Truthfully, the last few months in the graphics card market – particularly at the higher end of the spectrum have been pretty quiet. The only real release that’s gathering any sort of attention has been Nviida’s GeForce Titan Z, but with such a ludicrously high price tag of $3,000 dollars few are going to opt for it. So really, the video graphics market has been pretty quiet, but since there have been a few major titles released, such as Wolfenstein, Watch Dogs and so on – and we’ve not run one of these articles in far too long, now is as good a time as any.
Nvidia’s Titan Z is certainly their most powerful card to date, featuring two GK110 GPU’s, 12GB of GDDR5 RAM (6GB per GPU) and the usual features you’d associate with Titan (including the improved Double Precision rate). But there’s a few issues – one is the rather conservative clock speeds the Geforce Titan Z packs, running at at ‘only’ 705 MHZ, but boosting up to 876 MHZ. This is far below that of a Titan Black (which is only a single card of course) or even a R9 295X2 – and when you consider that AMD’s offering is around half the price of Nvidia’s offering, it’s hard to get excited about the card.
Nvidia are pointing out that it’s a card that’s heavy on the compute side, for folding, bitcoin mining along with a gaming card, but even so it’s a steep price to justify. Nvidia’s GPU was also released alongside their 337.88 drivers (which are currently the latest drivers out). This driver has a few additions aside from the Titan Z support, including the reduction of driver overhead. Overhead is a big thing right now, with the next generation consoles and arguably AMD’s Mantle API bringing in concerns over both driver and API overhead.
AMD’s Radeon 7850… err sorry I mean the R9 280 has had a bit of a price cut, bringing it down to a rather nice $250 dollars. The Catalyst 14.6 Beta’s are out, and they too improve performance with various games, including Watch Dogs (but the title is still currently having issues on PC – which Ubisoft are promising shall be addressed via a nice patch).
A word of warning on video cards before we start – if you’re in the 100 dollars range, perhaps up to maybe the low 200 dollars increasing your budget slightly can mean a large boost in performance. For example, a 100 dollar card won’t be just a few percent slower than say a 140 dollar card, often there’s a large difference in performance. It can be tempting if you’re on a tight budget to look at a card and say “this is only a few bucks more, but then that’s only a bit more expensive” and before you know it from a $150 original budget you’re at 250 or so.
Anything below 100 – 120 dollars is likely to not be worthy of your time, and we’d personally recommend searching for a used card. There’s sometimes really good bargains to be had, especially if someone left selling their last generation card a bit too late in the update cycle. For those who’re looking for at least console quality (sometimes better) and are targeting the ‘magic’ 1080P then you’ll be wanting to cough up at least 200 dollars, 250 would be best. Of course all of this depends on a per game basis, no one honest will tell you that Dark Souls 2 and Watch Dogs will have similar frame rates on a R9 280 for instance.
$99 Budget – AMD Radeon R7 250X 1GB GDDR5
If you’ve the total of $100 dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re looking for a graphics card then there’s little choice but to go with AMD’s Radeon R7 250X. For the cash you’re plonking down, it provides surprisingly good performance, and titles such as Dark Souls 2, BattleField and the like should run fairly happily. Just make certain that you go for the GDDR5 version, the few dollars you’ll save by buying the DDR3 isn’t worth the massive sacrifice in memory bandwidth.
Overclocking is a typical benefit of the AMD R7 range, but of course you mileage may vary, but certainly 10 to 20 percent overclocks aren’t unusual. The only slight downside to this card would be the 1GB of GDDR5 RAM, but it’s hard to justify going for a larger memory model as for the extra it costs you’re then a stones throw away from an R7 265 or 750Ti. For those with a lower budget, you could check our review of the R7 250,
$150 Budget – Radeon R7 265 2GB GDDR5 or GeForce GTX 750Ti 2GB GDDR5
Why are we listing two cards here? Well, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. AMD’s R7 265 is usually a little faster in most games, but does so by eating up more power and putting out more heat. Nvidia’s 750 Ti GPU meanwhile is created using the Maxwell architecture, and uses less power and puts out less heat. There’s no requirement for an additional power connector, it fits within the 75W limits of the PCIe connector. The low heat and so on are great for those building a small form factor gaming PC – particularly when you consider Nvidia’s streaming technology (or using Steam Streaming) for a more powerful system in your home.
Both cards feature 2GB of RAM, which is double the Video RAM seen in the 250X. It’s a hard decision – if you’re worried at all over heat / power draw or Nvidia specific features then the Maxwell based GeForce 750 Ti just about takes it, but do remember it’s between 15 – 20 percent on average slower than AMD’s offering – so choose wisely.
$199 Budget – Radeon R9 270X 2GB GDDR5
Back to a land of AMD running freely over Nvidia. In the $200 dollar price range you’ll be able to set your sights on 1080P with high to max settings at high frame rates. The card is a little behind NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 2GB but you’ll be paying almost $40 dollars more for the honor of a few more FPS – and at these price ranges it doesn’t seem worth the outlay. Instead you’re likely better sticking with AMD’s Radeon R7 270X, which is a fully functional Picairn GPU meaning it can lay waste to Nvidia’s lower range cards such as the GTX 660 and is a stones throw behind the ‘nearest’ competition which is the 760 2GB.
Just for reference, the R9 270X also features 2GB of VRAM, and should be more than enough to play most games you’ll see. The only possible reason to go for Nvidia is you’d like some of the specific features – such as hardware Physx or Gysync, but in most titles you’d struggle to have Physx on high along with all the other settings on the 760 anyway. A clear win for AMD in this particular price range.
$299 Budget 1080P is easy – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 2GB GDDR5
It’s a little harder to recommend AMD in this particular instance, with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 770 roughly within the same price bracket and offers slightly better performance. In this performance bracket you can consider leaving the realms of 1080P behind and gaming at 1440P (and if you’ve only got a 1080P monitor, there’s always down scaling the image for awesome picture quality), but certain demanding titles still won’t quite be playable at such resolutions.
The downside here is that you’ve ‘only’ got 2GB of VRAM to play with, which can fill up rather quickly these days, but generally should be okay for 1080P. The possible alternative from AMD is the Radeon R9 280X 3GB GDDR5 which does have a clear RAM advantage over Nvidia – at a few dollars cheaper. Then again, if you’re planning on buying a new monitor this does open up the option for G-Sync as they’ll become available over the next few months in larger quantities. It’s a toss up and really comes down to preference – you’ll not feel bad about either purchase.
$399 Budget – Radeon R9 290 GDDR5-4GB
For the price range of $400 there’s few who’d argue AMD don’t have the market pretty much in the palms of their hands with the Radeon R9 290. It sports 4GB of GDDR5 RAM and enough GPU grunt to make 1080P a non issue in all but the most demanding of titles. Adding to this the prices for the card are finally starting to fall, and there’s little to worry about with this card. Driver revisions have only improved performance with better fan curves, and the R9 290 didn’t suffer from the heat problems even with the standard reference cooler anyways.
With this type of card you’ll want to ensure that you’ve got not only the power supply but also a good case to support it. Another bonus is that because these cards scale so well with Cross Fire (since they’ve so much RAM) you could in a few months buy another for insane performance levels. AMD pretty much win out here.
$499 Budget – GeForce GTX 780 3GB GDDR5
Despite being one of the older cards on the list, Nvidia’s GTX 780 is a difficult card to beat. It’s overclocks extremely well, and despite being the lowest tiered GK110 GPU available (due to one of the SMX’s disabled as compared to the 780 Ti) it’ll rip through pretty much anything. 1080P will most likely be eaten alive unless the game isn’t optimized well, and 1440P should be pretty damn easy for most titles. The card is quiet, even with the reference cooler and doesn’t put out as much heat as an active volcano – which is certainly a plus.
Assuming you’re not CPU limited, you’ll notice a massive performance boost if you’re putting this card into your machine. If you’ve more cash to spend there’s the AMD R9 290X GDDR5-4GB option, but it’s very very hard to recommend it considering that it’s so much more expensive, and with that level of cash outlay you might as well put the extra towards buying Nvidia’s GTX 780 Ti.
$599 Budget- 1440P Please – GeForce GTX 780 Ti
I personally love this card, and it’s about the fastest single card on the market right now (technically the Titan Black is as fast… but is much more expensive for double precision goodness). It’s Nvidia’s top tier GK110 product which is aimed purely for gamers, and is faster than all of AMD’s single GPU cards, including the R9 290X. There’s little to be said about this card that we’ve not covered in our review however. A fantastic purchase for 1440P. The only slight problem with the card is only 3GB of VRAM instead of 4GB.
$1500 Dual GPU Budget 4K for me – AMD Radeon R9 295 X2 8GB GDDR5
There are certainly other dual GPU solutions, including Nvidia’s GTX Titan Z, but let us be honest – it’s overpriced for most gamer’s (and the lower clock speeds don’t help much either). So the real options here are two GTX 780 Ti’s, two R9 290X’s (in either SLI or crossfire respectively) or to go for the R9 295X2. This card is quieter than the 290X’s because of the liquid cooling solution – and while that might seem exotic it does rid the 290X’s of their main problem. You’ll get 8GB og GDDR5 memory (4GB per GPU) as you’d expect, and enough horse power to laugh at anyone who suggests gaming at anything less than 1440P – here you’re totally 4K ready.
Considering it’s literally half the price of Nvidia’s option, and did we mention you can run two of these cards together? That’s right, run two 295×2’s for so much GPU grunt you’ll be able to run at 4K with levels of Anti-Aliasing that completely nukes any jaggies.
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