There's never been a more glorious time to be a PC gamer. Once regarded as the red-headed stepchild of games, more and more titles have begun calling the PC home, thanks to the rise of Steam and the inclusion of AMD hardware in both next-generation consoles, which makes porting efforts easier. But the power inside the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are roughly equivalent to a mid-range modern gaming rig — meaning they can't hold a flame to the glorious visual excess today's top graphics cards can pump out. The PC offers today's best gaming experiences, period.
This week we're going to bask in that. Over the coming days, we're going to showcase a trio of fire-breathing PC builds celebrating the best that Intel, Nvidia, and AMD have to offer. On Friday, we'll showcase the PC games that melt eyeballs and push hardware to extremes. But today, we'll kick things off by comparing the most powerful single-GPU graphics cards available today: Nvidia's GTX 980 and 970 versus AMD's Radeon R9 290X and R9 290.
Let the benchmarks begin!
The hardware we're using
If you're looking for nitty-gritty architectural details for these cards, you'll have to look elsewhere; this article is dedicated to raw performance, pricing, and highlight features. You know, real-world worries. But fear not: PCWorld's intro articles for the R9 290, R9 290X, and Nvidia's recently launched 900-series cards can get you up to speed on ROPs and memory clockspeeds.
Our GTX 970 is a special case. While AMD and Nvidia provided reference cards of the R9 290, R9 290X, and GTX 980, Nvidia didn't create physical reference cards for the GTX 970. EVGA graciously provided PCWorld with an EVGA GeForce GTX 970 FTW with ACX 2.0 (whew!) for testing.
The EVGA GTX 970 FTW utilizes a large heat sink under a pair of large fans, and the ACX cooling set-up has been redesigned from previous versions to provide more cooling oomph with less fan noise and a reduced power draw. That lets you get more substantial overclocks, which in turn boosts performance. In fact, the EVGA GTX 970 FTW comes with a beastly overclock already put in place at the factory — 1216MHz core clock and 1367MHz boost clock — and ships with EVGA's vaunted PrecisionX overclocking software if you want to push it even further.
The extra performance comes at a price, of course: The EVGA GTX 970 FTW costs $370, or $40 more than the MSRP for "stock" GTX 970 cards. But every available GTX 970 card features some variance in cooling technology and clock speed, given the lack of an official Nvidia reference model.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.