Best Video Cards

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Post by PCLife on Tue Sep 13, 2016 2:14 pm

Graphics cards based on the latest 14/16 nm GPUs are in high demand—so much so that some models remain unavailable months after launch. The boards you can buy are marked up substantially, balancing the limited supply. None of the cards from AMD or Nvidia—not one—sell at the prices we were told you’d start seeing them. As you might imagine, that makes pinning down recommendations difficult indeed.

And while it’d be easy to hammer both companies for setting unrealistic expectations, this generation of graphics hardware does serve up a ton more performance at far lower power for a lot less money across the board. So let’s dig into what happened over the past month.

About Our Picks
These cards are for hardcore PC gamers. If you don’t game (or only play casual games), the cards on this list are likely more than you need.
The list is based on typical U.S. prices from online Etailers in a given month - your mileage will vary in other regions or at retail.
These are new card prices. No used, refurbished, or open-box cards are in the list.

There are four new cards to discuss. The first, Nvidia’s Titan X, exists in the ultra-high-end space and is available to DIYers through just one source: Or at least it would be if Nvidia had any in stock. Shortly after launch, the company sold out and we haven’t seen them return.

Call it a unicorn then, because the Titan X is really something special. For one, it’s the only card with Nvidia’s GP102 processor. Two of the GPU’s 30 Streaming Multiprocessors are disabled, leaving 3584 active CUDA cores and 224 texture units at a 1417 MHz base clock rate. All of those shading/texturing resources are supported by a 384-bit memory interface populated with 12 GB of 10 Gb/s GDDR5X memory and 96 ROPs.

Manufactured using TSMC’s 16 nm FinFET process, GP102’s 12 billion transistors occupy 471 mm² of die space. And although it shares the 180 W GeForce GTX 1080’s cooling solution, Nvidia rates Titan X for 250 W. That means you need a power supply with at least one available eight-pin and one six-pin connector. Oh, and plan to spend at least $1200 if you can catch the card in stock on Nvidia’s site.
At the other end of the spectrum, AMD introduced its Radeon RX 470 and 460, the former based on the same Polaris 10 GPU as Radeon RX 480 and the latter sporting a new Polaris 11 processor.

The Radeon RX 470 comes close to the performance of Radeon RX 480, wielding 2048 Stream processors and 128 texture units at a default 926 MHz base core clock rate. Of course, the 256-bit memory bus persists, and the Asus sample we tested came with 4 GB of GDDR5 memory at 1650 MHz. It’s not quite fast enough to satisfy the minimum recommended specifications of HTC’s Vive or Oculus’ Rift, but it’s plenty quick for gamers with 1920x1080 monitors.

According to AMD, the RX 470 should be selling for $180. But as of this writing, the only models available start at $200. And with Radeon RX 480s officially priced at $200, it seems smarter just to wait for availability to improve on the higher-end card.

Then again, maybe not. As we were working on this month’s update, Nvidia announced a 3 GB version of its GeForce GTX 1060 with 1152 CUDA cores operating at 1506 MHz (with a GPU Boost rating of 1708 MHz) and a 192-bit memory interface. Those are the same clocks as the company’s 6 GB model; this one simply has one less SM (or 128 fewer CUDA cores). Nvidia claims this resource haircut has a single-digit percentage impact on performance, but leaves enough speed to outpace the 8 GB Radeon RX 480. The company expects the 3 GB GTX 1060 to start at $200, but does not plan to send out samples for testing. We’ll keep an eye out for cards in the wild—given poor overall accessibility to Nvidia’s 16 nm GPUs, this board has to wait until September for consideration here.

Further down the stack, AMD’s Radeon RX 460 boasts the company’s second 14 nm GPU, code-named Baffin. Its 896 Stream processors are less than half as many as the RX 470. But the RX 460 operates at a higher 1090 MHz base clock rate. Everything else is close to halved as well: you get 56 texture units, 16 ROPs, and a 128-bit memory bus.

The RX 460’s on-board resources are great for gaming at HD resolutions, and even FHD (that’s 1920x1080) using relaxed quality settings. It’s only a bummer that AMD’s $110 starting price didn’t seem to stick. Four-gigabyte RX 460s instead sell for anywhere from $130 to $150.

Of course, Nvidia isn’t immune from the rush on current-gen cards either. Its GeForce GTX 1060, which is supposed to start at $250, isn’t available below $290. There are listings for $250, but those cards are naturally the first to sell out. The GTX 1070 is priced more problematically. Nvidia launched that model in a range between $380 and $450, but the cheapest model listed on Newegg costs $410, while the least-expensive one in stock sells for $430. The same goes for GeForce GTX 1080. We’re supposed to be seeing $600 cards, but they instead stretch from $650 to $750

Best @ 720p | Best @ eSports

AMD Radeon R7 360
We recommend AMD’s Radeon R7 360 as entry point for HD gaming and e-sports. It’s still selling for roughly $90, and every bit as capable as it was previously. A $110 Radeon RX 460 4 GB would have had us spending a little extra cash, without question. However, with 2 GB cards starting at $115 and the 4 GB model commanding at least $130, AMD needs to bring prices down. The R7 360 retains its recommendation at a new low price. Our StarCraft 2 benchmarks show it’s capable of 100+ FPS at 1920x1080, and the RX 460’s premium isn’t commensurate with its performance advantage. .

R7 360 - Newegg

Good @ 1080p

Nvidia GeForce GTX 950
Several cards offer playable performance at 1920x1080 with dialed-back detail settings, including the Radeon R7 370, GeForce GTX 950, R9 380X, GTX 960, and RX 470. From there, it’s tempting to throw budgeting to the wind and suggest a Radeon RX 480 at $200. But we really do need a cheaper option for 1080p gaming. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 950 used to be our entry point at $140, and it’s still readily available at that price.

As a refresher, the GTX 950 employs Nvidia’s GM206 GPU - the same one found in its GTX 960. The company turns some of the processor’s resources off though (two SMMs, to be exact), resulting in a configuration of 768 CUDA cores, 48 texture units, and 32 ROPs. A 128-bit memory bus is populated by either 2 or 4 GB of GDDR5 memory.

The benefits of Nvidia’s Maxwell architecture are clear. GeForce GTX 950 is faster than the R7 370, even as it uses less power and is fed by less than 60% of the Radeon’s memory bandwidth. It used to be that the GTX 950 sold for noticeably more than AMD’s Radeon R7 370, but now they’re both available in the $140 range. At that price, Nvidia enjoys an edge.

GTX 950 - Newegg

Best @ 1080p | Good @ 1440p

AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB
Serving up performance that sometimes exceeds a Radeon R9 290, sometimes beats a GeForce GTX 970, and sometimes leads both cards in our benchmark suite, the Radeon RX 480 successfully satisfies AMD’s goal of enabling VR on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. In a more conventional gaming PC, the card manages playable frame rates at 2560x1440 with some detail settings dialed back, and great performance at 1920x1080 maxed-out. It does all of those things for $200, if you snag the 4 GB version.
AMD’s mainstream masterpiece sports 2304 Stream processors, 144 texture units, and a 256-bit memory bus. The company sells an 8 GB model for $40 more, but we don’t think it makes as much sense with faster GeForce GTX 1060s available $10 higher.

Radeon RX480 4GB - Newegg

About Crossfire & SLI
Recommendations for multiple video cards require a motherboard which supports CrossFire/SLI, a case with plenty of space, and a higher-output power supply than a single card, and will almost certainly produce more heat. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision.

Best @ 1440p | Best @ SLI | Good @ VR

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
The GeForce GTX 1070 is armed with 1920 CUDA cores, 120 texture units, and 8 GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit bus. What’s more, a 150 W TDP keeps the 1070’s power requirements conservative: Nvidia recommends a 500 W PSU with one eight-pin connector.

But performance is what makes this card special. If you really want to max out quality at 2560x1440, the GTX 1070 is compelling. It’s significantly faster than the Radeon R9 Fury X in DirectX 11 games, and it holds its own against AMD’s Fiji-based GPUs in newer DirectX 12/Vulkan titles. We have a really hard time jumping from the $200 Radeon RX 480 to a $430 GTX 1070 at 2560x1440. But if you look back at our AMD Radeon RX 480 8GB Review, the R9 390X simply doesn’t warrant a $150 premium over Polaris. That’s how good the RX 480 is if you can get it for $200. Really, it takes a card like the 1070 to have an appreciable impact on your experience. If you don’t believe us, look back at the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB Review and observe how close the GTX 970, R9 390/390X, GTX 980, and GTX 1060 come to each other.

While we continue to favor single-GPU configurations, enough readers expressed a preference for the value proposition of SLI that we’re also adding a couple of GTX 1070s as an Honorable Mention. When everything’s working correctly, they’re good for cranking the quality dial at 4K at a substantially lower price than Titan X. Be warned, though: not all games support SLI equally, and there isn’t much you can do in VR using two GPUs.

Speaking of VR, we’re sticking with the GeForce GTX 1070 as our recommendation for playable performance on Oculus’ Rift and HTC’s Vive. While you could still get away with the Radeon R9 390X/GeForce GTX 970 we’ve recommended previously, Nvidia’s Pascal architecture includes a lot of optimization for VR. The GTX 1060 isn’t quite fast enough for our liking, so the 1070 earns recognition instead.

GTX 1070 - Newegg

Good @ 4K | Best @ VR

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
Picking the right card for a 4K screen is tough. Up until this month, the GeForce GTX 1080 was top of the line, and going any faster would have required a multi-GPU setup. Now, however, we can suggest the GTX 1080 for playable 4K frame rates and the Titan X for maxed-out quality settings. The GP104-based 1080 wields 2560 CUDA cores, 160 texture units, and 8 GB of GDDR5X on a 256-bit bus. Its performance is rivaled by just one other card, and yet it’s only rated for a 180 W TDP.

Shopping in this rarefied space gets expensive, so expect to pay at least $650 for a GTX 1080 in the face of limited availability.

GTX 1080 - Newegg

Best @ 4K

Nvidia Titan X
For all of those complaining that Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1080 isn’t fast enough for 4K gaming using ultra-quality presets, we present the Pascal architecture-based Titan X. Its GP102 processor sports 3584 CUDA cores, 224 texture units, and 96 ROPs associated with an aggregate 384-bit memory bus.
The additional resources are good for an almost-30% performance boost compared to GeForce GTX 1080 on average. Needless to say, no other single-GPU solution comes close at 4K with maxed-out detail settings.

Of course, Nvidia’s $1200 asking price is debilitating, as is the lack of availability from (the only source for these cards). But if you prefer one GPU to an SLI or CrossFire configuration, this is the way to go.

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