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Tested: Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon graphics cards for every budget

Brad Chacos | Feb. 16, 2015
Which graphics card is best for your money? We test over a dozen AMD and Nvidia GPUs to help find the answer.

The newer $200 and up Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 packs the newer, supremely power-efficient Maxwell GPU architecture that first appeared in the GTX 750 Ti. While stock versions of card, which has 1,024 CUDA cores, are clocked at 1127MHz base/1178MHz boost, that energy efficiency allows graphics cards makers to apply beefy overclocks out of the box. The two cards we tested--the $210 EVGA GTX 960 Super Superclocked and $210 Asus GTX 960 Strix DirectCU II--are clocked at 1279MHz/1342MHz and 1253MHz/1317MHz, respectively. The former requires an 8-pin power connector, while the latter needs a 6-pin. You can find more details in PCWorld's GTX 960 review.

The AMD Radeon R9 280X is essentially a faster, smarter, cheaper version of the previous-generation Radeon 7970 GHz Edition flagship. Sporting 2,048 stream processors, the stock version packs 3GB of memory over a 384-bit memory bus and an 850MHz base/1000MHz boost clock. Prices range from $230 to $250 online after discounts and rebates. The $230 Asus model we tested pushes the boost clock to 1070MHz and sports Asus' excellent DirectCU II TOP custom cooling system. The card requires one 6-pin and one 8-pin power connector, and offers HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI-D and DVI-I ports.

The AMD Radeon R9 290 packs 2,560 stream processors and 4GB of RAM with an ultra-wide 512-bit memory bus. It rocks a 662MHz base clock and 947MHz boost clock, with the same power pin setup as the R9 280X. These cards pack HDMI, DisplayPort, and dual DVI-D connections, and in the wake of the GTX 970's launch can frequently be found for $240 through $270--an extraordinary steal. We tested a reference model supplied by AMD.

Speaking of, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970  boasts 1,664 CUDA cores, 4GB of RAM ( ish) over a 256-bit bus, and a 1050MHz base/1178MHz boost clock. Prices start at $330. We tested an EVGA GeForce GTX 970 FTW with ACX 2.0 cooling (whew!), which--as the name implies--utilizes EVGA's quiet, long-lasting ACX 2.0 cooling technology and boosts clock speeds to a hefty 1165MHz base/1317MHz boost, with plenty of room left for overclocking. This card delivers such a compelling price-to-power-to-performance ratio that it forced AMD to drop prices of its flagship R9 290 and R9 290X graphics cards by hundreds of dollars.

AMD's flagship single-GPU graphics card, the Radeon R9 290X, rocks 2,816 stream processors. The card's base clock speed is 727MHz, which boosts to 1000MHz when needed. Like the R9 290, its RAM utilizes a spacious 512-bit memory bus, with both 4GB and 8GB versions available. Versions with 4GB of RAM can be found for $300 to $350 in the wake of the GTX 970's launch; add another $100 for 8GB models. The R9 290X has the same power requirements and port configuration as the R9 290. We tested a reference model supplied by AMD.

 

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