The past few weeks brought AMD's Radeon R9 285 to market, an interesting card with a few surprises up its sleeve. Aside from that we've heard a lot of rumors regarding Nvidia's upcoming Maxwell flagship, and saw a lot of price changes across the board!
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.
The graphics card introduced since our previous monthly update is AMD's $250 Radeon R9 285. While memory bandwidth has dropped from 240 GB/s in the Radeon R9 280 to 176 GB/s in the Radeon R9 285 thanks to a reduction to a 256-bit memory interface, there's a lot more to the story. Thanks to another revision of the GCN architecture, the freshly minted Tonga GPU in the Radeon R9 285 has even more tricks up its sleeve than the Hawaii GPU in the Radeon R9 290X, and a new color compression scheme helps the new card make up for what it lacks in raw memory bandwidth. At the end of the day it performs on par with the Radeon R9 280 it's poised to replace, beating it slightly in some benchmarks and losing slightly in others, but it does offer features its predecessor does not: lower power usage, AMD TrueAudio, a revamped 4K-compatible video engine, and bridgeless CrossFire. Then again, from a pure performance standpoint the end-of-lifed Radeon R9 280 offers slightly better bang for the buck at the moment thanks to inventory-clearing prices, so it currently takes our lone recommendation at the $220 price point. You can read more about the new card in our launch article, AMD Radeon R9 285 Review: Tonga and GCN Update 3.0. By the way, that Tonga chip is a bit handicapped in the Radeon R9 285, so we might expect an unleashed version in the future. Radeon R9 285X, anyone?
We have no other cards to announce yet, but unless you've been living under a rock you're sure to have noticed the torrent of rumors regarding Nvidia's next-generation Maxwell-based flagship graphics cards. We recently reported that MSI showed some pictures of its upcoming GeForce GTX 970 from the company's facebook account, and e-tailer PCHub.com has leveraged social media to plainly announce that the GeForce GTX 970 and 980 are coming soon. We'll bring you more info on that story as soon as we can.
The rumor mill has also involved AMD of late, with the possibility of an upcoming Raderon R9 380X card that may come liquid cooled from the factory. Of course, none of these rumors are confirmed, but it does make us look forward to new hardware from the two graphics card giants even more than usual.
On the pricing end of things, we saw high-end Radeon graphics cards get cheaper this month. Most notably there has been a $500 drop on the Radeon R9 295X2, bringing it down to $1000 flat and making this dual-GPU card a particularly compelling buy. Currently priced the same as two separate Radeon R9 290X cards, the 295X2 comes with liquid cooling and takes up only two PCIe slots. The bad news is that AMD suggests this is a temporary reduction, but the company didn't specify how long it will last. Aside from that, the Radeons R9 290X and 280 are down $20 to $500 and $220, respectively. The Radeon R9 280X also shed $10 to $280.
The Nvidia lineup has had its share of adjustments, too. The GeForce GTX 780 Ti has gotten $60 cheaper on average, and at $600 this single-GPU performance crown holder a bit more attractive vs. the cheaper Radeon R9 290X. The GeForce GTX 780 also got $40 lighter at $460, and the GeForce GTX 760 dropped $15 to $225. The GeForce GT 750, 740 GDDR5, and 730 DDR3 shed $5 each to $65, $95, and $65.
That's all the news we have on pricing adjustments. You might also be interested in our review of Sapphire's Dual-X Radeon R9 280, which remains a solid product even if it is making its way out of the marketplace. In addition, our power expert Igor Wallossek investigated Dual AMD Radeon R9 295X2 Graphics Cards On A 1000W PSU, with some interesting results.
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, September Updates
- Best Entry-Level Graphics Cards: $140 and Under
- Best Mid-Range Graphics Cards: $145 to $200
- Best Enthusiast Graphics Cards: $210 to $390
- Best High-End Graphics Cards: $400 to $800
- Best Extreme Graphics Cards: Over $800 and Multi-Card Configurations
- Graphics Card Performance Hierarchy Chart
- Conclusion: Performance Per Dollar