Considering recent game releases and the extremely high GPU requirements, a few questions that crop up amongst gamers are: What’s the Best GPU for Gaming ?

What graphics card should I buy ? Nvidia or AMD ? Should I get a reference model or get an expensive factory OCed GPU?

Most of the questions above are very subjective. Depending on who you ask, most will lean towards a biased brand preference based on personal experience. As opinions will vary drastically, if you’re someone with limited knowledge on the latest hardware and video game requirements, you might get confused.

 

Testing Methodology

To be able to test graphics card performance and provide an accurate verdict to what the best gaming GPU is, I first need to provide a few standards and the reasoning behind my choices.

 

Resolution and Preset

Taking a look at Steams hardware survey, of a little over 100 resolutions, 1920x1080p is the most common.  At the time of writing, 32.49% of Steam’s 65 million active user base games on the Full HD resolution. The good thing here is that 1080p, at maximum in-game settings, for a well-optimized demanding title, will eliminate any CPU bottleneck, providing us with clear results on how GPUs perform.

 

Where’s 1440p and 4K?

If you’re looking into getting a GPU for resolutions of 2560×1440 or above, you will need to be upgrading to the best single graphics card solution very often, turning down AA and settings further in the future or going SLI/Crossfire. When dialing up the resolution, very few graphics cards can keep up with newly released games and hold a steady 50-60 FPS + (which is one of the best experiences you can get with any fast-paced game) with no frame drops. I personally game at 4K but I know I’m killing my future-proofing even with a monster multi-GPU rig. For this article, we are looking to provide the best performance per dollar, but also future-proofing for at least 2-3 years in both the VRAM and power departments.

 

List of Games Tested

Picking a list of games was not an easy task. I prompted to go for a mix of the most demanding and a few newly released games. The games picked are only first person shooters and third person titles.

You might be wondering why?

If your GPU can run these games, it can run just about anything from MOBAs to Platformers and beyond.

FPS

Third Person

Drivers for both manufacturers are mature and all games are well-optimized. This will aid in eliminating any discrepancies in the deciding factors.

 

Best GPU For The Money

As mentioned earlier, I want to give the best recommendations for a future-proof graphics cards that can average 50-60 FPS with little to no effort across all current games while also having enough VRAM and power for a good 2-3 years in future releases.

I’ve added a novelty in the testing procedure – the “$ Cost Per FPS” value below the benchmark results, or as most already know it – price vs performance. As prices may vary from country to country and GPU price cuts or sales may occur, I’ve created a simple tool to calculate it. Basically, you *add currency value number here* divided by FPS, so you can play around and calculate the $/FPS for any GPU even ones that aren’t tested. You can find the tool here.

Here are a few of the cherry picked requirements for our GPU benchmarks:

  • VRAM : 3GB or above
  • Availability : Worldwide
  • Overclockability : 5% minimum (of reference)
  • DirectX Compatibility: 11+
  • FPS: 60 FPS or above (average) across all tested games

The requirements are very strict but this provides a purchase that will have longetivity.

Here are the prices that were used to calculate “$ Cost Per FPS” , the benchmarked GPUs, as well as their benchmarked overclocked frequencies.

Nvidia

  • GTX980: Stock: 1216 MHz Overclocked to 1279 MHz – $549
  • GTX970: Stock: 1178 MHz Overclocked to 1266 MHz – $329
  • GTX780TI : Stock: 928 MHz Overclocked to 1006 MHz – $489
  • GTX780 : Stock: 900 MHz Overclocked to 1266 MHz – $399

AMD

  • R9-290X : Stock: 1000 MHz Overclocked to 1050 MHz – $329
  • R9-290 : Stock: 947 MHz Overclocked to 977 MHz – $299
  • R9-280X : Stock: 1000 MHz Overclocked to 1050 MHz – $249

I didn’t want to go too crazy on the overclocks as most of the cards were stock. 99.9% of the time, any GPU you pick should easily be able to overclock to the numbers featured above.

Note: To be able to get the best performance out of your GPU, your build must be equally balanced especially in the CPU department. If you’re unsure that yours can keep up to the task, or are just curious, check out our best CPU article for more info.

 

Benchmark Components

CPU i7 3930K
Motherboard Asus P9X79 Deluxe
RAM Kingston Hyper-X 16GB 1600mhz
HDD/SSD Crucial M550 256GB
Monitor Asus PB287Q 28″ 4K 60Hz 1MS
PSU Corsair AX1200W
OS Windows 8.1
Drivers Nvidia: 347.09 WHQL Beta, AMD: Catalyst Omega 14.12

 

Enough on the prep work, let’s get down to what’s important – the benchmark results.

 

Battlefield 4 GPU Benchmark

If you’ve ever played Battlefield 4, chances are you already know how impressive the game looks and also how much GPU power you need to get a constant 60 FPS in multiplayer. It’s been nearly 2 years from release and quite a few things have improved.

Due to multiplayer being very hard to get consistent and accurate results, I run each benchmark 5 times (60 seconds) and provide the averages. I test a 64-player TDM on the the Siege of Shanghai map. This all, of course, without getting killed, so we don’t have any menu or re-spawn frame increases and deviations.

Graphic Settings: Ultra

 

Battlefield 4 GPU Benchmark

 

Battlefield 4 GPU Price-Performance

 

Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare GPU Benchmark

Recently released and amongst the most popular first person shooters , COD AW is a lot better optimized than what COD Ghosts was back when it was released. Similarly to BF4, each test was run 5 times in a 12-player TDM on the Riot map.

Graphic Settings: Maxed out with Super-Sampling, Cache Sun and Shadow Maps off.

 

Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare GPU Benchmark

 

 

Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare GPU Price-Performance

 

 

Crysis 3 GPU Benchmark

Cryengine has always been very resource hungry. While very dated, Crysis 3 still holds the crown as the “System Killer” for just about any single graphic card solution. For the test, I run a simple 60-second custom benchmark in the first single-player campaign “Post Human”.

Graphic Settings: Very High, Anti-Aliasing Disabled and 16xAF.

 

Crysis 3 GPU Benchmark

 

Crysis 3 GPU Price-Performance

 

Shadow of Mordor GPU Benchmark

It’s an open world third person game that fits in perfectly for our testing. One of the most interesting games of 2014, Shadow of Mordor’s Ultra settings VRAM requirements, at a whopping 6GB recommended, seemed to have shocked the gaming community.

There’s a built in benchmark, but I went for a custom 60-second run jumping from the tower at Udun Foothills (where we span after death or continue a saved game), kill the Orcs and Uruks that are under the tower and run through the Black Road towards the ruins.

Graphic Settings: Ultra Graphical Quality (with 3.7GB Ultra patch), Depth of Field, Order Independent Transparency and Tesselation ON.

 

Shadow Of Mordor GPU Benchmark

 

Shadow Of Mordor GPU Price-Performance

 

Dragon Age Inquisition GPU Benchmark

It’s an open world RPG game with very large environments to explore. Dragon Age Inquisition is the latest installment in the Dragon Age franchise. One of the more demanding titles across our games’ list, I run a custom 60- second benchmark in The Hinterlands Dwarfson’s Pass.

Graphic Settings: Ultra Preset

 

Dragon Age Inquisition GPU Benchmark

 

Dragon Age Inquisition GPU Price-Performance

 

Ryse Son of Rome GPU Benchmark

While AMD has a slightly unfair advantage in Ryse: Son of Rome, it was a must in our benchmarks. Ryse from Crytek is more of a tech demo than a game, one of the most impressive game releases of the year.

Ryse doesn’t have an internal benchmark so I picked the combat tutorial where Marius fights his father. I run towards the balcony where the arena building and courtyard are visible. The benchmark is run at that point, for 60 seconds, with vsync disabled and lock FPS disabled while all the other settings are controlled by the preset.

Graphic Settings : High, Temporal Anti-Aliasing Enabled, Anisotropic Filtering 8x, Motion Blur On, Super-Sampling OFF.

 

Ryse Son Of Rome GPU Benchmark

 

Ryse Son Of Rome GPU Price Performance

 

Best Value GPU For Gaming

The “$ Cost per FPS” novelty I added was to conclude what the best value GPU for gaming is. I have combined all the $ Cost Per FPS charts into one with the averages listed below. This is just cutting corners if you skipped the initial charts. (Lower is Better)

 

Best Price-Performance GPU for Gaming

 

We see AMD dominating in the price-performance category with the R9-280X leading the pack. The R9-290 and R9-290X aren’t far behind, in second and third place respectively.
Nvidia seems to be lacking across all their GPUs other than the GTX970, coming in at a close fourth place behind the R9-290X.

 

Best Performance Per Watt Graphics Card

You might be concerned about power consumption which in turn increases heat output. Here’s an extra chart I have added to demonstrate what the best performance per watt GPU is across our benchmarks.(Higher is Better)

Let’s first take a look at the stock thermal design power (TDP) needed for each graphics card.

GTX980 : 165W
GTX970 : 145W
GTX780TI : 250W
GTX780 : 250W
R9-290X : 290W
R9-290: 275W
R9-280X: 250W

 

Best Performance Per Watt Graphics Card

 

The GTX970 and GTX980 have 80-100% better performance per watt across our test series. Nvidia’s latest GTX9XX series improves power effiency tremendously on the Maxwell Architecture. They have overcome both AMD’s R9-2XX as well as their own GTX7XX by quite a big margin.

 

Reference Or Factory Overclocked ?

While non-reference factory overclocked models are cooler, getting a reference card and mildly overclocking is a cheaper solution. It all comes down to what you’re happy with and how much money you want to spend.

 

Conclusion

While the AMD R9-280X comes in at the best value, and the Nvidia GTX970 as the best performance per watt, the R9-290 and R9-290X seem to be exceptional options at current prices.

The GTX980 with its very low TDP, while the king of the charts (in FPS), it’s just too high priced to be worthwhile. If you’re thinking of getting either a GTX780 or GTX780TI, prefer to steer towards the GTX970. It has 1GB more VRAM, it’s a lot less power hungry and also provides similar performance at a better price.

About The Author

"Overclock and benchmark freak"

  • Haunted Abyss

    GJ on the chart it was very accurate.

    BY ebay standards as of Jan 2014 I found the R9 280x on ebay for avg of $130-160 thats 3x lower then the 780 and thats not even a TI
    Even 290x was around $200 avg
    If you Crossfire 2 R9280x’s that wouldnt be the best but you will be around the 980 and 1/2 the cost

    • jojo

      Isnt ebay second hand mostly?

      • Haunted Abyss

        actually no you can buy from retailers too

        • nashathedog

          Not at the prices your quoting though, $200 for a 290x must be secondhand.

          • Nikolas Nikolaou

            Ebay on brand new items is usually overpriced. Yeap, he is probably refering to second hand.

    • Nikolas Nikolaou

      @hauntedabyss:disqus that’s one of the reasons I have added the $ Cost Per FPS calculator here : http://www.hardwarepal.com/gpu-performance-cost-per-fps/ . Use the FPS stated on the article and punch in the cheapest price you can find.

      • Haunted Abyss

        hey thanks, My R9 280x Is $1.7 per frame.. Thats hella good. I compared it to the 980 and the price per frame was almost 4-6 dollars more avg per frame. I didnt think i actually did that good.. Tho the 980 can OC way way way more then the 280x can. 🙁
        edit 2 :SO i calculated the cost the 980 OC from some other sites, goes down to almost 3.-4 more dollars instead of 4-6 when compared.

        SO conclusion… I will upgrade in march. to a 980 or a TI. would save me money and i dont need to Cross fire and deal with other headaches

        • nashathedog

          You’d be better served waiting a bit longer for the 300 series.

          • Nikolas Nikolaou

            I don’t know what price point AMD are going to release the R9-3XX series cards. Due to HBM I think they are going to be slightly more expensive than what we are use to. If TDP and heat output are better than previous gen, I’m going to jump on 2 for Crossfire.

  • Dynasty2021

    The GTX 970 is insanely good for what you pay.

    OC it (buy an MSI version for the best cooling and least noise for example) and you can match a stock GTX 980 for roughly half the price. That’s just incredible.

    If you can find a cheap 780 Ti, as lets face it, everyone is trying to switch by selling their current card(s), then grab it as it’s not THAT much worse than the 970. The 970 just uses far less power. Hell, you can pick up a 770 for around £150 these days – those in SLI are awesome for 1080p at 120hz.

    SLI 970s for the price of roughly one GTX 980 (best card on the market) and you have an insanely good setup.