EGMR Awards 2015: Best GPU
The Best GPU of 2015 is a very hard thing to choose, since like games, there are many categories to choose from. Unlike games though, there is a some level of quantifiable metric (i.e MATH) involved in determining the best GPU on a variety of characteristics, be they cost, performance per watt or overall performance averaged across their respective metrics. 2015 has been a stellar year for GPUs and their performance, just a shame we’ve had to endure rising costs at home. 2015 has seen a plethora of new technologies and features start to take root in the technosphere–DirectX 12 is here, FreeSync has arrived, commercial HBM graphics cards are now a thing and NVIDIA still has a $1000 GPU.
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So, naturally the best performing GPU is not necessarily the one with the highest frame rate or the lowest power consumption, but those that score well enough on all metrics. So although it’s a difficult measure to do, it’s not impossible to tease out an answer as long as there is some evidence of that fact. Since we’ve never been sent a graphics card to review, I will make use of a review site I usually go to for these kind of metrics, and that’s TechPowerUp. After much combing through results I have determined that the best graphics cards to buy in 2015 have been the R9 390 and the GTX 970. However, should you decide on Green or Red? Read on to find out.
GPU Nominee: AMD Radeon R9 390
GPU Nominee: NVIDIA GTX 970
Now there is some deliberation about which one is the outright winner, and looking at performance/dollar performance/watt and performance summary overall , it’s pretty clear that the GTX 970 and R9 390 are usually within spitting distance of each other. They have elements of high end performance as they are usually cut down versions of their bigger brothers (Hawaii/GK 204), but mixed in with their pricing being below the psychological $350 “OMG EXPENSIVE” barrier, and above the mid range arena of $250, it means they are the go to choice for high end gaming performance on a budget. At $329, they fall in between these two pricing points of high end and mid range.
Now most would point towards the GTX 960 or the R9 380x as the best buys of the year considering their prices are significantly lower and they offer great 1080P performance and seem to be achieving the better performance ratios. However, crank it up to 1440P and beyond and the cards performance ratio decline is greater than the GTX 970 or R9 390, whereas the higher end cards don’t fall off the horse quite as bad. For instance, the GTX 960 falls a total of 18% in dollar/performance as it moves to 4K, while the GTX 970 only falls 11%.
Now, how do we determine which one is better? The latest reviews that contain a R9 390 and GTX 970 show that the R9 390 starts to edge ahead of the GTX 970 as resolution increases, being about the same at 1440p, whereas at 1080P the GTX 970 is ahead. The areas where the GTX 970 dominate are within local pricing and power consumption as well as overclocking. The R9 390, besides a new name, is essentially a more power efficient and higher clocked R9 290, which means that overclocking the card does not yield much more performance as the core speeds are at the limits of the silicon–only yielding 5-7% on the core and 15% on the memory. However, the GTX 970 is a much friendlier card to overclock, and can easily achieve a 15% overclock on the core and 12% overclock on the memory.
The next factor is memory limitations, with modern gaming at 4K becoming a distinct reality, even with a 1080P monitor–thanks to the ability of DSR and VSR, you don’t need a 1440P or 4K monitor to experience gaming at those resolutions. With that in mind, the 8GB of the R9 390 is a tasty proposition, and the 3.5+0.5GB of the GTX 970 is less so. Cranking up the resolution has shown the GTX 970 lose out, but then again, even at the high resolution of 4K both cards are outputting frames that are below playable, so comparing them at such high resolutions becomes a moot point. Even with 8GB of VRAM, although it’s welcomed, it’s still not quick enough at 4K for it to really matter.
Much stock is given to pure hardware numbers, but user experience with software is also a key defining area for choosing a GPU. Basing your decision on which GPU to chose based on software should not be a major selling point, but it should still be considered. A month ago I would have said hands down NVIDIA and their GeForce Experience is the sleekest driver and software suite, but with the release of Radeon Software and Crimson drivers, AMDs very sexy software suite and new driver have rightfully turned some heads. AMD have finally arrived in this department, and although some teething issues were experienced, the software suite is very good, offering up to date features and even some new ones. Their drivers also increased performance quite nicely, and although there were initial cheers from camp red around Asynchronous shader performance in Ashes Of The Singularity, NVIDIA seems to have rectified their performance issues and are now ahead of AMD in that benchmark, although the GTX 970 is a tad slower than the R9 390.
The GTX 970 is our pick. Surprisingly the best GPU to buy in 2015 was between a card released in 2014 or a rebranded 2013 card. The overall performance of the GTX 970 remains extremely strong in modern titles at “mostly” ultra settings and 1440P resolution. This does not mean the R9 390 is not a great buy in itself, as I really would not put it out to pasture if you could find one for a better price than the GTX 970. Just know that although not a factor for everyone, with electricity prices on an upward trend, the increased power consumption of the R9 390 might eventually erode any savings you might get in price and power supply requirements, even for dual GPU upgrades in future. For that reason, and the others explained in the article, the GTX 970 takes the cake as the best GPU to buy in 2015.