Best Graphics Card of 2016

Mon 25th Jan 2016 - 12:45pm

Best Overall Graphics Card

 Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti


If you ignore the Titan X -- which you certainly should as it costs twice as much for <10% performance gain -- then theGeForce GTX 980 Ti is the most powerful GPU and that makes it an easy choice as the best overall graphics card. This is only reinforced by the fact that the card can be heavily overclocked to gain in excess of 20% extra performance.

Compared to AMD's big hitter, the Fury X, the 980 Ti is faster before any overclocking takes place. Nvidia's flagship may be larger, but it doesn't come with a bulky radiator hanging off the back. Moreover, custom cards from Gainward, MSI, Gigabyte, and others run rather cool and quiet.

Also the Best for Multi-GPU 4K Gaming

The 980 Ti is really the only single GPU solution capable to tackling 4K gaming, though for the best experience gamers will still want two of these running in SLI. This also makes the 980 Ti the best multi-GPU solution for gaming at 4K in our opinion.

Currently the 980 Ti can be had for as little as $620, though most cards go for about $650, the same price as the most affordable Fury X cards.


Best Value Performance

 Nvidia GeForce GTX 970


When we recently compared graphics cards at every price point we had a hard time picking a $300 winner out of theRadeon R9 390 and GeForce GTX 970. Choosing between the two is still a difficult task, but AMD's much improved Crimson drivers have certainly helped its cause.

Gaming at 1440p, the performance between the R9 390 and GTX 970 is much the same, though if you plan to game at 1080p then the 970 does have a slight performance advantage. The GTX 970 also consumes less power and generally overclocks by a greater percentage over the stock frequency.

Picking the GTX 970 is a controversial choice, but I am sticking with my original decision to go with it. Clearly many of you agree, as the GTX 970 was seen recently topping Steam charts as the most popular GPU.

My choice for the GTX 970 also stems from the fact that I don't believe the 390's 8GB VRAM buffer is future-proofing or even useful. I see it more as a marketing strategy. I also don't buy into the stories that the GTX 970 will fall well behind the R9 390 once DX12 titles start to appear. If the Radeon R9 290was still around, it would likely get my pick as the best value performance graphics card.

If you already have a favorite side in this battle, both the GTX 970 and R9 390 are excellent $300 options and objectively there is no wrong choice to make here.


Best Mainstream

 AMD Radeon R9 380


Out of the box, the Radeon R9 380 is a superior performer compared to its direct competitor, the GeForce GTX 960. Both start at $180 for a 2GB model or $200 for 4GB.

We recommend the cheaper 2GB model to those on a tight budget as it will deliver the same performance as its larger capacity version in more than 90% of the games around currently. On the other hand, if another $20 won't break the bank then opt for the larger 4GB model.

In the vast majority of games, the R9 380 is going to be faster than the GTX 960 where factory overclocks apply. However, the Maxwell-based 960 does overclock better and if you plan to push these cards to the max then the 960 might end up being slightly faster.

Another thing for budget users to consider is that the GTX 960 plays much better with low-end GPUs than the R9 380 due to AMD's driver overhead. Still, if you have a Core i3 or better, the effects of AMD's driver overhead will be minimal for the most part.


Best Budget

 Nvidia GeForce GTX 950


As has been the case with all categories so far, it's been a tight race between Nvidia and AMD offerings. Starting at $135 we have the Radeon R7 370, while the GeForce GTX 950 costs a little more at $150. Out of the box the GTX 950 is at least 10% faster than the R7 370, so that neutralizes the price difference.

Where the GTX 950 wins out is in its greater efficiency, allowing it to provide that extra performance without consuming additional power. The real win for budget enthusiasts is the GTX 950’s overclocking abilities, which grants a 20 to 25% boost while the R7 370 will at best achieve 15%.

If your budget will only allow for the R7 370 then rest assured you are still getting a good deal, just keep in mind that the 370 is based on the four year old GCN 1.0 architecture, so current AMD technologies such as TrueAudio and FreeSync aren't supported.


Best HTPC/Compact Card

 AMD Radeon R9 Nano


Best home theater slash compact graphics card you ask? No, we didn't create this category just so we could pick theRadeon R9 Nano. Likewise, we don't think AMD created the Nano just so they could showcase their new HBM technology, though that was no doubt a big part of it.

For years now Nvidia's board partners have been developing special ITX versions of high-end graphics cards, such as theGTX 670 or GTX 970. While these are niche products, demand for compact graphics cards is starting to increase and the Nano has the biggest heart of them all in the littlest package.

When we reviewed the Nano last September we concluded by saying that it delivered exceptional efficiency and passable 4K performance in an amazingly compact card that nonetheless seemed overpriced.

For $650 at time of release, the Nano was priced in line with the faster GTX 980 Ti with its only real advantage being its compact size, a feature few gamers need or want to take advantage of, making the Nano an expensive niche product. We considered it niche enough that we didn't even bother including it in our roundup of the best graphics cards.

However, AMD has surprised us recently by slashing the Nano's price down to $500, placing it squarely against the GTX 980 for a fight we feel it wins easily. If you can keep the Nano cool enough, it's possible to achieve Fury Xperformance, making this now $500 graphics card a real gem




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