There has been a lot of movement in the graphics card market since our last GPU buyers guide back in June, mostly thanks to Nvidia’s release of the Maxwell chipset which has served to significantly shake up the higher end of the GPU market.
If you’ve not been following close attention to the changes in the GPU market this year, and just want solid advice of what’s best to buy for your budget, then this guide is for you. We’ve taken stock of all the cards and options out there, and provided a simple and easy list of the cards and what type of performance you can expect from your choice. Simple!
Before we get into the list, you’ll notice we start at around the $100 mark, and for good reason. Cards below this price point are rarely worth the cash, and more often than not aren’t going to offer the gaming performance you’d want. For example, the Nvidia GeForce GT 730 DDR3 is around the US $55 mark, with with DDR3 memory crippling its performance, its value is suspect. If you are playing around with such budgets, you’d be better off hunting the likes of ebay or forums for used cards.
$99 Budget – AMD RADEON R7 260X | UK
AMD’s R7 260X is a Bonnaire based GPU, featuring 896 shaders, 1000 MHZ core clock, 96 GB/s memory bandwidth, and 1GB of RAM. All of this means you’ve a GPU that’s capable of running a 1080P display with most settings at their highest without too much trouble. Tomb Raider, StarCraft 2 and similar will all run perfectly.
$150 Budget – Radeon R7 270X | UK or GeForce GTX 750Ti 2GB GDDR5 | UK
Why are we listing two cards here? Well, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. AMD’s R7 270x is considerably faster than the Maxwell based GTX 750 Ti, but uses a lot more power and heat to do so. With the Maxwell, 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.
Back in June, the R7 270X was in our $200 category, but with recent pricing adjustments, it’s now squarely facing off against Nvidia’s slower and yet more efficient card,
Both cards feature 2GB of RAM, which should be sufficient for the time being to handle 1080P. The choice is yours, If you want the best gaming performance for you cash, then the R7 270X is clearly the way to go, as its performance can be 30 – 40 percent higher. But if you want a card for streaming from a high spec rig into your living room, then you could be better off with the Maxwell.
$200 Budget Radeon R9 280 3GB | UK
Despite the release of the R9 285 (review here), we’d recommend you stick with the card it was meant to the replace, the R9 280 (review here). There’s a few reasons behind this logic, the primary concern being the additional RAM the 280 sports, and the fact its cheaper. There were changes in the Tonga architecture to improve bandwidth efficiency, but truth be told, they only end up equal to the R9 280 in most cases.
Technically, in our tests the 285 was a little faster, but it’s more expensive and with more games demanding ever increasing amounts of VRAM, you’ll likely be better off with the R9 280.
$270 Budget – Radeon R9 290 GDDR5-4GB | UK
To buy the R9 290, just a few short months ago would have cost you around the 400 dollar mark. But prices change, and right now it’s hard to argue with the shear value of AMD’s graphics card. It sports 4GB of GDDR5 RAM and enough GPU grunt to make 1080P a non issue, and indeed should be able to push pixels at 1440P in all but the most demanding of cases. AMD have now the perfected driver performance thanks to various revisions, and additionally you have the Mantle API on top of that.
With 4GB of VRAM, you can feel confident you’ll not be running out of memory any time soon. The Hawaii based GPU features 2,560 shaders, 160 texture units, 64 ROPS and a rather incredible 320 GB/s of memory bandwidth.
$350 Budget – GeForce GTX 970 | UK
After months of speculation, Nvidia’s Maxwell GPU’s have finally arrived. And while it’s hard to argue they’ve been a revolution in terms of raw performance, they are undoubtedly been responsible for the shake up in graphics card prices since their arrival. For all intents and purposes, the GTX 980 is the worst value of the two cards, with the GTX 970 coming very close to its performance (around 15 percent), while being considerably cheaper. It’s a very similar situation to the R9 290 vs the R9 290X.
Featuring 1664 shaders, 104 Texture Units and running at 1050 MHZ, you’ve a card that is easily capable of running a 1440P display. Best of all, prices are starting to stabilize and we’re also starting to see GPU’s for small form factors based on the GTX 970 architecture. If you’re planning on running SLi, these cards are for you. They should tear apart anything up to (and including) 4K in SLI.
$420 Budget – GTX 780 Ti | UK
While the GTX 780 Ti is an older generation card compared to the 970 or 980, it does offer performance equal to (and in some cases faster) than Nvidia’s newest flagship. For the price range, it’s a great buy. The 780 Ti is Nvidia’s top tier GK110 product which is aimed purely for gamer’s, 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 which is found on either the 970, 980 or higher end AMD’s.
$550 Budget –GeForce GTX 980 | UK
The newest king of the single card performance would be Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980. The issue with th GTX 980 is that the GTX 780 Ti still wins out, or draws equal to the 980 in performance, while being around $100 cheaper. Another thorn in the GTX 980’s side is its lesser brother, the GTX 970, which is about $200 cheaper, and in many tests is about 15 percent slower. $200 for that type of performance is a lot to ask for, and for those reasons alone it’s hard to completely justify the GTX 980.
With 2048 shader units, 104 texture units and finally 64 ROPS running at 1126 MHZ, you’re left with more than enough power to push everything to the max at 1440P. But, with rumors persisting of a 980 Ti being worked on, and AMD confirming the R9 390 series for next year, it’s a lot of cash to spend on a card that could have a potentially short time on the top of the pile.
Then again, you can always be waiting for the newest thing – and of course, the decision is yours and yours alone to make!
$930 Dual GPU Budget 4K for me – AMD Radeon R9 295 X2 8GB GDDR5 | UK
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). The price of the R9 295×2 has crashed, coming down a staggering $600 since it was introduced in June. It’s hard to argue that the card isn’t pretty good value for money considering the performance.
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.
It’s hard to not recommend picking up two GTX 970’s and putting them in SLI however if you wish to go the dual GPU route. Their performance will rip through most 4K content, and for a rather nice saving on the R9 295×2.