Continuing our Black Friday sales coverage (previous: gaming CPU sales), we now look to what is arguably the most critical component of any pure gaming PC: the video card. In this round-up, we'll cover some of the best video cards for gaming in 2013 (and the Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales), including GPUs specifically for Battlefield 4, Assassin's Creed IV, and other games.
This coverage spans the budget range through the high-end and enthusiast options. We're mostly focusing on single-card setups, but will make SLI/CrossFire suggestions as things move along. First, a list corresponding to the below items:
GPUs for Gaming & Streaming - Black Friday & Cyber Monday Sales, 2013
A Quick Foreword:
It is our recommendation that all modern gaming machines are equipped with video cards that have a minimum of 1536MB of RAM (1.5GB) and are of the 7850 (AMD) or 650 Ti Boost (NVIDIA) classes and higher. Anything cheaper than these two cards is generally not worth it, as the FPS delta (performance gap) will widen exponentially with lower-end options, like the 240 or GTX 650, which are pretty pointless video cards. It's simply not worth it to save $20 and lose 40% of your performance or more, in some cases.
Similarly, with the new consoles finally being equipped with more memory and with most PC games moving to large texture packs, it's time to say 'goodbye' to the 1GB video cards.
$100 - Budget - 2GB AMD Radeon 7850 - High Performance at an Entry Price
: Considering the 7850 was our go-to card for about a year for budget gaming PC builds, and considering it was priced at ~$150-$180 that whole time, $100 is a pretty shocking price. Shows how big the initial markup was, at least. The 7850 is easily the market's most competitive budget video card right now, and will handle most high-fidelity games at medium settings. Lighter weight games will run on high settings.
This take on the 7850 includes 2GB of on-card RAM running on a somewhat standard 256-bit memory interface, and will easily CrossFire to provide more kick to your build. AMD's been working to correct their CrossFire support over the past several months, so if you think you might have enough cash to do another upgrade in a few months, it's worth considering CrossFire as an upgrade path.
This 7850 operates on a 900MHz core clock (a 40MHz OC over stock) with 1024 Stream processors, with a raw compute output of 1.75TFLOPs.
Simply put, the 7850 is the best card at the low-end of the market, and will still put out relatively high performance for gaming.
$130 - Budget - 2GB NVIDIA GTX 650 Ti Boost - Consistent Frame Delivery
: After a $30 MIR, PNY's model of NVidia's GTX 650 Ti Boost -- in direct competition with the 7850 -- rests firmly $130. We recently tested a GTX 650 Ti Boost 2GB model in Battlefield 4 and found that the card easily tolerated the game on a mix of high/ultra settings @ 1080p and 4xAA. Because nVidia focuses more heavily on frame delivery latency (frame times) than its competitor, we also found that the GTX 650 Ti Boost had extremely consistent frame time delivery, meaning less visual artifacting during gameplay.
NVidia's 650 Ti Boost uses the GK106 GPU, and PNY's model pushes a 1006MHz core clock / 1072MHz boost CLK with 768 CUDA Cores. Note: AMD and nVidia architecture isn't a linear comparison, so you should be comparing these numbers within each company's own offerings. Raw compute performance is 1.5TFLOPs.
As for FPS, it's a toss-up between the Boost and the 7850. The cards are pretty close in FPS, with one pulling ahead of the other based on the game. My advice is to research the games you're playing, see what cards they work best with, and buy based on that.
NVidia has seriously amped-up its developer support for multi-card configurations, so I can confidently recommend the GTX 650 Ti Boost in SLI if your future upgrade options enable/allow it.
$180 - Mid-Range - 2GB AMD R9 270 - The Best Compromise
: When we first broke news on AMD's R9 270 video card (Hawaii Islands GPU), we said that "AMD indisputably owns the $100-$200 video card market right now." I still stand by that statement -- nVidia's next most powerful offering in the current generation of GPUs is the GTX 760, priced at $250.
For anyone looking to play high-fidelity games on high/max settings while maintaining a sub-$200 GPU investment, this is your best option. The R9 270 is fitted with 1280 Stream processors and uses a core clock / boost CLK of 900MHz/925MHz stock (ASUS' card is pre-OC'd at 950MHz/975MHz). The raw compute output is 2.37TFLOPs, making it the most powerful card we've listed yet.
Between the R9 270 and Radeon 7850, you've got your upper- and lower-bounds of the $100-$200 range marked cleanly. For a budget builder (looking to spend $500-$700 on a gaming PC), we'd say stick with the 7850. For a more mid-range approach ($700-$850), the R9 270 is a more reasonable option.
$250 - Mid-Range - 2GB GTX 760 - Pushing the High-End
: We covered the initial launch of nVidia's GTX 760 back in June, just after ShadowPlay's surprising announcement. For system builders who find themselves stuck between the mid-range and high-end markets, the GTX 760 is one of the best middle-of-the-road options. It's a big gap-up to the next high-end cards, so we find ourselves firmly in the center with the 760 at $250.
The GTX 760 ships with Assassin's Creed IV and Splinter Cell: Black List for free rather than the "F2P credit" that the lower-end nVidia GPUs ship with.
EVGA's GTX 760 hosts a GK104 GPU with a 980MHz core clock and 1033MHz Boost CLK and 1152 CUDA cores. The raw compute power equates 2.26TFLOPS.
$320-$340 - High-End - 7970 vs. GTX 770 - Game-Specific Video Solutions
Now that we've hit the high-end, competition gets more fierce and choices are largely boiled down on a game-by-game basis, with some price concerns mixed in.
: We've officially exited the 2GB VRAM territory. More on-card RAM means greater support for ultra hi-resolution texture packs (like those found in Skyrim or GTA IV mods); with 3GB of video RAM and better overall tuning for multi-display configurations, the 7970 makes for an excellent choice for dual-monitor and 4K texture pack gaming.
XFX's 7970 uses a 1050MHz core clock with 2048 Stream processors, ranking in for raw compute performance at 3.79TFLOPs (a pretty huge jump over what we've been looking at).
As suggested previously, do some research on the 7970 vs. the 2GB GTX 770 for the games you're playing, then choose based on that.
: Dropped by $15 from an MIR right now, MSI's 4GB model of the GTX 770 is a huge competitor in the $300-$400 market. For anyone dealing with multi-monitor configurations, high-resolution textures, and video capture (FRAPS, GPU-intensive render software, etc.), this is the best option shy of $400.
This 770 comes clocked at 1137MHz core clock and 1189 boost CLK, outfitted with 1536 CUDA cores and pushing 3.2TFLOPs. 4GB of RAM is the big item, though, ensuring you won't be caching out of your memory.
Have yet more money to spend? Look into the 780 Ti (our coverage here).
As always, let us know if you need help in the selection process! If you're building a gaming PC and need more hands-on support, check out our support forums. Always free to ask a question.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.