powerful.

Nvidia also decided to use multiple "generation" numbers for graphics cards released in 2009, which do not always match up with the technology for the cards they represent. This of course makes the situation even more confusing, but I will attempt to simplify as much as possible.

All G* 1**M cards are based on older 55nm technology. The G* 2**M cards, EXCEPT the GTX ones, are based on newer 40nm technology and have a number of improvements over the older cards. The GTX 260M & GTX280M, despite having a 2 in the generation column, are actually based on the older 55nm technology.

Upgrading Graphics Cards?
Unfortunately, the vast majority of notebook graphics cards can never be upgraded. If your graphics card fails or no longer runs everything you?d like it to, you?ll probably have to get a new notebook. While there are some notebook graphics cards that can be upgraded, the upgradeability is usually a selling point for the notebook. So if your notebook graphics card can be upgraded, the company who made your notebook will typically advertise that it can be upgraded.

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