Genome-wide association studies involving hundreds of thousands of SNPs in thousands of cases and controls are now underway. The first of many analytical challenges in these studies involves the choice of SNPs to genotype. It is not practical to construct a different panel of tag SNPs for each study, so the first generation of genome-wide scans will use predefined, commercially available marker panels, which will in part dictate their success or failure. We compare different approaches in use today, and show that although many of them provide substantial coverage of common variation in non-African populations, the precise extent is strongly dependent on the frequencies of alleles of interest and on specific considerations of study design. Overall, despite substantial differences in genotyping technologies, marker selection strategies and number of markers assayed, the first-generation high-throughput platforms all offer similar levels of genome coverage.