But if you do have a budget, it’s not quite that easy. There are dozens of cards to choose from in every price range, and depending on your budget, the best card can change dramatically.
What this article intends to do is figure out what is the best video card you can buy in 2013 with a budget of under $250, but over $200. For most hardware categories, this is the sweet spot.
Picking The Right Video Card
Picking the right GPUs to compare in this article wasn’t as simple as looking up the current AMD and Nvidia cards between $200-250. This is because both companies have different price ranges covered with very little overlap, and manufacturers go from there. To make things more complicated, AMD cut their prices quite a bit after the introduction of the GeForce 660 Ti and 660; while the GeForce 660 was originally going to compete with the Radeon 7850, it now how to contend with the 7870.
Here is a list of average GPU prices with min and max ranges, based on price aggregator PCPartPicker. This site keeps track of the lowest prices available across various online retailers.
Avg Price (Min-Max)
|$380 ($360-410)||GeForce 670 2GB|
|Radeon 7950||$330 ($290-390)|
|$300 ($270-320)||GeForce 660 Ti|
|Radeon 7870||$260 ($220-310)|
|$230 ($214-250)||GeForce 660|
|Radeon 7850||$200 ($170-250)|
|$160 Avg ($140-180)||GeForce 650 Ti|
As you can see, the average price ranges are never covered by both companies in the same $30-50 range. The average price for a GeForce 660 is $230, but with the right deal you can pick one up for as little as $214 right now. You could say that its original intended competition was the Radeon 7850, but those have been cut to as little as $170, with an average price of just around $200. Move $30 in the other direction though, and you are looking at the Radeon 7870.
So while it’s tough to compare a pair of specific examples from each side, I think the most direct competition in the $220-250 price range are indeed the GeForce 660 and Radeon 7870. We may look at the GeForce 660 Ti and Radeon 7950 at another time.
The entrants in today’s comparison are both represented by Gigabyte. Representing the Radeon 7870, we have the GV-R787OC-2GD. For the GeForce 660 side, we have the GV-N660OC-2GD. They cost $250 and $230 respectively online, any rebate offers notwithstanding. As of right now, the Radeon comes with full copies of Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider (2013), while the GeForce will get you $150 worth coupons to use in-game in World of Tanks, Hawken, and Planetside 2 ($50 each). I’ll let you decide for yourself which you think is the better deal…
The design of each card sort of tells us where they are intended to sit in terms of price range. The 660 is the smaller card, with a pair of fans and a single 6-pin PCI-E port. The 7870 has three fans, and a pair of 6-pin ports. Both cards are Gigabyte’s OC models – the 7870 is clocked at 1100 MHz, up from 1000 MHz, and the 660 has its boost clock set to 1098 MHz, up from 980 MHz stock.
Both cards come in a no-nonsense package, with not much to speak of in the way of extras. The hardware itself is well designed however, as you’d expect from Gigabyte. Both feature large heatsinks with copper heat pipes, and stay quiet under load. They can make use of Gigabyte’s “OC GURU II” monitoring software, where you can set your own fan profile, and do some overclocking of your own.
As you scroll through our gaming benchmarks (unless you decide skip right to the conclusion – you know who you are), you will notice that our GPU reviews are not like most you have come across. That is because it has been determined that looking at the average frame rate of a game across a times benchmark doesn’t give you nearly enough data to tell you how smoothly a game plays.
This paradigm shift in GPU reviewing methodology was initiated by Scott Wasson at Tech Report. He has spent the last few years investigating frame delivery time in games, and we were the first site to switch over to this format last year. Other sites are starting to make the switch, or at least supplementing their reviews with some frame time charts and other alternatives. However like Scott, we believe that it is the ultimately the best way to evaluate gaming performance.
In fact, in some cases a GPU can deliver higher frames per second overall, but seem to be not displaying frames completely. This leads to animation that is not smooth in practice. We’ll still be giving you the FPS score of our tests, to point out when this happens.
I will explain how the charts themselves work as we go through the games.
Speaking of games, these are the ones we used for this review. All games were tested using 60 seconds of real play, recorded in FRAPS. Each playthrough was run 5 times, and the most representative run of the majority (based on total frames delivered in 60 seconds) was chosen for the data to evaluate. All games were run at 1920×1080.
|CPU||Intel Core i7 3770K (Review)|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H Motherboard|
|GPU Drivers||AMD: 13.1, 13.2b7|
|Memory||8GB Kingston HyperX Genesis @ 9-9-9-27 (Review)|
|OS||Windows 8 Professional x64 RTM|
|Test Notes||CPU Speed Locked at 100%|
|Assassin's Creed 3||3rd Person Action||1.03||AnvilNext|
|Batman: Arkham City||3rd Person Action||GOTY||Unreal Engine 3|
|Battlefield 3||First Person Shooter||1.04||Frostbite 2|
|Crysis 3||First Person Shooter||126.96.36.1990||CryEngine 3|
|Far Cry 3||First Person Shooter||1.04||Dunia Engine 2|
|Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012)||Racing||1.0||Chameleon|
|Skyrim||First Person RPG||188.8.131.52||Creation Engine|
|Sleeping Dogs||3rd Person Action||1.8||Sleeping Dogs|
|Witcher 2||3rd Person RPG||3.3||RED Engine|
With nine modern games, all using different engines, we should get a pretty good idea on how these GPUs compare overall.
One thing we need to consider is that the Radeon 7000 series seems to have been hit by a bug where it was not delivering frames smoothly in some games. When this happens, the frame rate is high, but the actual frame delivery varies greatly. This has been addressed in the latest 13.2 beta driver. We only tested one game that was fixed in the beta driver (Skyrim), so we used both the 13.2 beta and 13.1 WHQL driver in that game. We also used the beta for Crysis 3, since it apparently addresses some issues with the game on Radeon cards.
Another growing concern of the video card market is General Purpose GPU computing. This refers to using the GPU to perform operations other than gaming, and can include video encoding, 3d rendering, physics calculation, protein folding, and more. We will be considering three areas that a casual user would be most interested in – Video encoding, 3D rendering, and distributed computing (including BitCoin mining and Folding@Home).
We have a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it!