Tom's Hardware Graphics Charts: Performance In 2014

Two years and two graphics card generations have passed since the last major update to our famous graphics card performance charts. It's time to get them back up to speed. We introduce modern benchmarks, new measurement equipment, and fresh methodology.

Our Mission: The Best Data Possible

Over the past year or so, you've seen us make some significant changes to many of our graphics card reviews. For example, whenever possible, we employ the Frame Capture Analysis Tool, dubbed FCAT and covered in depth in Challenging FPS: Testing SLI And CrossFire Using Video Capture. Our performance results are consequently more accurate than they've ever been. 

Recently, we decided to dig deeper into power consumption as well, approaching it with the same precision, and you've likely seen the product of that in our more recent launch coverage. We don't want to just give you a rough estimate of what a given graphics card draws. No, the goal here is to set a new standard for power measurement. This is particularly important to us at a time when GPU vendors aren't just talking raw performance any more. They're putting an emphasis on efficiency, valuing cards able to achieve high frame rates without dissipating a ton of heat. 

A new methodology, developed in concert with an industry partner, allows us to ask (and answer) questions that couldn't be easily addressed in the past. Just days ago, in Radeon R9 295X2 8 GB Review: Project Hydra Gets Liquid Cooling, we were able to compare the Radeon R9 295X2, HD 7990, and HD 6990, telling you how much power each card pulled over its PCI Express slot and eight-pin connectors. In the days to come, we'll publish a follow-up explaining why all of this matters so much, allowing you to interpret the outcome of our testing more easily.

The other purpose of today's story is to introduce our 2014 Graphics Card Charts. To account for advances in display technology, we're testing synthetics and real-world games at two resolutions now: FHD (1920x1080) and UHD (3840x2160). You'll see a second set of resolutions and results a little later; those will account for entry-level boards, APUs, and Intel's integrated graphics solutions.

Benchmarking On A New Reference System

Over the course of the last year, we've seen plenty of cases where an Intel Core i7-3770K, even one overclocked to 4.5 GHz, can become a bottleneck. Fortunately, at the resolutions we picked and the settings we're running at, limitations should be few. To further assure this, we also built up a new reference machine based on Intel's Core i7-4930K operating at 4 GHz, a very fast quad-channel memory kit, and Asus' Rampage IV Black Edition motherboard.

Freezing the Current State to Ensure Fair Comparisons

The evolution of gaming confounds us every year. It's easy enough to adopt new titles and retire old ones in our reviews. But it's a lot harder to collect a ton of data for these persistent charts and watch it age over the course of 12 months. We know it'd be impossible to use every single popular game for this project, particularly since we're doing multiple benchmark runs for each one. So, our team picked 10 AAA titles with fairly long sequences and available settings to test. The suite we ended up with purposely strikes a balance between graphics card vendors, too.

We’re using both modern and older games, which accordingly present a range of challenges for the graphics hardware. We deactivated automatic updates, effectively freezing their current state as of early 2014. And the copy of Windows we're using is also kept from phoning home for patches. This configuration is saved as an image, allowing us to reuse it over and over. Whenever it's necessary, we also use new drivers. Sometimes that necessitates applying them retroactively and re-testing cards, particularly when the performance of a card is affected in a big way.

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  • blackmagnum
    Thank you Tom's team for updating the charts. You're my goto when I'm upgrading my rigs. I'll be waiting... Bring on yesterday's gems.
  • Pyree
  • outlw6669
    Nice writeup; I look forward to seeing the new charts!
  • tomfreak
    First thing Tom need is to bench how PCIE 2.0 8x vs 16x perform on a modern top end GPU. Since 290X are passing the bandwidth from crossfire bridge to PCIE, may be is time to check them again? As I recall AMD do not recommend putting 290x XDMA crossfire on PCIE 2.0 8x. Please check this out
  • cypeq
    First it's great to see new charts.
    I was never a fan of this style of benchmarking. It sure gives clean graph of gpu capabilities which we always needed. I would love to see new bottleneck analysis. Or at least parallel test done on midrange PC.

    Everyone should keep mind that these charts represent performance of <1% PC builds out there.

    502873 said:
    First thing Tom need is to bench how PCIE 2.0 8x vs 16x perform on a modern top end GPU. Since 290X are passing the bandwidth from crossfire bridge to PCIE, may be is time to check them again? As I recall AMD do not recommend putting 290x XDMA crossfire on PCIE 2.0 8x. Please check this out

    If I recall correctly we are at this moment at the edge of PCI 2.0 x8 which = PCI 1.0 x16 . Next or following gen will finally outdate PCI 1.0 in single and PCI 2.0 in dual GPU configs as there will finally be noticeable bottle necks.
  • mitcoes16
    Any Steam OS or GNU/Linux benchmarks?
    It would be nice to add any opengl crossplattform game as any ioquake based one or something more modern and test it under MS WOS and under GNU / Linux

    Better if it is future Steam OS to let us know the performance at the same game under MS WOS and under GNU/Linux.

    Also it would be nice to test at MS WOS with and without antivirus, perhaps avast that is free or any other of your preference.

    Last but not least, in opengl or in directx there are version changes and being able to split cards generations by opengl / directx version support would help as a current price / performance index based in your sponsored links prices.
  • mitcoes16
    No 720p tests?
    720p ( 1280x720 píxels = 921.600 píxels) is half 1080p more or less
    1080p (1920×1080 píxels = 2.073.600 pixels)

    And when a game is very demanding or you prefer to play with better graphics playing at 720p is a great option

    Of course,latest best GPUs would be able to play at 4k and full graphics, but when we read the benchmarks we want to know also if our actual card CAN play at 720p (1k) or what the best ones can do at 1k to be able to compare

    Also even it is not a standard or accurate, for benchmarking purposes calling 720p (1k) 1080p (2k) and 2160p (4K) wouldbeeasier to understand in a fast sight than UHD FHD and HDR, that can be used too UHD (4k) FHD (2k) HDR (1k)
  • InvalidError
    130978 said:
    No 720p tests?

    720p does not stress most reasonably decent GPUs much and how many people would drop resolution to 720p these days with all the re-scaling artifacts that might add? In most cases, it would make more sense to stick with native resolution and tweak some of the more GPU/memory-intensive settings down a notch or two - at least I know I greatly prefer cleaner images over "details" that get blurred by the lower resolution and re-scaling that further distorts it.

    Considering how you can get 1080p displays for $100, I would call standardizing the GPU chart on 1080p fair enough: the people who can only afford a $100 display won't care much about enabling every bell and whistle and the people who want to max everything out likely won't be playing on $100 displays and $100 GPUs either.
  • 2Be_or_Not2Be
    I really like to see the charts on how much noise a video card's cooling fans make. That makes more of a difference to me as limiting something distracting that I hear every time I game versus getting a louder card with 10 fps more.

    I also like seeing how current cards stack up performance-wise to previous generations. That really helps when you're deciding whether to upgrade or not.
  • Ubrales
    Thank you! Good reference article!
  • Zeh
    So you're not (directly) controlling the relative humidity of the air you're testing the GPUs in? You do know that it affects air's thermal capacity, huh?

    (I'm just joking, I'm glad you normalize temperature. Besides, by using an AC unit you're already putting a ceiling on RH%, thus controlling it Indirectly).
  • FormatC
    The air-conditioner is only the last help. I'm living in Central Europe in the 1st floor of a a very old, historical building with very thick walls (up to 1 meter!). It is in the hottest summer impossible to reach more than 25 or 26°C inside (with closed doors and windows). This can be cooled down very fast and easy. Mostly I have to heat up my room :)

    For the 720p lovers:
    I'll start after summer the entry-level charts with smaller cards and the same benchmarks - but lower resolution and settings for a better comparison. The difference between all cards is too large to put it into one database. This must fail. ;)
  • voltagetoe
    thanks for noise charting !
  • Tomtompiper
    I know at this moment we only make up a few % of your target audience, but it is an increasing number, and a sea change is on the way. Could you please add just a few Linux benchmarks to allow us nerds to have an idea what the potential is for gaming on linux. I was lucky to be given an R9 290 (Gigabyte OC) for my latest build and I am more than pleased with the performance, however if I had to invest in a card with my own hard earned cash then a little information would be appreciated.

    However I appreciate the effort that has been put into trying to give some sort of comprehensive chart which can be of some use.
  • FormatC
    Linux is a big problem because it extremely depends at the drivers. It is difficult to stay up2date with all this cards and I'm not able to re-bench all again and again due some funny driver changes over the year.

    I understand your interest but this is at the end a big time-problem. But it will be a good idea for a separate review with the most common cards. :)
  • JackNaylorPE
    1. Anything to address the new wrinkle of cards coming with two settings. I see the 290x for example with Quiet Mode and Uber mode but they both are going at the same 1000 speed ? If so what's the point of the having the option ? Would be nice to see just what the improvement speed wise is.

    AMD Radeon R9 290X Reference
    4GB Uber Mode / R9 290, 4GB GDDR5, 1000 MHz
    4GB Quiet Mode / R9 290, 4GB GDDR5, 1000 MHz

    2. Anything to address driver date ? ..... we all know that both teams make driver improvements but if a card is tested with version X.01 in May and then other cards are added in September, how do we compare the current performance of the May tested card w/ the current driver ZZ.01 and the September card with the current driver ? Will the tests be updated with driver revisions for apples and apples (current and current or release date and release date) comparisons ? Of course this is asking a lot but it would make the data more relevant.

    3. Any chance of getting a bar extension on those charts so that for example we can see just what a non reference card adds to the equation either outta the box or when OC'd "Bawlz to the Wall".

    4. Any chance of getting a specs chart for the "variations" as to what stock clocks are, base and boost, PCB, VRM phases, warranty, dimensions like the one here,2858.html

    Yes, again asking a lot, but would make everything more relevant .... haven't installed a reference card in as far back as I can remember.
  • 17seconds
    So out of 8 gaming benchmarks, you're going to go ahead and have 7 of them come straight out of the AMD Gaming Evolved program? Several of these games are well-known to favor AMD cards disproportionately and feature AMD exclusive technology. At least one, Dirt 3, is played by no one, yet features a type of lighting that relies heavily on OpenCL to render, a well-known advantage for AMD cards. I'm not sure that's exactly defined as covering all the bases.
  • 17seconds
    I have always wondered why reviews don't list the ASIC quality score of the GPUs they are testing. Its so easy to get using GPU-Z and would help to create a nice database of ASIC scores that would allow us to draw conclusions about its significance.

    Do reviewers get cherry-picked golden sample GPUs for testing?
    Does company X bin their superclock/OC model chips higher?
    Does ASIC quality consistently mean better overclocking potential?
    Does ASIC quality have any significance at all in real world gaming?
  • FormatC
    @17 seconds:
    - 90% of all cards are pure retail cards, no golden samples. All this was verified and proofed.
    - the Asic quality is more or less voodo. GPU-Z makes a lot of errors and it's not clear, which GPU-Z version gives you which result.
    - I've tested a handfull of 290X f.e. and the bechmark results were mostly similar. But the power consumption not (up to 5% difference)

    As I we wrote in the article - the selection of benchmarks is the result of a long selection process and if you take a look at the normalized results (index) you can see, that this results are very close to the average of other sites. For all this benchmarks the driver war is more or less over, so we get stable results over a longer time. All exclusive things were not used as StressFX or PhysX, some anti-alisasing options or lights/shadows.

    If I see from company A or N some significant driver improvements, I'm able now to re-bench all the stuff partially. This was done one time with the latest Wonder-driver from Nvidia a few weeks ago. And Dirt3? OpenCL is public, not AMD-exclusive. It is Nvidias part to improve finally the OpenCL performance, because it is 100% a driver issue. :)

    The difference between quiet and uber mode is with full heated cards (and normalized over all benches) below 2%. You can hold in therory the clock rates a little bit longer but after heating and reaching the target temperature above 90°C all this reference cards increases the clock speed to hold it. This "uber mode" is only used to disguise the weakness of this really horrible cooling solution for a few minutes longer.

    And finally:
    I will bench all reference cards first to make an overview, but I'll also add the results of custom cards later - periodically, each month. I'm not able to write reviews and bechmark more than 20 cards per month at the same time. The current charts content was produced within 2 months and I'm sure that this is a good base to extend it step by step.
  • walshlg
    How about a better test of graphics card performance: 3D. Sure not much 3D these days due to outrageous monitor pricing but next year with the Occulus and Sony 3d Headmount displays we will need something to compare cards with.

    In addition, most games don't really stress out a good card. Try 3D on a 4k monitor on 3D and then we can really talk about a stress test and performance gains that make a difference in gameplay.
  • T-Bag
    Great article and very informative and thanks for updating the chart as well.
  • kudorgyozo
    where ARE the charts?
  • mordorrson
    502873 said:
    First thing Tom need is to bench how PCIE 2.0 8x vs 16x perform on a modern top end GPU. Since 290X are passing the bandwidth from crossfire bridge to PCIE, may be is time to check them again? As I recall AMD do not recommend putting 290x XDMA crossfire on PCIE 2.0 8x. Please check this out

    If I recall correctly we are at this moment at the edge of PCI 2.0 x8 which = PCI 1.0 x16 . Next or following gen will finally outdate PCI 1.0 in single and PCI 2.0 in dual GPU configs as there will finally be noticeable bottle necks.

    Unless my eyes are deceiving me, or I've been reading information very incorrectly for the last few months, we're currently at PCIe x16 3.0
  • FormatC
    1661870 said:
    where ARE the charts?

    Take a look at the top and you will see a menu labeled "Chart". Please move your mouse over this text and left-click on this link. A windows will appear! Read the content of the new page carefully! You'll see a link to the current VGA charts...

    Or take the cookie:,175.html