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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2014

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2014
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AMD releases its Catalyst Omega driver in time for the holiday season, adding impressive new functionality that matches some of what the competition does. This time of year always has an effect on pricing, so read up on the market changes inside!

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.

December Updates:

There weren't any product introductions in the last month, but AMD did notably roll out a handful of new features with its Catalyst Omega driver. Fresh functionality includes Virtual Super Resolution (VSR, AMD's version of Nvidia's Dynamic Super Resolution), FreeSync support (AMD's open-source counterpart to G-Sync), 5K monitor support, support for Eyefinity groups of up to 24 monitors, frame rate and frame pacing performance improvements and an updated Gaming Evolved client with an improved interface to better compete with Nvidia's GeForce Experience software. It's an impressive package that does a good job of improving AMD's standing. However, we can't forget to acknowledge Nvidia for getting there first. When it comes to VSR and FreeSync, AMD is playing catch-up. For more detailed info, check AMD's Catalyst Omega Graphics Driver Bursting With New Features, Including FreeSync, 5K Support And More.

As we leap headlong into the holiday buying season, prices tend to rise slightly. This year is no different, although there are a few exceptions. For example, the Radeon R9 295X2 dropped an impressive $200 to just under $800, making it a much more attractive buy for users who want two Hawaii GPUs in one 16-lane PCI Express slot. The GeForce GTX Titan Z also shed $300. But at $1500, it remains a difficult sell (particularly next to the similarly-performing Radeon R9 295X2).

The rest of the price movement trends upward, rather than down. The Radeon R9 290 is up $20 on average, landing at about $290. The Radeon R9 285 and 270X are both $10 more expensive online, yielding $240 and $175 price points, respectively. From Nvidia, the GeForce GTX 970 now goes for about $360, which is $30 more than last month. In addition, the GeForce GTX 980 and 750 Ti jumped $10 to $560 and $140, respectively. None of those price increases are dramatic enough to have a significant impact on our buying recommendations though, which remain relatively stable. The only real change is a re-introduction of AMD's $350 Radeon R9 290X as a viable alternative to the $360 GeForce GTX 970.

We are hearing more whispers about new products from AMD and Nvidia Our own Niels Broeckhuijsen passed on a rumor regarding AMD R9 390X 'Captain Jack' In The Offing that suggests an upcoming card that may potentially perform well in both the performance and power usage arenas. More news is surfacing about a GeForce GTX 960 card from Nvidia, too.

Aside from this, graphics card junkies may want to read our recent Zotac GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega Edition Review: The Big Gun and XFX Radeon R9 285 Black Edition Review: Maximum Overdrive. We also announced Gigabyte's GTX 980 WaterForce 3-Way SLI Kit Pricing Revealed: $2999 and talked about Nvidia's New GK210 GPU Powers Dual-GPU Tesla K80 For Accelerated Computing since last month's update.

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 , December 10, 2014 9:15 PM
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-2373814/graphics-cards-money-october-2014.html
  • -2 Hide
    CaptainTom , December 10, 2014 10:05 PM
    So just every card gets a recommendation now? Come on make some choices. You can't recommend both the 260X and the 750 Ti. The 260 IS better for the mone. Same situation with the 290 and 970.
  • 0 Hide
    loki1944 , December 11, 2014 1:36 AM
    My thoughts exactly, you can find R9 290s for $60 less than GTX 970s on newegg right now and the Asus DC2OC R9 290X for $330.
  • 3 Hide
    tomfreak , December 11, 2014 2:03 AM
    can anybody tell me why GTX580 is on par with 670? or a tier higher than 660ti/760?.
  • -1 Hide
    johnnyb105 , December 11, 2014 5:36 AM
    WOW ALL I CAN SAY IS WOW A R 290 X AT AMAZON 629.00 BUCKS THERES GOT TO BE A TYPO THERE AROUND 350 AND UP AT THE EGG... JUST WOW is anyone researching these prices?????? Makes AMD LOOK BAD.....
  • 9 Hide
    dirtyferret , December 11, 2014 6:21 AM
    I picked up a factory OC GTX 760 a few months back for $185. Shopping around always pays off if you are willing to keep your options open.

    FYI, the GTX 750ti is clearly recommended as low power card to people with a 300w PSU, not as an alternative to the 260x so calm down.
  • 2 Hide
    ykki , December 11, 2014 6:25 AM
    why are most of the min powersupply 500W?
    Its 500W from 260x to the beastly 290x.
    The 290x definitely takes up a lot more power than the humble 260x.
  • 1 Hide
    ubercake , December 11, 2014 6:34 AM
    I love my 980 with the Asus G-sync monitor. It's an exceptional combo.
  • 0 Hide
    loops , December 11, 2014 8:40 AM
    I just ordered a MSI Lightning 290x...for 315 with MIR and 4 games. I looked hard at the 970 but went with the 290x b/c it cost less and came with the games. Power/heat can be an issue but I tend to now trade cards before the cost of less power really make it a "real" issue. I do kinda hope that the 290x will resell as well as my 7970 tho. That thing sold fast used for 180! Seems like ppl are still mining.

    I dont think the 970 is a bad buy and I'd still call it a tie myself...even if it cost about 30 bucks more.
  • 0 Hide
    bliq , December 11, 2014 11:55 AM
    out of curiousity, where do the iris/iris pro GPUs fall in that categorization table?
  • 1 Hide
    rayden54 , December 11, 2014 1:05 PM
    @CaptainTom

    The thing with a price/performance chart is that while on of the cards might be objectively better than another, it may not be worth the extra cost. What the article's saying is that the performance of the cards is close enough that it really comes down to money. Do you have the extra money to spend for a minor improvement?

    Personally what I'd like to see from this article is a listing of the value breakpoints for each card. For example, at what price would a GTX 770 be a better value than a 970? $100 less? $150 less? If they were the same price, which is better the 280 or 760? What's the tipping point? That sort of thing.

    It seems like a chart like that would be more useful in the long run, since it's less dependent on current prices. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen something go on sale and couldn't figure out if that made it a better buy than the competition.

    The worst times are when someone factors price into a fixed rating (as in this card is a 9/10). I saw a power supply with a 9 rating, but the ONLY con listed was price. I was trying to compare it to another power supply with a 10 rating but that was currently more expensive (by quite a bit) than the 9 rated one. Is the 10 rated power supply actually better than the 9 rated one or was it just more competitively priced when the article was written?
  • 1 Hide
    Norvelas , December 11, 2014 5:11 PM
    fix the summary part for this:

    "Just keep in mind that two GeForce GTX 970s are going to cost you $660, and they're going to perform about as fast as a Radeon R9 295X2 at $1000"

    if the price is down to 780 then you should be stating the difference in the two and the benefits of getting a single GPU or 2
  • 2 Hide
    SessouXFX , December 11, 2014 9:36 PM
    Well, I did it. I spent good money on Gigabyte's 980 G1 Gaming. I feel guilty for succumbing to my urge to see top quality gaming porn...If I didn't get it for less than $600, I wouldn't have done it.
  • 2 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , December 11, 2014 10:08 PM
    You need to fix your power supply minimum requirements. How can the 180w r9 270x require the same 500w minimum as the 250w 290x?
  • 1 Hide
    rush21hit , December 12, 2014 3:03 AM
    As an owner of GTX750Ti, I don't regret purchasing this puny beast to replace my old HD4670. Lots of its benhcmarks states how capable it is to game on 1080p with any games, even the recent ones. Now I have no issues maxing them out on my puny 720p screen (1366x768) while still sips very little power on my aging 250watt PSU.

    That said, I still can't play Far Cry 4 because my old LGA775 platform's E5400 just don't cut it, even with OC :( 
  • 2 Hide
    nerbne , December 12, 2014 3:20 AM
    The prices are off for the AMD cards use Newegg...

    295 = $766.50
    290X = $280.20
    290 = $239.99
    280X = $194.99
    285 = $185.99
    280 = $179.91
    270X = 149.99
    270 = $121.98
    265 = $130.98
    260X = $88
    260 = $81.98
    250X = $72.98
    250 = $61
    240 = $51.98
    -

    Although saying that Ebay has even better prices for most of these cards hint.
  • 1 Hide
    nerbne , December 12, 2014 3:35 AM
    Note the above prices are with rebates on promo codes considered. While rebates usually last a fair while some of these promos end soon.
  • 1 Hide
    youssef 2010 , December 12, 2014 3:50 AM
    Here we go, Barely reached the middle of the first page and read the phrase (The GeForce GTX Titan Z also shed $300. But at $1500, it remains a difficult sell (particularly next to the similarly-performing Radeon R9 295X2)). The Titan Z is nowhere near offering a similar performance to the 295X and costs much more
  • 0 Hide
    MasterMace , December 12, 2014 7:58 AM
    I'm a bit surprised by the R7 260x discussion, and recommendation, here. Tom's own site has the GTX 750 ti beating it in a number of benchmarks. I'm wondering why Tom's hasn't done a review on the GTX 750. AnandTech's review has the 260x and the GTX 750 trading blows in benchmarks. Wouldn't the GTX 750 be more appropriately lined against the 260x? Especially considering on NewEgg it's a full $15 cheaper than the 260x.
  • 1 Hide
    moshenokoji , December 12, 2014 8:09 AM
    If you play your cards right you can get an R9 285 for $180 to $200, which is a better deal than the 270X at 175-ish.
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