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The Radeon R7 370
This look at the GTX 950 allows us to devote some attention to its closest competitor, the Radeon R9 370, which also made its debut in recent months. The R7 370 is fascinating because it's a reasonably competitive modern graphics card based on the AMD Pitcairn GPU, a chip first introduced aboard the Radeon HD 7870 and 7850 in March of 2012. Pitcairn also had starring roles aboard the Radeon R7 270X, R7 270, and R7 265.

Three and a half years seems like a long time in the high-tech realm, and Pitcairn shows its age by not supporting some features introduced in newer Radeons. For instance, the R7 370 doesn't have the TrueAudio DSP for the acceleration of in-game sound effects, and its video decoder and encoder hardware isn't ready for 4K data rates or encoding types. Even more notably, the R7 370's display hardware isn't capable of working with FreeSync variable-refresh displays, one of the niftiest innovations in PC gaming in recent years. (The GTX 950 can work with variable-refresh displays based on Nvidia's G-Sync standard.)

GTX 950 1024 1188 24 48 768 128 6.6 2 GB 90W $159
R7 370 - 975 32 64 1024 256 5.7 2 GB, 4 GB 110W $149

One other notable feature Pitcairn lacks is delta-based color compression, which recent GPUs have used to squeeze more throughput out of their given memory bandwidth. The R7 370 makes up for this shortcoming the honest way: by using a 256-bit-wide path its GDDR5 memory, double the width of the GTX 950's memory interface. In fact, the R7 370 sports wider, more robust hardware in almost every respect compared to its competition—and, in a classic AMD move, its starting price is ten bucks cheaper than the GeForce, too.

Oddly enough, the tables above will tell you that the R7 370 uses a slightly cut-down version of the Pitcairn GPU. The full chip has 1280 stream processors and 80 texels per clock of filtering power. Evidently, AMD prefers to disable the weaker parts of the Pitcairn GPU and crank up clock speeds instead. The R7 370 is almost entirely identical to the Radeon R7 265, yet the 370 has a 50MHz higher boost clock and slightly faster memory. AMD says it has implemented "new features at the micro-code level which enable higher overall performance." I suspect most of the changes have to do with the PowerTune dynamic clocking algorithm, which the firm has refined incrementally over time.

Speaking of clock speeds, MSI has taken things even further with its R7 370 Gaming 2G, slapping one of its formidable coolers onto Pitcairn and raising the boost clock to 1050MHz. MSI is asking $159.99 for the Gaming 2G at Newegg.

Sapphire has chosen a more compact dual-slot cooler and a more conservative 985MHz boost clock for its Nitro R7 370, but this card has an ace that the MSI card lacks: 4GB of GDDR5 memory. Cards in this class have gotten along quite well with 2GB of RAM to date, but doubling up to 4GB could give the Nitro a bit of future-proofing. The Nitro is going for $169.99 at Newegg, but Sapphire also sells a 2GB version for 20 bucks less. Similarly, MSI offers an R7 370 Gaming 4G for $179.99.

Our testing methods
Most of the numbers you'll see on the following pages were captured with Fraps, a software tool that can record the rendering time for each frame of animation. We sometimes use a tool called FCAT to capture exactly when each frame was delivered to the display, but that's usually not necessary in order to get good data with single-GPU setups. We have, however, filtered our Fraps results using a three-frame moving average. This filter should account for the effect of the three-frame submission queue in Direct3D. If you see a frame time spike in our results, it's likely a delay that would affect when the frame reaches the display.

We didn't use Fraps with Civ: Beyond Earth or Battlefield 4. Instead, we captured frame times directly from the game engines using the games' built-in tools. We didn't use our low-pass filter on those results.

As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core i7-5960X
Motherboard Gigabyte X99-UD5 WiFi
Chipset Intel X99
Memory size 16GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance LPX
DDR4 SDRAM at 2133 MT/s
Memory timings 15-15-15-36 1T
Hard drive Kingston SSDNow 310 960GB SATA
Power supply Corsair AX850
OS Windows 10 Pro

Driver revision GPU base
core clock
GPU boost
MSI Radeon R7 370 Catalyst 15.7.1 - 1050 1425 2048
EVGA GeForce GTX 650 GeForce 355.60 1059 - 1250 1024
Zotac GeForce GTX 750 Ti GeForce 355.60 1033 1111 1350 2048
Asus Strix GTX 950 GeForce 355.69 1165 1355 1653 2048
MSI GeForce GTX 960 GeForce 355.60 1216 1279 1753 2048

Thanks to Intel, Corsair, Kingston, and Gigabyte for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. AMD, Nvidia, and the makers of the various products supplied the graphics cards for testing, as well.

Unless otherwise specified, image quality settings for the graphics cards were left at the control panel defaults. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

The tests and methods we employ are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.