That single, simple sentence cuts to the core of what people on the hunt for a new graphics card are looking for: The most oomph they can afford. Sure, graphics cards are complicated pieces of modern technology, powered by billions of transistors and countless other types of intricate hardware, but people just want to crank the detail settings on Far Cry and just plain play.
Answering the question can be a bit trickier than it seems. Raw performance is a big part of it, but factors like noise, the driver experience, and supplemental software all play a role in determining which graphics card to buy, too.
Let us be your guiding light. We’ve tested graphics cards of all shapes, sizes, and price points to nail down exactly what you can expect for your money—from itty-bitty $90 cards to gargantuan, $700 behemoths with not one, but two graphics processors and custom watercooling loops. We’ll also talk a bit about the “extras” that can sway your buying decision, like Nvidia’s ShadowPlay software and AMD’s performance-boosting Mantle API, and we’ll issue buying recommendations for various price points. Finally, I’ll update this article with performance data from every new GPU that launches going forward, so you’ll always have the most recent information at hand.
Graphics cards are expensive. Choosing one can be complicated. But it won’t be after reading this. Let’s dig in.
The gear we used
Hold your horses! Before we dive into raw numbers we need to detail our test system and the cards we’ve tested. If you want to jump right into the juicy benchmarks, skip ahead to the third page. Buying recommendations are on the final page of this article.
Still with me? Great. Here are the details of our test rig. Yes, it’s powerful—and definitely overkill for gaming—but that eliminates any pesky potential bottlenecking situations in the system. For more information you can check out our build guide for PCWorld’s graphics testing PC.
- Intel’s Core i7-5960X with a Corsair Hydro Series H100i closed-loop water cooler
- An Asus X99 Deluxe motherboard
- Corsair’s Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory,Obsidian 750D full tower case, and 1200-watt AX1200i power supply
- A 480GB Intel 730 series SSD (I’m a sucker for that skull logo!)
- Windows 8.1 Pro
We tested as many different GPUs as possible—one GeForce GTX 750 Ti, one Radeon R9 290X, et cetera—with a preference for models with custom cooling solutions, in order to mimic as realistic a scenario as possible. A couple of high-end reference cards are also included.
Models of all current Nvidia GPUs have been benchmarked, but you’ll notice some missing Radeon models, such as the R7 260X and the R9 285. This is due to a few things: PCWorld’s graphics card review coverage was kind of light the past couple of years, and AMD hasn’t released much new graphics hardware since fall 2013. Plus,wowee the Radeon R-series has a lot of different GPUs! So we gathered as many models as we could. As I said, I plan to update this article with each and every new mainstream GPU launch, so the gaps should start filling in quickly once the next-gen Radeons start rolling out.