We talk about the new GeForce GTX 970 and 980 in this months update, and see how these disruptive products have changed the price landscape. We also talkn about the GeForce GTX 970M, 980M, and discuss rumors of upcoming products.
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 are impressed with Nvidia's "second-generation" Maxwell architecture, not just because of its impressive pixel-pushing prowess and low power usage, but because the company launched its desktop flagship at a price point low enough to disrupt the market. The GeForce GTX 980 boasts 2048 CUDA cores, 128 texture units, 64 ROPs, 1750 MHz GDDR5 RAM on an aggregate 256-bit memory interface, and a 165W TDP. Its performance is on par with the GeForce GTX 780 Ti, despite a significantly lower $550 MSRP. The other model is the 145W GeForce GTX 970, which hosts 1664 CUDA cores and 104 texture units, but features the same ROP count and memory bandwidth as Nvidia's 980. This results in Radeon R9 290X-class performance with a $330 price tag.
At $330, the impressive GeForce GTX 970 scores an easy recommendation. You might think the GeForce GTX 980 would be a no-brainer, too, but with the GeForce GTX 780 Ti being phased out and heavily discounted in the $440 range, the 980's appeal is diminished for now. For as long as it lasts, the GeForce GTX 780 Ti takes our top recommendation as a tremendous value.
Of course, there's more to Nvidia's new GM204 graphics processor than just raw performance; there are a lot of new features, too. You can read up on them in Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 And 980 Review: Maximum Maxwell.
I mentioned that the GeForce GTX 970 and 980's price points are disruptive. They certainly shaken up the graphics card market this month. Radeon pricing is down quite a bit in order to remain competitive. The R9 290X fell $130 to $370, the R9 290 shed $100 to $290, the R9 280X slipped $20 to $260, the R9 280 is down $15 to $205, and the R9 270X goes for a scant $160. Only the Radeon R9 290, 280 and 270X retain recommendations at their new price points though, due to tough competition.
Of course, Nvidia made its own adjustments. The discontinued GeForce GTX 780 Ti, 780 and 770 can be found at $440, $310 and $270, respectively, as inventory clears out to make way for the 970 and 980. At those prices, I'm only recommending the GTX 780 Ti. If you're interested in that card, buy it while it lasts. Nvdia's GeForce GTX 660 dropped $20 to $160, but it's not recommended against AMD's more powerful Radeon R9 270X. Finally, the efficient GeForce GTX 750 Ti is now $140 instead of $150, making it an even more interesting option for enthusiasts with low-end power supplies.
Nvidia also introduced GM204 in its mobile GeForce GTX 970M and 980M. The latter is essentially a desktop GeForce GTX 970 with one SMM disabled and a slightly lower GPU clock rate, representing a new high water mark in mobile graphics performance. The GeForce GTX 970M is significantly less capable though, with two fewer SMMs compared to the 980M and a crippled render back-end sporting 48 ROPs and a 196-bit memory interface. Despite this, the 970M is still quite a bit faster than the GeForce GTX 880M preceding it. For more information and specifications, check out Maxwell Goes Mobile: First GeForce GTX 970M Benchmarks.
Aside from new products, we tested VisionTek's liquid-cooled CryoVenom R9 295X2, a single-slot card with optional open-loop liquid cooling that does an effective job of keeping AMD's dual-GPU beast frosty compared to the reference model and its closed-loop liquid cooler. For more, read VisionTek CryoVenom R9 295X2: Two GPUs In One Slot. It's also interesting to note that Nvidia is Now Selling Original GTX SLI Bridges. These bridges match the style of the reference cooler on the company's high-end offerings like the new GeForce GTX 980.
On a final note, the Internet is running rampant with rumors of an upcoming mid-range GeForce GTX 960 and a high-end Radeon R9 295X. Neither Nvidia nor AMD will confirm the existence of these cards. But if the rumors are credible, we expect to see more information about them in the next month or two.
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.
- Best Graphics Cards for the Money, October Updates
- Best Entry-Level Graphics Cards: $130 and Under
- Best Mid-Range Graphics Cards: $140 to $200
- Best Enthusiast Graphics Cards: $210 to $300
- Best High-End Graphics Cards: $300 to $800
- Best Extreme Graphics Cards: Over $800 and Multi-Card Configurations
- Graphics Card Performance Hierarchy Chart
- Conclusion: Performance Per Dollar