This month was a tidal wave of graphics card releases, including Nvidia's GeForce GTX 750 Ti and 750, based on Maxwell. We also look at the new GeForce GTX Titan Black, the brand new Radeon R9 280, and the recently-released Radeon R7 250X and 265.
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.
We've seen a lot happen in the graphics world this month, including a handful of product launches. Most significant were Nvidia's GeForce GTX 750 Ti and 750, the first cards based on the company's new Maxwell architecture. Nvidia claims to be taking a deliberate step forward in efficiency due to its mobile-first philosophy. Read all about the design and our impressions in GeForce GTX 750 Ti Review: Maxwell Adds Performance Using Less Power.
In short, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti is about as fast as AMD's Radeon HD 7850, so it doesn't set any speed records per se. But of course its real strength is low power consumption. While the Pitcairn-based 7850 is a 130 W card, the GM107-based GTX 750 Ti uses up to 60 W. In fact, you don't even need an auxiliary power connector; simply plug it into a PCI Express x16 slot and the card is good to go. Nvidia suggests that you use at least a 300 W power supply, which makes the GeForce GTX 750 Ti a prime candidate for upgrading older or low-end PCs.
Unfortunately, it looks like Nvidia might start suffering from some of the pricing and availability issues as AMD. The GTX 750 Ti is already more expensive, and multiple models are selling out at our favorite online shops. The cheapest we can find are a couple of $160 boards. More of them are up at $170. And the card should be starting at $150. This keeps Nvidia's latest from earning a recommendation away from the similar-performing Radeon R7 260X at $120, though we're still giving the GeForce GTX 750 Ti an honorable mention for its utility in lower-end and small form factor rigs. The less powerful GeForce GTX 750 is slower, sells for $120, and is consequently even harder to recommend as a good value.
Nvidia also announced a GeForce GTX Titan Black, slated to replace the existing Titan. In essence, this is a GeForce GTX 780 Ti with its full FP64 capabilities enabled. The Black edition card's memory clock rate is identical to the 780 Ti, but its core base clock is 14 MHz higher, while the expected GPU Boost frequency is 52 MHz faster. Cards should be shipping with GK110 GPUs set to 889 MHz, scaling up to around 980 MHz under the right conditions. At $1000, this isn't a gaming product. It's intended for developers who need compute performance. Once it surfaces in greater numbers, it'll be the fastest single-GPU card you can buy, though it hasn't shown up yet that we've seen.
AMD also unveiled a few cards during the last month, though they're less impressive. The company continues to re-brand years-old boards to match the Radeon R7 and R9 nomenclature. The Radeon R7 250X, for example, is simply the Radeon HD 7770. The Radeon R7 265 is a little more interesting; it offers a notable overclock compared to the Radeon HD 7850 on which it's based. A reference 925 MHz core and 1400 MHz memory frequency are up 65 and 200 MHz, respectively. Finally, AMD introduces the Radeon R9 280 today, which is essentially a Radeon HD 7950 Boost running 8 MHz faster. That's not a typo. We're talking about a single-digit increase.
Re-branding existing hardware doesn't usually generate buzz unless it's complemented by big price cuts or overclocks. The Radeon R7 250X is already in the $100 neighborhood, like its predecessor, so that's fine. It's a good card for the price. As for the Radeon R7 265, AMD suggested a $150 price that would be fantastic if it ever shows up. I'm skeptical about it materializing for $150, though. First, the Radeon R7 260 announced in December more or less flopped (there are two models currently available). Second, the Radeon R7 265 was supposed to arrive in February and it's still missing in action. Third, the Radeon R9 270, which is somewhat similar to the Radeon R7 265, skyrocketed past its $180 price point and now sells in the $250 range. There's no reason the same issue won't affect Radeon R7 265, should it surface.
And that takes us to the Radeon R9 280, a very Radeon HD 7950 Boost-like card (incidentally, one of the products hit hardest by the cryptocurrency craze). Unbelievably, those boards go for $300 to $350 on Ebay, and are almost impossible to find otherwise. Again, I have to be skeptical that the Radeon R9 280 will show up anywhere near the suggested $280 sticker price.
Those are the updates since last month. We're expecting to see more Maxwell-based hardware soon. As for AMD, I'm just waiting to see how long it takes for Radeon R9-series cards to hit the pricing and availability levels we enjoyed before everyone jumping on the Litecoin bandwagon. Then again, with exchanges falling and rates dropping, perhaps we'll see less demand for GPUs capable of hashing really well.
This month's Graphics Card reviews:
The Myths Of Graphics Card Performance: Debunked, Part 1
Radeon R7 250X Review: Reprising Radeon HD 7770 At $100
AMD Radeon R7 265 Review: Curaçao Slides In At $150
GeForce GTX 750 Ti Review: Maxwell Adds Performance Using Less Power
Partner Cards: Two Radeon R9 290s And Five 290Xs, Updated
Passively Cooling Nvidia's GeForce GTX 750 Ti...With An AMD Sink
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 from our PriceGrabber engine, 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.
- Best Graphics Cards For The Money, March Updates
- Best Entry-Level Graphics Cards: $120 And Under
- Best Mid-Range Graphics Cards: $120 To $200
- Best Enthusiast Graphics Cards: $210 To $450
- Best High-End Graphics Cards: $500 To $800
- Best Extreme Graphics Cards: Over $800, And Multi-Card Configurations
- Graphics Card Performance Hierarchy Chart
- Conclusion: Performance Per Dollar