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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.

Nvidia's single-GPU flagship, the GeForce GTX 980, is powered by 2,048 CUDA cores. It features the same 4GB of RAM and 256-bit bus as the GTX 970, with clock speeds of 1126MHz base/1216MHz boost. You'll need a pair of 6-pin connectors to power this 165-watt card, which sports HDMI, DVI-I, and three DisplayPort connections.

Finally, we have an utter beast of a graphics card, the borderline ludicrous AMD Radeon R9 295x2, which rocks two--count em, two--of the graphics processors found in the Radeon R9 290X. This card is so monstrous that it comes with an integrated closed-loop water cooling setup and a 500W thirst for power. You'll want a spacious case and a 1200W-plus power supply with two free 8-pin power connectors to run it. In exchange, you get 5,632 stream processors, 8GB of RAM with a 512-bit bus, a 1018MHz clock speed, and enough firepower to chew through any game without breaking a sweat. We tested an XFX Hydra Edition model.

Whew! Still with me? Good. With that out of the way, let's dive into the performance benchmarks!

By the numbers
After all that preamble it's time to dive into the heart of the situation: Which graphics card within your budget gives you the most bang for your back?

We subjected every card to a gauntlet of synthetic benchmarks and real-world games to try and answer the question, measuring power use all the while.

A couple of quick notes: All Radeon R9 290X figures are in "Uber" mode. Transitioning the card to "Quiet" mode usually only resulted in about a 1 frame-per-second difference in our tests. Results for the EVGA GTX 960 SSC are using the default "dBi BIOS." Switching to the card's "SSC Performance BIOS" typically improved frame rates by 1 to 3 fps in our games suite, with one glaring exception: The EVGA SSC hit 60.18 fps in Bioshock Infinite in dBi, but that leaped to a whopping 76.01 fps with the Performance BIOS.

Without further ado, let's dig in.

First up is Bioshock Infinite, an old standby that serves as a great stand-in for the Unreal 3 Engine. Unreal 4 has been announced, but it hasn't begun showing up in mainstream games yet. 

(One more note: A zero frames per second score in these graphs means we didn't test the game at that resolution and graphics setting with the particular card.)

Next up: Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. This recent remaster of the thrilling action game cranked the graphics to 11, and even modern graphics cards have troubles hitting 60fps with details settings turned up. In fact, none did in our tests. Seeing the Radeon R9 295X2 top out at 50.7fps at 1080p was a bit perplexing, but the result was the same after multiple retests. Interestingly, it hits similar frame rates at 2560x1600 resolution, which pushes around twice as many pixels as 1920x1080.

 

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