2014 is already shaping up to be an incredibly exciting year for PC games. With the release of the next generation consoles, PC’s can finally start stretching its legs out and move on with better game engines, requiring more graphics grunt. Then, we have several new emerging technologies, including Nvidia’s G-Sync, AMD’s Mantle and True Audio, and don’t forget the slow emergence of GPGPU (which in theory Nvidia’s new Maxwell based GPU’s should support).
But the question remains, if you need a new card now, what’s the best one to get based on your budget? There are a few factors to keep in mind before we proceed to the best picks. The first of these is resolution, assuming your targeting a standard resolution of 1920x1080P, then most medium to high end Graphic cards will serve you well (we’ll go into more detail in a moment), but what games you’re going to play will influence your choice. For instance, if you’re a Battlefield 4 fiend, it’s likely you’d be better off with an AMD card because of Mantle. Supposedly we’ll be seeing 45 percent increase in performance from the Mantle patch which is rumored to be this month.
There are other factors to consider aside from budget, and for most people these are size and noise. The Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X are both fantastic cards, offering great performance for the price. But the standard cooler on these graphic cards can be rather noisy, and for some that’s unacceptable. You might not be bothered by it, especially with a set of headphones or loud speakers, you might not notice it at all, but others will. In particular, those who have their PC’s close to them on the desk. There’s always the other option – choosing a non reference design cooler. The problem then because that the price is knocked up slightly, which can hurt budgets and also means some of the price advantage goes away.
There are a few other issues to consider. Nvidia of course provide hardware Physx – and while for many it’s not a selling point, I’m somewhat a fan. In titles like Metro, Batman or AC4 it can make a subtle but nice addition to the atmosphere of the game. Nvidia’s own G-Sync is likely to be a factor too. AMD have managed to create Free-Sync, but are at the time of writing not really clear on desktop use. G-Sync on the other hand isn’t fully developed either, and is only available on select monitor models as of right now (but this will change during the year).
AMD Radeon HD 7790 – $120 or £90
The Radeon HD 7790 isn’t the a bad card at all. You’ll have 896 Shader Units, 56 Texture Units, 16 ROPS, 1000MHZ core clock, 1500MHZ GDDR5 (6000 MHZ effective), which is on a 128 bit bus, providing 96GB/s local bandwidth. There are two common memory configurations, 1GB or 2GB. As you’d expect, this card is compliant with the latest OpenGL and DX versions, along with AMD’s Mantle API. The Radeon HD 7790 isn’t going to set the world alight with performance, but if you’re on a budget and looking to play BF4 (as Mantle will improve performance further) in a 1080P setting, then it’s a great card.
It’s also great for another reason – if you want to buy the rest of your PC, and just need a cheap gaming card now while you wait for Nvidia’s Maxwell series, or perhaps for AMD’s latest offerings. It’s only a little more expensive than the Radeon HD 7770, and so is likely to be the better buy. Be warned that the prices listed here are for the 1GB model, you might have to cough up an extra 20 or so (depending on prices at the current time) for the 2GB model, which I’ recommend if at all possible.
AMD Radeon R9 270X $180 or £150
The Radeon R9 270 is a great card, and is designed primarily for the 1080P resolution in mind. It features 1280 stream processors, 32 ROPS, 925 MHZ Core, 1400 MHZ GDDR5 (5.6GHZ effective) on a 256 bit bus, providing 153.6GB/s memory bandwidth. 2GB RAM, latest DX / OpenGL / Mantle support are of course included too. This card is really nice for the price, and if you overclock it can match up with the R9 270X, which AMD themselves have told me they designed with 1080P in mind in an interview.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 $340 or £250
Nvidia’s GTX 770 is where we start leaving the limitations of 1080P behind, and can start considering upping the resolution to 1440P, although in certain titles you’ll have to be a little careful with AA., In effect, what you’re buying here is the previous generations GTX 680, with a few tweaks to the architecture. 1536 shader units and 128 Texture Units power the device, outputting to 32 ROPS, with a core clock of 1046 MHZ. Feeding the best you’re using 1752MHZ GDDR5 (7GHZ effective) on a 256-bit memory bus. This means that the GTX 770 is running at 224GB/s of memory bandwidth. It comes with 2 or 4GB of memory, in most circumstances, I’d suggest sticking with the 2GB model.
Nvidia GTX 780 $509 or £380 / AMD Radeon R9 290 $520 or £360
This is a bit of a tough one. The Radeon R9 290 actually performs better than the GTX 780 in many circumstances, but recently pricing has varied drastically. In addition to that, the card is generally makes more noise. This can be offset by buying a non-reference cooler design, which can certainly help. Nvidia’s reference cooler is whisper quiet, and generally seems to handle heat better. So which one should you go for? I’d personally recommend doing a lot of googling around on benchmarks. If you’re a BF4 fan, then the AMD route is likely to net you higher FPS due to Mantle, but then with that argument, the GTX 780 isn’t going to struggle either. With AMD, you’ll also be getting the True Audio technology, which is going to be very interesting if games developers use it right,
For pure raw performance, the R9 290 is probably the better bet, but it’s harder to get hold of a ‘good deal’ on one (at the time of writing, their prices have been going up and down like a yo-yo). If on the other hand, you prefer either Nvidia’s drivers, hardware Physx, are interested in G-Sync or slightly quieter (unless you’re planning to buy a non reference R9 290) then the GTX 780 is likely the better bet.
The R9 290 features 2560 shader units, 160 texture units, 64 ROPS, 947 MHZ core clock, 1250MHZ ram on a 512 bit bus, providing 320GB/s. You’ll get 4GB of GDDR5 ram. The GTX 780 features 2304 shaders, 48 ROPS, 192 Texture Units, 864MHZ and 1502MHZ on a 384-bit bus providing 288.4GB/s, and 3GB of GDDR5 RAM.
Nvidia GTX 780 TI $700 or £500 or R9 290x
Nvidia’s GTX 780 Ti dethroned AMD’s Radeon R9 290X from the title of the single fastest graphics card, and also for gamer’s, made Nvidia’s own Titan flagship pretty useless. Because of the heat and noise issues, and for slightly better performance, most people would be likely better to opt for the Nvidia technology. The same ‘buts’ as above apply however. AMD’s mantle API is impressive, but requires a lot of faith in its use by games that you’ll want to play. It certain can deliver on performance, and AMD have already got developers for big games to commit to the True Audio technology for select titles.
Because of the heat, noise and slight performance edge I’d give the single card setup to the GTX 780 Ti. But if you’re planning to do 4K gaming, the extra VRAM of the R9 290x could be a benefit in the future. I’d recommend checking a list of games that Mantle is confirmed to support too – it might also help sway your decision.
The Geforce GTX 780 Ti features 2880 Shaders, 240 texture units, 48 ROPS, 875 MHZ core clock, 1750 MHZ GDDR5 RAM on a 256-bit memory bus, pumping out 336GB/s memory bandwidth with its 3GB RAM. The R9 290x features 2816 shaders, 176 texture units, 64 ROPS, 727 MHZ clock, 1250MHZ GDDR5 4GB RAM.
Dual Card – GTX 780 TI or R9 290X
If you’re interested in extreme HD gaming, the only real option is two strap two cards together and enjoy. From the perspective of value, the Radeon R9 290X is better. You’ll be saving money, only have a small amount less performance, and indeed the card features more VRAM for when resolutions or games start to require it in the not too distant future (and they will). AMD’s recent XDMA additions have fixed the crossfire issues, which has long plagued the Radeon cards.
With all of that said, just like the above recommendation it’s somewhat buyers choice. If noise, heat and power consumption bother you, and you don’t care about spending the extra $100+, then the GTX 780 Ti offers slightly better performance. Don’t forget that G-Sync could well be a nice addition to a high end gaming rig, even though not many monitors support it currently. Though perhaps you’re a fan of Nvidia’s Physx If you they don’t bother you in the slightest, or like the sound of Mantle, True Audio or want that cash in your pocket, then AMD are the better option.
Finally, before you rush out and buy a new GPU, remember that we’ll soon be hearing a lot more about Nvidia’s new Maxwell architecture. If current rumors hold true, we’ll be seeing the GTX 750 Ti sporting the Maxwell GPU. Higher end Maxwell parts will start appearing during the first / second quarter. But if you can’t wait – you certainly have a good list to sink your teeth into.