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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March 2015

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: March 2015
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Nvidia's misreported GeForce GTX 970 specs continue to dominate the graphics world news, with a public apology from the CEO and the launch of a class-action lawsuit. Of course, we also report the latest trends in graphics card pricing!

Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great, assuming you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, a gamer needs to know what the best graphics card is for their money. So, if you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right card, then fear not. We've compiled a simple list of the best gaming cards offered in any given price range.

March Updates:

With no new products to report on since last month's update, the biggest news in the graphics world continues to be Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970 mea-culpa.  Since the story about the company reporting incorrrect specifications about the card when it launched has become public knowledge, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has Apologized For 'Miscommunication' On GTX 970 Specs, and a class-action Lawsuit was Filed Against Nvidia Over GTX 970 Specs Controversy. As we said when the story broke, the mis-reported specifications do not make the GeForce GTX 970 a bad buy - it's still one of the fastest cards on the planet for the dollar spent - but the perceived betrayal has left a very bad taste in gamer's mouths.

Now let's get down to pricing. The Radeon R9 290 has gone up an average of $30 to $300 since we checked last month, bringing this card too close to the $330 GeForce GTX 970 and forcing us to remove it from our list. The Radeon R9 290X has increased by $10, allowing it to retain it's shared recommendation with the GeForce GTX 970 under $350 for now, but if the spread increases that situation will change.

The good news is that a lot more Radeons have dropped in price: The Radeon R9 280 has shed $20 to $180, and the R9 280X has gotten $15 cheaper at $240, earning it a fresh place on our hallowed recommended list. The Radeon R9 285 and R7 250 DDR3 have both dropped $10 to $210 and $90, respectively. Finally, the Radeon R9 270 and R7 250 GDDR5 have shaved $5 off to $160 and $85.

There's been far less price movement from Nvidia, where the GeForce GT 650 has gotten $10 cheaper at $103, and the GT 750 is $5 less pricey at $110. The GeForce GT 730 DDR3 card gained $10 to $70, though.

As for news and rumors, we have heard that there will be some interesting announcements at this month's Game Developer's Conference (GDC), so stay tuned to Tom's Hardware as we have correspondents covering the event. Aside from that, we recently reported an exclusive that DirectX 12 Will Allow Multi-GPU Between GeForce And Radeon, which is worth a read for some tidbits about some surprising capabilities we've learned that the upcoming graphics API will offer.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need. We've added a reference page at the end of the column covering integrated graphics processors, which is likely more apropos for home, office, and basic multimedia usage models.
  • Be sure to check out our new performance per dollar comparison page, where you can overlay the benchmark data we’ve generated with pricing, giving you a better idea where your ideal choice falls on the value curve. The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance.
  • Recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire/SLI and possibly a chassis with plenty of space to install multiple graphics cards. These setups also usually call for a beefier power supply than what a single card needs, and will almost certainly produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision. In most cases, if we have recommended a multiple-card solution, we try to recommend a single-card honorable mention at a comparable price point for those who find multi-card setups undesirable.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices for your reference.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will almost certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list. While these offers might represent a good deal, it’s simply outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
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  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , March 2, 2015 8:49 AM
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-2520511/graphics-cards-money-october-2014.html
  • 1 Hide
    alidan , March 2, 2015 9:14 AM
    the last note, the difference is if you are going to really take advantage of a high end sli system, you need 4gb of ram per card (at least till dx12, and thats to be seen) and the 970 craps itself if you ask it to do more than 3.5, also taking into account that the 295X2 is water cooling on a warranty, the extra it would cost is well worth it.
  • 5 Hide
    RedJaron , March 2, 2015 9:16 AM
    I don't know what to think about the SLI 960 recommendation. The card was designed for 1080 screens and scaling seems to be all over the place ( based on results I see here and here. )

    In just about every case, a single 290 or 970 ( even with its memory woes, ) can beat it at 1440p and up. You say the recommendation is there for people that already have a card, but with how recent it was launched, who's looking to upgrade the 960 that they just bought? If they just bought the 960 and want to upgrade, return it and grab a single, better card.
  • 4 Hide
    CaptainTom , March 2, 2015 9:24 AM
    I don't want to shout "BIASED!" but seriously wtf? The 960 should never, EVER be recommended over an R9 280, and the same goes for an R9 290X that is cheaper than the 3.5GB 970!
  • 2 Hide
    Grognak , March 2, 2015 9:29 AM
    I have to agree with the comments above. If you look at the raw specs, a 960 is almost literally a 970 cut in half. And when compared to its sibling, SLI benchmarks in multiple games show a meager improvement at best, and a seriously crippled performance in some cases because of its lackluster memory. In games that use more than 2GB at 1080p (Assassin's Creed Unity, probably The Witcher 3 and who knows how many more) a 960 SLI rig is useless and will be until DX12 brings us combined memory.
  • 4 Hide
    RedJaron , March 2, 2015 10:08 AM
    Quote:
    I don't want to shout "BIASED!" but seriously wtf? The 960 should never, EVER be recommended over an R9 280, and the same goes for an R9 290X that is cheaper than the 3.5GB 970!

    Perhaps you ought to read it again. Neither of those NVidia products are recommended over the Radeon. Those are both tied categories and the pros / cons of each card in the segment is listed.
  • -2 Hide
    Stevemeister , March 2, 2015 10:38 AM
    Class Action Lawsuit ??? - more ######## greedy lawyers lining up again. At the end of the day people buy the card for the performance it delivers in terms of FPS at a given resolution for a given game . .if anyone actually decided to base their purchase decision based on the specifications alone without other test data they would have no idea what real world performance would be . . . hence misstated specs are pretty well irrelevant. How many people would not have bought the card had the specs read differently from the beginning.
  • 0 Hide
    littleleo , March 2, 2015 11:01 AM
    "Class Action Lawsuit ??? - more ######## greedy lawyers lining up again. At the end of the day people buy the card for the performance it delivers in terms of FPS at a given resolution for a given game . .if anyone actually decided to base their purchase decision based on the specifications alone without other test data they would have no idea what real world performance would be . . . hence misstated specs are pretty well irrelevant. How many people would not have bought the card had the specs read differently from the beginning. "

    Since the customer's can return their cards for credit and the cards still perform as the benchmarks showed I don't think these Law suites are worth the paper they are written on. Just a few greed people hoping to capitalize on this story.
  • 1 Hide
    TallestJon96 , March 2, 2015 11:42 AM
    Kinda tough to recommend a 960. Less performance in some cases than the cheaper 280. Only times I would recommend it over a 280 is when low power consumption is important, but if that's tge case then a 750 ti is more appealing. Good in some situations, but really crippled by 128-bit bus.
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , March 2, 2015 1:42 PM
    Please include a note with the GTX750Ti that some versions do require a single PCIe power cable. Don't ask me why, or how you might OC a 60W card to need over 75W.
    Imho, the GTX970 lawsuit has some merit, but only for those for whom its limitations actually manifest themselves. Everyone else trying to get in on it is just like a bunch of kids in a nursery, wailing along with the one kid who got a wasp-sting, hoping they'll get some ice cream too.
    The lawyers are the leeches passing out the ice cream, taking a big bite out of everyone's bowl.
  • 2 Hide
    eyefinity , March 2, 2015 6:03 PM
    That GT 730 is actually a GT 630 with more bandwidth - not a GT 640. It's probably still a little bit slower than the R7 240 GDDR5. Both cards should be benchmarked to check.
  • 2 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , March 2, 2015 6:21 PM
    Quote:

    Since the customer's can return their cards for credit and the cards still perform as the benchmarks showed I don't think these Law suites are worth the paper they are written on. Just a few greed people hoping to capitalize on this story.

    I actually disagree, i bought the gtx660 which had a similar issue, claimed 2gb 192bit ram, but in reality has 1.5gb 192bit and 512mb only 64 bit, hence the vram usage was never over 1.5gb. This was not an issue upon the cards initial release, but as titles came out that used more than 1.5gb vram the cards experienced slower than expected performance in these circumstances and hard crashes to desktop. I was PO'd, i expect that will happen in the future when it happens to the 970's, although less likely as they do have 3.5gb vram which will be enough for 1080p for the foreseeable future, but those with higher res monitors and triple displays may have an issue.
  • 4 Hide
    animalosity , March 2, 2015 6:38 PM
    This is what bothers me. Most people throw around the "Less Total Draw Power (TDP) of the GTX 960. Seriously....I can't imagine people actually care about draw power once you're at this level. Sure the 960 isn't a flagship, but we're already well past consumer level. If we were creating just basic desktop workstations, sure, that's a legitimate concern as well as cost. When you spend over $200 on a single PC component, in this case the GTX 960, you stop caring about draw power. You've already set your sights on solid performance at very viable and capable frame rates without breaking the bank. Nobody will ever win the "OMG, look! Less power on a performance GPU!" with me...

    That's like saying, "Man my Corvette sure does get good gas mileage! That's why I bought it!" Seriously, nobody cares about their gas mileage when they buy a 'Vette...
  • 2 Hide
    Varun Reddy Gaddam , March 2, 2015 8:17 PM
    I think when compared to Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970 i recommend to buy AMD Radeon R9 290.I have seen lot of performance increase in AMD Radeon R9 290 when compared to Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970
  • 3 Hide
    Banana Republic , March 3, 2015 6:49 AM
    Tired of these 28nm boring toys. WHAT ON EARTH is holding back AMD from releasing a new GPU chipset (not even at the GDC March) it's been been more than 1.5 years of no new graphics card but a tons of rebranding and price cut recycles... Put your sh**s together seriously, and give Nvidia some competition so us consumers can actually start seeing some leap in GPU performance... You'll lose a bunch of potential R9 390X buyers if you keep delaying the release, I for one had been awaiting for the 390x but god i'm getting kinda fed up, moving on with GTX 980.
  • 3 Hide
    2Be_or_Not2Be , March 3, 2015 8:45 AM
    To animalosity:

    I agree mostly with your statement of people not worried about TDP after they are spending $200+ on a graphics card. However, you do neglect one area where people can spend a good chunk o' change and still care - the mini-ITX market.

    I only have one slot for graphics, and I would like the most powerful card I can get within a TDP as determined by my SFX PSU. My current SFX PSU is 450W, and I've only recently seen Silverstone offer the 600W PSU. So making a graphics card powerful AND making it power-efficient certainly helps out the buyers where space is at a premium.

    Also, graphics rendering farms would certainly appreciate more powerful GPUs with lower TDP.
  • 3 Hide
    Aegean BM , March 3, 2015 12:05 PM
    @animalosity, I voted you up because you're mostly right. However, besides the exception of small machines noted by 2Be_orNot2Be, I'm another exception. I like less power on a performance GPU because less power means less heat which means less cooling which means less noise. Sure, I'm not worried about saving or paying for an extra kwh this year. But less noise can certainly nudge my buying decision.
  • 0 Hide
    AMDHTPC , March 3, 2015 1:43 PM

    Nvidia has always been a scumbag company. I purchased 1 Nvidia card in my lifetime the original Geforce 256 which was revolutionary at the time. Once 3Dfx bit the dust Nvidia picked their bones clean and offered virtually no tech support for 3Dfx owners. Since then I've purchased well over 100 graphics cards for friends, relatives, and my own builds. Guess who made all that money from my purchases? ATI/AMD. Now Nvidia is deceiving their customers too? Glad I hopped off that bandwagon over 15 years ago.
    You reap what you sow and Nvidia deserves what backlash they receive.
  • 1 Hide
    computer_noob , March 3, 2015 3:09 PM
    295x2 is $599 on newegg. That 300 series is coming.
  • 2 Hide
    RedJaron , March 3, 2015 4:04 PM
    Quote:
    This is what bothers me. Most people throw around the "Less Total Draw Power (TDP) of the GTX 960. Seriously....I can't imagine people actually care about draw power once you're at this level.
    Then you lack sufficient imagination.

    Quote:
    Sure the 960 isn't a flagship, but we're already well past consumer level.
    What exactly do you mean by "consumer"? This isn't a "professional" card in that people aren't going to be making their livelihood off it. Really you don't even do that with a 980 or 290X, but with a FirePro and Quadro product. So in that sense, this very much is a consumer card.

    Now if you're talking casual vs mainstream vs high-end gaming card, that depends on how you classify them. Most people will call $200 the upper mainstream region. These are the cards a dedicated gamer buys for good performance value, but they're far from the ultimate power-user items or top-shelf cards.

    Quote:
    When you spend over $200 on a single PC component, in this case the GTX 960, you stop caring about draw power.
    Blanket statements are easy to tear apart. Just because you don't care about power draw doesn't mean everyone doesn't, nor even the majority of people don't. Again, these are still mainstream cards, and there's no reason someone getting one isn't trying to strike a balance between performance and electrical costs.

    Quote:
    That's like saying, "Man my Corvette sure does get good gas mileage! That's why I bought it!" Seriously, nobody cares about their gas mileage when they buy a 'Vette...
    Considering the Corvette is a flagship line, this is a bad comparison. Quite a few people need a good commuter car, but still want something a little sporty. I don't understand your ranting here. If all you're worried about is pure performance, then just ignore the remarks about the card's power draw. However, to not mention every aspect about a GPU, including its thermal and power draw requirements, is dishonest from those reviewing it.
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