Gaming

Advent Showdown Round 4 : Graphics Cards


As many gamers will know, games keep looking better and better, and to help your games look the best and run without issue, you need the best hardware you can get. Right now theres some great looking PC games that either have just been released, are currently in playable beta or scheduled to be released next year, and these games will of course need a graphics card capable of meeting their requirements. Luckily for fans of those who like to get the biggest bang for their buck, there are a good bunch of decent graphics cards that have had their prices slashed just in time for the holidays, but I’m going to focus on two great well priced cards on the market right now that you can snap up just in time for Christmas.

Todays participants are the NVidia GTX 970 and AMD’s Radeon R9 290X!

NVidia GeForce GTX 970

Earlier this year I went to NVidia’s GAME 24 event in London, a round the world celebration of PC games with events in cities across the world, set up alongside the announcement of the new 900-series graphics processors, with music, food and drink, giveaways and plenty of games running NVidias brand new GTX 970 and 980 cards and their Maxwell technology. From the effort NVidia put into this event you might well think that they thought they cooked up something special, and the truth is they actually have.

Maxwell’s architecture has been around for a little while, producing small scale efficient little runners like the GTX 750 Ti as well as the powerful 780 Ti, but NVidia have spent a little more time getting to know the intricacies of Maxwell and the result is the a ludicrous amount of efficiency. The performance for every watt of power used by the 900 series is at levels thought near impossible just a few years ago. They are simply miles more efficient than anything that has come before. The GTX 980 is a ludicrous beast of a card, one of the fastest cards out there as well as ridiculously efficient, but the price tag (£400+ and pushing 500 if you want one of the big manufacturer names) of course will ward off all but the most loyal enthusiasts. The much more interesting offering is the 980’s little brother, the GTX 970, which will set you back around £250. This is, without doubt, a steal, a ludicrously good price for the performance you’re going to get, and there are a few reasons why, but most of them have to do with the price of other cards on the market.

You can find the numbers and benchmarks across the web (heres a decent piece from Eurogamer for instance) if you’re into that sort of thing, but the short story is that the GTX 970, straight out of the box, has power to equal the mighty GTX 780 Ti, which just a few months ago would set you back £400, and you can still find retailing for well over £300. Add to that the increased efficiency means that overclocking potential is very high, and you start to see what this card is really capable of. Some indications are that when overclocked, the GTX 970 is only very slightly under the power of the GTX 980, and when you consider the price difference between the two 900 series cards, just shows how good the price to performance ratio actually is in favour of the 970.

There’s more, too. Consider the potential of having two in SLI, either right now, or in the future, and you can see why not only is this a great card to get for anyone looking to get the most out of their money, but it might just be the best card there’s ever been for that kind of buyer, and it certainly has the power to take anything you’re likely to throw at it in the next few years.

AMD Radeon R9 290X

Not long after the release of the 900 series, AMD realised they had a bit of an issue on their hands. AMD usually are the better side in regards bang for your buck, but the GTX 970 on release turned out to be nearly as fast as the flagship AMD card, the R9 290X, at nearly half the price. AMD needed to respond and respond they have. The price of the 290 and the 290X has been drastically dropped to be more in line with the NVidia cards. While on release they originally sold for £400 and £450ish respectively, right now you can buy one for around £200 to £250, right on par with the 970. The result is two hugely powerful cards that are now at a very appealing price point, and I’m going to focus on the R9 290X.

There’s no denying that the R9 series as a whole has some beastly cards in it, and when you take into consideration the R9 290X was originally produced as AMD’s answer to NVidia’s Titan, you start to see the sort of power we’re looking at. Heres the respective numbers, courtesy once again of Eurogamer, but please take note that this piece was written about this time last year, before these price drops were put in place. Whatever way you slice it, the 290X holds its own against the Titan, and even beats it in some areas. Sure, the card came with some downsides, like often noisy cooling fans and some ridiculously high temperatures, but the bottom line was you could get Titan level performance while saving yourself at least a hundred pounds if not more.

Now, however, the game has been changed slightly, and the drop in price means that if you thought the 290X was a good buy then, you’ll be practically salivating at its price now. Its a heck of a card that has been proven time and time again to be as powerful as NVidia’s strongest beasts from the last generation, and generally beats the 970 when pushed to the limit. However, the drawbacks of the card from release are still there. Often noisy fans, temperatures hitting 90C when under heavy load, and a need for a heavy duty power supply are all downsides that the 900 series just does not have.

These downsides don’t stand in the way of the facts, however. With the recent price drop, AMD have given the 970 a real competitor that will have buyers around the world tapping their chins and going ‘mmmmmm’ while they decide between the two.

Overview

This last few months has seen the graphics card market cracked wide open, first with NVidias announcement, then with the fallout from the tech community seeing just how well priced the GTX 970 in particular was. The interesting thing is that the 980 is hardly badly priced either, considering how much punch it packs. Following this, AMD had to do something, and do something they have. The 290X at this new price point is a great buy and if you cant quite fit it in your budget, the 290 is still a great card for a little less. However, is AMD’s price slashing enough to call it a better overall buy than the 970? Well…

Todays winner is…the NVidia GeForce GTX 970!

I’m not sure if AMD were caught out by the pricing of the 900 series cards. The 290X is a great competitor to the 970 in both price and power, theres no doubt about that, but when the other little niggles like noise, heat, overclock potential and efficiency come into play, the 970 starts pulling ahead. NVidia have managed to use Haswell to build some very powerful cards quite cheaply, and the result, in my opinion, has left AMD needing to slash the price of their flagship cards to match the ridiculous price to performance ratio of the 970 in particular. I can’t see myself recommending any other card in the near future, if you can afford it, get it, if you can’t, try to save up to get it. The good news is, thanks to this little bombshell, prices across a whole range of cards have dropped nicely, so one way or another, you should have plenty of options for upgrades, no matter what your budget.

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