After AMD's introduction of the Radeon R9 Fury and Fury X, the graphics market has been a little quieter, but several new cards have debuted recently. AMD's bite-sized Fury Nano is an interesting product. We have one in our labs for testing, but we don't expect that its appeal will extend beyond the niche audience of Mini-ITX builders that AMD has defined for the card—especially not for its $650 suggested price. Nvidia has introduced a stronger budget contender in the form of the GeForce GTX 950, which replaces the evergreen GeForce GTX 750 Ti around the $150-$160 mark. The GTX 750 Ti is now available around a suggested price of $120, which is a pretty sweet deal for entry-level 1080p gaming.
|Zotac GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB||$119.99||N/A|
|MSI GeForce GTX 950 2GB||$159.99|
Accordingly, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti is our first pick. The Zotac card we've chosen is typical of the breed: it's built on a stubby PCB with a single fan, and it doesn't require any external power connectors to do its thing.
The GeForce GTX 950 represents a substantial step up from the GTX 750 Ti. It's based on a slightly cut-down version of the GM206 GPU in the more expensive GTX 960, so it has considerably more theoretical performance than its predecessor by almost every measure. This card should let owners turn up graphics quality settings at 1080p without a hitch. The MSI card we've chosen has a nice twin-fan cooler that should be more than a match for the GTX 950's GPU, and its single six-pin power connector will play well with modest PSUs.
|EVGA GeForce GTX 960 2GB||$179.99||Dual PCIe power connectors|
|Sapphire Nitro Radeon R9 380 4GB||$209.99|
Our sweet-spot picks can run games at 1080p with high or maxed-out detail levels. They can also handle resolutions up to 2560x1440, though they may not deliver the smoothest possible experience there.
We think the GeForce GTX 960 remains the most compelling GPU in this price range. For just $180 or so, it performs about as well as the old GTX 770, which was priced at $250 before Nvidia discontinued it. On top of that, it's a good deal more power-efficient than the competition. Our EVGA pick has a twin-fan cooler that's both effective and quiet.
With AMD's 300-series round of rebrands, the Radeon R9 285 has morphed into the Radeon R9 380. Since our last guide, 4GB versions of this card have fallen in price, to the point where they're actually quite appealing. If you're worried about future video RAM requirements—or FreeSync support—the Sapphire Radeon R9 380 we've chosen should be a good bet. It's significantly cheaper than 4GB GTX 960s, and it's got a slightly more powerful GPU than the Nvidia card.
If you're considering the Radeon R9 380 or GTX 960, you might still find a Radeon R9 280X here and there for around the same price. While the 280X is the fastest of the three by a smidgen in raw FPS terms, it's based on older hardware that lacks support for FreeSync and AMD's TrueAudio DSP. If you really want an AMD card, we think you'll be better off with the R9 380 over the long term.
These cards should all produce silky-smooth frame rates at 2560x1440. The higher-end cards will also pave the way for gaming at 4K—and higher virtual resolutions (via the VSR and DSR features from the GPU makers) on systems with lower-res monitors.
|EVGA GeForce GTX 970||$289.99||Dual PCIe power connectors|
|Gigabyte Radeon R9 390||$319.99|
|MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G||$345.99|
|Gigabyte G1 Gaming GTX 980||$509.99|
|Asus Strix Radeon R9 Fury||$569.99|
|Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury X||$649.99|
|Asus Strix GTX 980 Ti||$669.99|
Radeon 300-series cards are on store shelves now, though older 200-series cards like the Radeon R9 290 and 290X may stick around for a little longer. If you can find one of those 200-series cards for a deep discount, they could still be good buys, but the Radeon R9 390 and 390X are here to stay. These cards offer twice the video memory of their predecessors, a whopping 8GB. Current games at common display resolutions don't seem to benefit much from the extra RAM, though. Even so, the R9 390 is quite competitive with the GeForce GTX 970, at the expense of higher power consumption and more heat.
One interesting development in this segment of the market is the sudden appearance of stock-clocked GTX 970 cards like the EVGA model in the table above for just $290 or so. If this card sticks around at this price, it would make the GTX 970's strong performance more accessible. Some judicious tweaking could even bring this card's performance more in line with its factory-overclocked brethren, too. For the price, that's a bet we'd be willing to take.
Speaking of factory-overclocked GTX 970s, the MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G performs about on par with a Radeon R9 390 in our benchmarks while consuming much less power. Under load, it consumes 120W less than the R9 390. That means lower temperatures, lower noise levels, and potentially higher overclocking headroom. We were able to overclock this thing to the point that it outperformed a reference GeForce GTX 980. Pretty amazing for a $340 card. In fact, you don't really need anything more unless you're driving a 4K monitor or a multi-display setup for gaming.
At the high end of the market, AMD's introduction of its brand-new Fiji GPU with high-bandwidth memory is still the biggest news we've had of late. This GPU and its memory subsystem represent substantial innovation, in contrast to the rebadged parts that make up most of the Radeon 300-series lineup.
The Radeon R9 Fury X is AMD's top-of-the-line offering, complete with water cooling, while the vanilla R9 Fury is mildly cut down for about 100 bucks less. These cards perform somewhat worse in our advanced frame-time metrics than their GeForce competition, the GTX 980 Ti and GTX 980, respectively. They're also slightly more power-hungry, and in the case of the R9 Fury, more expensive than the competing GeForces. They're still interesting products, but unfortunately, Fury cards are quite scarce at the moment.
As for GeForce GTX 980 Ti cards, we think our Asus pick is a solid bet. Its huge triple-fan cooler and dizzying factory overclocks set it apart from other GTX 980 Ti offerings. If our card of choice is out of stock, Gigabyte's G1 Gaming spin on the 980 Ti is a worthy alternative. It features some of the highest clock speeds available for this GPU at the cost of more noise under load and a higher price than our primary pick.
If you're dead-set on a Radeon R9 Fury or Radeon R9 Fury X, your choices are pretty simple. In the case of the Fury X, all of AMD's board partners are required to use the same reference cooler design and clocks, so the choice comes down to the board partner you'd like to, well, partner with. Sapphire is a major AMD board partner, and its Fury X retails for the same $649.99 as AMD's suggested price, so we see no reason to look further. Just be aware of the pump noise issue. Right now, there's no way to be sure you're not getting a Fury X card whose cooler whines.
In the Fury non-X department, Asus' Strix R9 Fury comes with an awesomely large and quiet triple-fan cooler that makes short work of Fiji's volcanism.
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