You might say 2015 hasn't been the most exciting year for graphics cards, though in many ways it was more eventful than 2014. The only big highlight last year was the arrival high-end Maxwell GPUs in the form of the GeForce GTX 980 and 970. Then this year Maxwell did what many thought was impossible: becoming considerably faster.
AU Editor's Note: This story has been updated with Australian pricing where possible. Price estimations were pulled from PCPartPicker, and averaged across any card's particular price range. While the original story was based on US prices, we think the conclusions made of performance between competing cards is still relevant and interesting. — Cam
Last year's GTX 980 featured 2048 CUDA cores, which now looks underwhelming put against the Titan X's whopping 3072 CUDA cores, a nice 50 per cent bump for the architecture. Nvidia also went the other way, releasing the circa-$250 GTX 950 which sports just 768 CUDA cores.
All told, Nvidia released four new GPUs in 2015, while AMD delivered eight cards if you're willing to be loose with the definition of "new" and three if you're not, namely the Radeon R9 Fury X, Fury and Nano.
Some of you are probably shouting that the 390X and 390 are new as well. Yes, the Radeon R9 390X and 390 received double the VRAM, but they are essentially the same GCN 1.1 GPUs — 290X and 290, respectively. Thus far, the larger 8GB memory buffer has proven to be of little benefit, so we prefer the cheaper 290s anyway.
At this point, it looks like AMD and Nvidia have finally squeezed the most out of the 28nm design process. Before moving on, AMD will release a dual-GPU version of the Fury X which should become the Fury X2. Nvidia could also return fire with a dual-GPU monster of its own.
Something we haven't seen a lot of this year has been price cuts. AMD was forced into aggressive discounts last year to compete, but this year the company has been competitive at the upper end of the high-performance GPU market and has therefore felt less pressure to reduce prices.
The key battles are currently being played out between the GTX 750 Ti and R7 360 at similar prices of around $160, the R7 370 and GTX 950 at prices of approximately $230 and $250, the R9 380 and GTX 960 at $280 and $300 respectively, the R9 390 and GTX 970 at $500 and $520, the R9 390X and GTX 980 at $620 and $800, and finally the R9 Fury X and GTX 980 Ti at $1100 and $1200. By the end of this article we should have figured out what are the best buys at every price point.
AU Editor's Note: As you can see, in Australia, we pay a premium for cards based on Nvidia's GeForce GTX graphics chipsets versus AMD's Radeon cores. (This data comes from PCPartPicker.) In the US, the cards mentioned in pairs above are roughly equal in price, making a comparison between each two relevant. In Australia, the argument is whether it's worth paying more for an Nvidia card, based on the benchmark results below. — Cam
Test System Specs
- Intel Core i7-5960X (3.00GHz)
- x4 4GB Kingston Predator DDR4-2400 (CAS 12-13-13-24)
- Asrock X99 Extreme6 (Intel X99)
- Silverstone Strider Series (700w)
- Crucial MX200 1TB (SATA 6Gb/s)
- GeForce GTX 750 Ti (2048MB)
- GeForce GTX 760 (2048MB)
- GeForce GTX 950 (2048MB)
- GeForce GTX 960 (2048MB)
- GeForce GTX 970 (4096MB)
- GeForce GTX 980 (4096MB)
- GeForce GTX 980 Ti (6144MB)
- GeForce Titan X (12288MB)
- Radeon R7 265 (2048MB)
- Radeon R7 360 (2048MB)
- Radeon R7 370 (2048MB)
- Radeon R9 270 (2048MB)
- Radeon R9 285 (2048MB)
- Radeon R9 380 (2048MB)
- Radeon R9 390 (8192MB)
- Radeon R9 390X (8192MB)
- Radeon R9 Fury (4096MB)
- Radeon R9 Fury X (4096MB)
- Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
- Nvidia GeForce 358.50
- AMD Catalyst 15.7.1
Benchmarks: Battlefield 4, Thief
Starting with the budget cards we see that the R7 360 was 6 per cent slower than the GTX 750 Ti at 1080p with an average of just 31fps. The R7 370 also lost out to the GTX 950 as it was 4 per cent slower with an average of 45fps.
AMD got its first win in the $230-$300 battle as the R9 380 was 5 per cent faster than the GTX 960 with an average of 58fps. The R9 390 vs. GTX 970 battle ends in a tie as both graphics cards averaged a very playable 87fps at 1080p.
Moving to 1600p for the $620-$800 battles, the R9 390X was 5 per cent slower than the GTX 980 (though it's cheaper as well), the Fury X suffered a 12 per cent blow against the GTX 980 Ti which allowed for an average of 78fps, and the Fury X was limited to 69fps.
The R7 360 took charge in Thief at 1080p as it was 8 per cent faster than the GTX 750 Ti with an average of just 28fps. The R7 370 was still slower than the GTX 950 though this time by just a single frame which equated to a 3 per cent performance margin. The R9 380 pulled further ahead of the GTX 960 with an average of 55fps making it 10 per cent faster. The R9 390 was also 8 per cent faster than the GTX 970 and it managed an average of 77fps.
Jumping up to 1600p we see that the R9 390X was 6 per cent slower than the GTX 980 while the GTX 980 Ti was 6 per cent slower than the Fury X.
Benchmarks: Watch Dogs, Far Cry 4
The R7 360 really struggled in Watch Dogs and with an average of just 29fps it was 12 per cent slower than the GTX 750 Ti. The R7 370 performed better though it was still 2 per cent slower than the GTX 950 (just a 1fps difference here).
The R9 380 was again able to outpace the GTX 960 by a small 5 per cent margin at 1080p. The R9 390 was only 3 per cent faster than the GTX 970 which worked out to be a 2fps advantage.
Increasing the resolution to 2560x1600 we find that the R9 390X was 8 per cent slower than the GTX 980, while the Fury X was 11 per cent slower than the GTX 980 Ti.
AMD is expected to have an advantage in Far Cry 4, though this wasn't true for the R7 360, which was still 4 per cent slower than the GTX 750 Ti at 1080p with an average of just 25fps. Despite that the R7 370 was 3 per cent faster than the GTX 950, which equated to just a single frame per second.
The R9 380 continued its dominance over the GTX 960 with a 12 per cent win in Far Cry, where it averaged 48fps opposed to 43fps. The R9 390 enjoyed its biggest win yet with 75fps on average, 14 per cent faster than the GTX 970.
For the first time the R9 390X was faster than the GTX 980 at 1600p with an average of 55fps for an 8 per cent lead. The Fury X also outpaced the GTX 980 Ti, winning by a 6 per cent margin.
Benchmarks: Civilisation, Total War Attila
The R7 360 was good for 39fps at 1080p in Civilisation: Beyond Earth, 11 per cent faster than the GTX 750 Ti. However, the R7 370 didn't fare quite as well falling short of the GTX 950's 51fps by an 8 per cent margin. The R9 380 once again took control over the GTX 960 as it was 4 per cent faster. Finally, the R9 390 was just 1 per cent slower than the GTX 970.
Increasing to 1600p we found the R9 390X and GTX 980 delivering the exact same performance with an average of 69fps each. The Fury X was also 3 per cent faster than the GTX 980 Ti, though with 89fps it was just 3fps faster.
The 1080p resolution proved too much for the sub-$200 GPUs and while the R7 360 was 7 per cent faster than the GTX 750 Ti, it only managed an average of 16fps. The R7 370 was crushed by the GTX 950, delivering 14 per cent less performance for an average of just 19fps. That said, the GTX 950 wasn't exactly smooth with 22fps.
Moving up to the R9 380 vs. GTX 960 battle we are on the edge of playable performance and for the first time the R9 380 is slower than the GTX 960 — 7 per cent slower, in fact. The R9 390 was also 11 per cent slower than the GTX 970 which managed an impressive 44fps.
Playing Total War: Attila at 1600p using the maximum in-game setting puts a huge load on the system, the result being that high-end graphics cards such as the R9 390X average just 28fps and this meant it was 7 per cent slower than the GTX 980 which offered just 30fps.
The R9 Fury X managed 37fps, just 3 per cent slower than the GTX 980 Ti's 38fps average.
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Steven Walton is a writer at TechSpot. TechSpot is a computer technology publication serving PC enthusiasts, gamers and IT pros since 1998.