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Graphics card slugfest: AMD and Nvidia's most powerful gaming hardware compared

Brad Chacos | Oct. 28, 2014
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.

While AMD has had some very high-profile titles embrace its technology — Civilization: Beyond Earth, Battlefield 4, Star Citizen, Sniper Elite 3, and Dragon Age: Inquisition among them — the majority of PC games do not support Mantle. It's also worth noting that using the flagship R9 290X, the Mantle-enabled games only slightly beat out the GTX 980. (As I said, performance gains would likely be greater in more modest gaming PCs.)

Further reading: DirectX 12 vs. Mantle: Comparing PC gaming's software-supercharged future

Nvidia, of course, has several unique features of its own, including VR Direct technology that improves latency when a GTX 980 or 970 is paired with an Oculus Rift, and "Dynamic Super Resolution," which enables the new GPUs to deliver 4K-quality graphics downsampled to a 1080p display. What's more, Nvidia cards can stream PC games to the company's Shield tablet, and Nvidia's ShadowPlay functionality is one of the best game recording tools available.

The bottom line

When all is said and done, however, Nvidia's cards are the clear winners here. Even taking AMD's Mantle and price drops into account, the GTX 970's performance and power efficiency is so incredibly compelling at $330 to $370 that it's hard to recommend buying an R9-series Radeon right now, unless you're going to be playing on a 4K monitor or think some combination of three free games outweighs Nvidia's advantages.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so: All GTX 970s are completely out of stock on Newegg at the time of this writing.

But the R9 series is nearly a year old. The rumor mill suggests we could see AMD's next-gen Radeon R9 300-series cards appear in the coming months, potentially featuring a 20nm manufacturing process more advanced than today's 28nm technology. One thing's for certain: AMD's Radeon response can't come soon enough. Nvidia's GTX 980 and GTX 970 are that damned good.


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