Under The Hood: Getting the best performance for your GPU dollar can be a tricky proposition. From high end to more affordable models, we have put together a list of the best upgrades.
Upgrading is not just as simple as buying the most expensive video card possible — there are a huge number of different GPUs available. If you want gaming performance, the sweet spot is around the $300 mark.
The problem is, paying more or less doesn't scale linearly with performance. For example, a GPU twice as expensive doesn't offer twice the performance. While you can run GPUs in SLI or CrossFire, that doesn't give double the performance either.
If you are still rocking a gaming PC from a few years back, then don't shell out for the very fastest video card — your existing system simply won’t be able to keep up.
If you already have a high-end PC, then stepping up to the latest GPU may only give a small performance benefit, so compare benchmarks online before shelling out cash. If you want to get into 4K gaming, or run multiple monitors, you may need to really stretch the budget.
With Computex in early June, we can expect a range of new GPUs. The new models will be expensive at first, but will tend to push down the prices of existing cards, so keep an eye out for bargains.
Don’t forget about second-hand GPUs either. For an older PC, a cheap last generation graphics card can offer excellent performance for your dollar. It’s also a good way to make a few bucks off your existing hardware if you do upgrade.
No matter what GPU you buy, look for models that offer something extra. A factory overclock is a great way to get a little more performance. Some manufacturers also offer bundles with free games, or aftermarket cooling solutions that are both quieter and dump heat better.
Be specific in what you search for. For example, searching AMD Radeon R9 270 vs Radeon R9 270 returns less results (with higher minimum prices), as some brands are excluded.
As always, keep an eye out for specials and bargains — you can often pick these GPUs up for a decent discount.
AMD Radeon R9 270
Now an older card, the Radeon R9 270 gives reasonable performance for not too many dollars.
We very much recommend stepping up to the $300 price bracket, but if your budget can’t strength that far, the 270 is a decent choice. It’s slightly faster than the 750 Ti, but also slightly more expensive.
The Radeon R9 270X offers only a slight boost in performance for a $30 price jump.
You can also get away with a 300W or better PSU and a single 6-pin power connector.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti
For a cheap but capable gaming GPU, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti is a solid choice if you are willing to compromise.
You won’t be able to get the fastest frame rates at higher resolutions unless you drop back the quality a little. Still, for the price it’s hard to go too wrong.
If you are willing to go second hand, similar money can buy a faster GPU. The 750 Ti needs a 300W or better PSU, but doesn't use any external power connections.
AMD Radeon R9 280
Over a year old now, the Radeon 280 is still one of the best bang for buck GPUs available. Prices haven't really dropped either and it can be occasionally hard to find.
The 280 will struggle with high-end 4K gaming, so if you want to push the resolution limits, prepare to spend a little more.
The faster Radeon R9 280X can be had for $299, but doesn’t give the biggest performance boost considering the price bump. You will need a 500W+ PSU with both a 6- and 8-pin connector.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960
The GeForce GTX 960 edges out the Radeon R9 280, but is turn just beaten by the 280X. Considering the price, it’s one the better gaming GPUs for those on a budget.
While the Radeon competition has a slight edge in performance for your dollar, the GTX 960 is a lot more power efficient. It won’t instantly lower your power bill, but if you do a lot of gaming, the savings will add up enough to make the GTX 960 a slightly cheaper option.
You will need a 400W+ PSU with a single 6-pin connector.
AMD Radeon R9 290X
The Radeon R9 290X have been kicking around for over a year now, but still offers high end performance. Most importantly, it can handle 4K gaming, with fast frame rates.
It’s a hot and noisy card, so make sure you look at models with an aftermarket heat sink. A 500W+ PSU is must have, as well as both a 6- pin and 8-pin power connector.
You can pick up the non X 290 a little cheaper, but you also get a corresponding drop in performance.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970
For future-proofed gaming without going too overkill on the budget, the GTX 970 is one of the best choices available. It can handle 4K gaming – even across multiple displays.
The GTX 970 is ommonly factory overclocked, which offers a small but welcome boost in performance. The GeForce GTX 970 actually offers slightly better performance for your dollar than the 290X, so unless you have a particular allegiance to the boys in red, NVIDIA wins here.
You will need a 500W or better PSU, as well as dual 6-pin power connectors.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980
The GTX 980 offers top-notch performance, but does so at a hefty cost. In fact, its biggest competitor is the GTX 970, which is only mildly slower considering the huge price difference.
Still, if you want the very best frame rates for 4K gaming (and don’t want to mess around with SLI) then the GTX 980 is about your only choice. You will need a 500W or better PSU and two 6-pin power connectors.
There is no real AMD competition at this price point either — the R9 295X2 is harder to find and at $1000+, a lot more expensive, despite offering comparable performance.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan X 12GB
The ultimate GPU that money can buy today is the GTX Titan X. Without delving into SLI, there is literally no better option for high end gaming. Of course, it’s not exactly bang for buck, but that’s not the point.
The Titan X is probably overkill if you don’t plan any 4K gaming unless you are pushing for stupidly high frame rates. If you want to go totally hardcore, it’s also possible to run the Titan X in 4 way SLI.
The Titan is somewhat efficient all things considered, but still needs a 600W or higher PSU and both an 8-pin and a 6-pin power connector. Check out the full Australian review over at Gizmodo.
Originally published on Lifehacker Australia