• Graphics Cards

    reviews & comparisons

    The top performers in our review are the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, the Gold Award winner; the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, the Silver Award winner; and the AMD Radeon R9 290X, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a graphics card to meet your needs, along with details of how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.

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    Graphics Card Review

    Dedicated graphics cards, also known as video cards, enhance the video performance of your computer. These cards all have a built-in graphics processor (GPU) connected to a dedicated memory subsystem. The GPU takes care of turning data into displayed pixels, and the dedicated memory provides fast access to 3D models and texture data without blocking access to the computer's system memory.

    Basic computer tasks like word processing, reading email and web browsing don't require much in the way of video processing power. However, most people expect their systems to play high-definition videos, support multi-monitor output, display and process digital photos, and run the latest graphics-intensive games at high frame rates. Graphics cards have the power to handle these tasks efficiently, providing you with a beautiful and immersive visual experience.

    All modern video cards share some common features. You must install them in a PCI Express slot in your computer, and most are dual-slot cards, meaning they use two of the backplane slots of your computer's case. Video cards put this space to good use, packing output connectors and fan exhaust vents into this area. Modern cards have multiple outputs, and most include a variety of video connector types: HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI-I.

    Of course, not everyone is comfortable opening a computer case and installing hardware. If you're interested in computers with good graphics performance but don't want to deal with the details, check out our guide to gaming computers. Also, keep in mind that the video cards in this lineup can't be used in laptop computers because of the space and connection limitations. Both AMD and Nvidia produce laptop graphics cards, but they usually require special hardware and cooling. If you prefer using a laptop and want good graphics performance, check out our guide to gaming laptops, featuring machines designed to use laptop video cards.

    Graphics cards also require plenty of power. Most specify a minimum wattage requirement for your system's power supply and use two specialized power connectors. All the video cards we reviewed have one or more onboard fans that keep the GPU cool. These fans generate noise, which varies depending on the graphics load.

    When choosing a graphics card, you'll want to consider your intended use before you buy. The top graphics cards can handle almost any display task, but they're also expensive, use more power and produce more heat. All the models in this lineup can stream high-definition video at 1080p resolution, handle basic photo processing and run most games, but you may have to adjust in-game video settings for the low-end cards. They'll also drive multiple monitors, letting you keep several applications running and visible at once.

    If you're interested in very high-resolution, high-quality gaming, or you plan on using multiple monitors for intensive image or video processing, you should choose a higher-end card. If you're a casual gamer, or just touch up the occasional photo and do simple video editing, a lesser card may be the appropriate choice. Check out our articles on graphics cards to find out more about getting the best display quality possible from your computer.

    Graphics Cards: FAQs

    Graphics Cards: Nvidia or AMD?

    There are two primary video card manufacturers: Nvidia and AMD. From the user's perspective, most of the capabilities provided by each manufacturer's cards are similar, but there are some differences you should consider. We've included cards from both manufacturers in our graphics card review. AMD cards support Mantle, a graphics application programming interface (API) that provides more efficient access to GPU features and capabilities. Nvidia cards support PhysX, a hardware-accelerated API that lets game developers create real-world physics effects in their games.

    Finally, some game developers partner with graphics card manufacturers, which results in games that run better on specific hardware. If you are interested in running specific games at the best resolution and highest settings possible, be sure you check the game publisher's site for information on hardware partnerships that may be in place.

    Both AMD and Nvidia lease their technology to third-party manufacturers, also known as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). OEMs manufacture chips and boards based on Nvidia or AMD designs and then apply their own branding to the resulting products. Some OEMs tune their video cards to increase performance, while others change fan designs and power connection layouts or offer extensive warranty options. Others tweak card designs to ensure compatibility with other components they make, like computer motherboards. Once you've picked the graphics card hardware you want, you can weigh the additional benefits, if any, offered by OEM products.

    Graphics Cards: What are Alternative Graphics Solutions?

    Two additional types of graphics processors are available for computers: integrated graphics cards and external video cards. Many newer computers have GPUs built into their motherboard, so you may be wondering why you need a dedicated graphics card at all. Integrated graphics cards can handle basic computer tasks like email, web browsing or data-handling tasks like word processing. Newer onboard GPUs can even stream HD-quality video or run some games at low quality. Integrated GPUs use less power and produce less heat and noise than dedicated graphics cards too.

    The downside is that integrated graphics cards use your computer system's main memory for most of their graphics processing. This memory use slows overall computer performance, because the GPU is contending with the system's central processing unit (CPU) for memory access. Also, most integrated GPUs only have a single display output, meaning you're limited to a single monitor. These processors don't support displays with ultra-high resolutions either. Finally, some integrated graphics cards lack support for advanced graphics APIs like DirectX 12, PhysX or Mantle, meaning some games will run poorly, or not at all, on this hardware. Built-in GPUs are a good choice for low-cost, basic computing, but if you use your computer for gaming or photo and video processing, a dedicated graphics card is a better choice.

    If your computer has an integrated GPU, you can still add a dedicated graphics card. After you've installed your new card, you may have to disable the built-in GPU via the system BIOS and switch around your display settings and video connections to get things working again.

    External graphics cards are devices that connect to your computer's USB port and provide a standard video output connection that you can use to connect to a monitor. The primary purpose for these devices is adding a video port to a laptop without one. Unfortunately, they aren't a great solution for intensive graphics work. The USB connection they use can't provide the high data-transfer rates required for gaming or HD video, and the GPUs they use have very low power.

    You might consider using an external graphics card for a laptop if you need to do simple presentations or make occasional use of an external monitor, but they're not a good choice if you need powerful graphics capabilities. Fortunately, most modern laptops have built-in HDMI connections that provide HD video output.

    Graphics Cards: What About Video Editing?

    Our top picks are not necessarily the best graphics cards for video editing. While a good graphics card ensures smooth, high-resolution playback as you edit, your computer's CPU, system memory capacity and hard drive configuration have a larger impact on your video editing experience. Video processing software constantly streams video data to and from your computer's hard drive and uses the computer's system RAM and CPU to perform video edits and process special effects.

    Of course, if you're editing 2160p video, you'll need a top graphics card, or multiple cards linked with SLI or Crossfire, to handle the sheer volume of pixels sent to your display. Outside this edge case, any graphics card in this lineup can handle video editing tasks. Just be sure you double-check the system requirements of your video editing software to ensure the card you choose is compatible. Some software publishers may have developer agreements with Nvidia or AMD, so their products may run better with a specific manufacturer's video card.

    Graphics Cards: Where Do You Get One?

    Once you've chosen the computer graphics card you want, buying one is pretty straightforward. Nvidia sells its products directly via its website, while AMD partners with a third-party online retailer. You can find video cards on the shelves in department stores and big-box stores with computer sections. You can also find them in specialized electronics or office supply stores and computer specialty shops. However, large online retailers are often the best choice when purchasing a video card. They usually carry a wider selection than physical stores, including cards with the same underlying hardware from multiple OEMs. This broad selection leads to competitive pricing.

    Wherever you purchase your graphics card, be sure you review the retailer's return policy on computer hardware; some are very restrictive. If you have a problem with your video card, and your retailer can't or won't resolve the issue, you should be able to contact the manufacturer directly. Many have excellent replacement policies for defective hardware.

    Graphics Cards: What Can Go Wrong?

    First, you do need to open up your computer's case and install the card, or you can find a computer technician who can do it for you. Installing a video card is not overly complicated, but it does require some technical skill. Installing one incorrectly can damage the card or other components in your computer. If you're not comfortable installing computer hardware yourself, many computer and electronics specialty shops will do it for you. Of course, hiring a professional will add to the overall cost of your new hardware.

    Second, video cards do have mechanical fans, which add a potential point of failure to your computer system. In general, graphics cards and cooling fans are very reliable. You can usually find a manufacturer that provides a good warranty, but a failed card will make it impossible to use your computer. It won't be producing a video signal, so your monitor will be blank.

    Finally, graphics performance is a moving target. Game publishers continually push more textures and models into their games. Displays get larger, and graphics chips get faster. If you want to stay on gaming's cutting edge, you should invest in the best graphics card for gaming you can afford and be prepared to replace it every two or three years. The upside of this constant drive for faster and more powerful cards is that prices on existing cards drop quickly when new cards appear in the marketplace. You often pay a stiff premium for the top graphics card compared to the second best without getting a proportional performance increase.

    Graphics Cards: Will It Work With Your Operating System?

    All video cards use system-provided APIs to work with your computer's operating system and the applications you run. The cards we tested all support both DirectX 11 and 12, the most common gaming APIs for Windows computers. They also support OpenGL and OpenCL, APIs used by other operating systems. All these cards also provide access to GPU acceleration for 3D object rendering. This feature lets developers manipulate and render virtual environments quickly and efficiently without burdening your computer's main processor.

    Two additional APIs, both proprietary, provide some differentiation between the major card manufacturers. All the Nvidia graphics cards we reviewed support PhysX, a real-time physics API that lets developers model physics effects using GPU hardware acceleration. The PhysX API is well established, and quite a few games can make use of it to speed up in-game movement and create dynamic objects.

    The AMD graphics cards in this lineup support Mantle, an AMD-specific API that offers developers better access to and control over the card's GPU. Mantle is a relatively new API, so it's not in widespread use. If your favorite game supports one of these proprietary APIs, a compatible graphics card may enhance your gameplay experience, but no currently available cards support both Mantle and PhysX.

    Displays: How Many and How Big?

    Most modern graphics cards support multiple monitors. The AMD cards in our video card comparison chart have the advantage here; all those reviewed support up to six monitors using DisplayPort connectors. The Nvidia cards we tested all support up to four monitors.

    As displays continue to increase in size, graphics cards are pushing to keep up. All the cards we tested handle both 1080p and 2160p resolution, but, as we mentioned earlier, only the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 comes close to reliably producing complex, 60 fps output at 2160p. Achieving exceptional performance while running very high-resolution games at the best graphics settings still requires multiple video cards operating in parallel.

    More Power: Can You Use Multiple Graphics Cards at the Same Time?

    Nvidia's SLI and AMD's Crossfire systems let you link together as many as four video cards in a single machine. Linked cards process image data in parallel, boosting performance. The graphics power gained is not linear, since some processing capacity is devoted to keeping the cards in sync. If you want to use 2160p displays or to run games using the best graphics settings with no frame loss, you may need the power multi-card systems provide.

    All the cards in our lineup support either three- or four-way linkages, but there are some restrictions on how you can configure systems with multiple graphics cards. SLI is only supported by Nvidia graphics cards, and Crossfire is only supported by AMD cards. You must also match the cards you use to some degree, but the exact nature of the matching required depends on the card and manufacturer. Of course, your computer's motherboard must have the appropriate PCI Express slots available, and the case must have room for multiple bulky video cards. Your computer's power supply must provide enough electrical power and have the right connectors too. Multiple graphics cards produce more heat and more noise, so be sure your case provides sufficient ventilation if you plan to use an SLI or Crossfire setup. You may also want to consider a case with noise insulation to minimize external fan noise.

    Graphics Cards: What We Compared, What We Found

    Performance: Real-World Results

    When shopping for a graphics card, one of the chief features you should evaluate is real-world performance, and modern games are designed to push graphics hardware to its limits. One of the best measures of in-game performance is the frames per second (fps) a graphics card can produce while running the game. We evaluated the products in this lineup against several popular, graphics-intensive games to see how they handled the load.

    As you might expect, the best video cards in our lineup consistently exceeded 60 fps in these tests. Some cards reached speeds of almost 180 fps. Even our fourth-place card, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 780, produced 60 fps results across the board. Most of the less powerful cards struggled to keep up with one or more of the games we used for these graphics card tests, regularly dipping into the 45-55 fps range. The two lowest-ranked cards in our lineup, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 670, bottomed out at about 40 fps while running "Thief."

    Using games for performance testing has a subjective element, player action, so we also evaluated these products using two benchmark applications. These programs perform a consistent series of graphics-rendering tasks, providing a more objective measurement of performance. The Unigine Heaven benchmark measures its results in fps, and the lineup results ranged from 45.4 to 99.2 fps. The top-ranked Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 left its nearest competitors, the GTX 970 and the AMD Radeon R9 290X, in the dust, surpassing their scores by over 20 fps. It also nearly doubled the scores of our three lowest-ranked cards, illustrating the speed at which graphics hardware improves.

    Our next test, the 3DMark Fire Strike benchmark, generates a generic score value, which ranged from a low of 6,971 to a high of 13,297. Once again, the top-ranked card pulled a very high score compared to the rest of the lineup. The two benchmarks produce very different raw values, but the proportional differences between individual graphics card scores are similar.

    In our final graphics card test, we evaluated each product at 2160p, also known as 4K UHD resolution or simply 4K, to see how well they handled the stress of very high-quality displays. All cards struggled with this test. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 managed 58.3 fps, which is acceptable performance for many gamers, but other scores dropped off sharply. The AMD Radeon R9 290X had the second-highest score in this test: 51.3 fps. The lowest-rated cards in our lineup, the GTX 760 and the GTX 670, failed to reach 30 fps. If you're interested in using a 2160p display, you may want to take advantage of SLI or Crossfire and use multiple graphics cards in your computer.

    GPUs and Memory: The Graphics Workhorses

    Both Nvidia and AMD design and produce their own GPUs and supporting hardware, and both manufacturers' GPUs use multiple processor cores to handle graphics manipulation tasks. The exact features and capabilities of these cores differ, but, in general, more cores with faster clock speeds means more graphics processing power. We compared core counts and clock speeds as general indicators of processing power when we created our graphics card rankings.

    Graphics processing cores use lots of data. The fastest processor is useless if it has nothing to work with. When evaluating graphics cards, you need to consider both the card's memory capacity, or how much data it can store, and its memory bandwidth, the speed at which it can deliver stored data to the cores. In general, more powerful cards have more memory. The majority of cards in this lineup have 2GB to 3GB of RAM, while the top two cards have 4GB. The AMD Radeon R9 290X, our third-place card, raises the stakes here with 8GB of RAM.

    Measuring data access speed, memory bandwidth, is a bit tricky. You need to consider both bus width and memory clock speed. Memory bus width is a measure of how many bits of data can be sent to the GPU at once, while the memory clock controls how fast the bits move. If you think of data as dirt, the memory clock measures how fast you dig, and the memory bus width is the size of the shovel you use. You can use memory clock speed and memory bus width to calculate overall memory bandwidth, or the speed at which information moves from memory storage to the GPU.

    The best graphics cards have high bandwidth so they can transfer the data needed to render constantly changing in-game scenes to the GPU quickly and efficiently. Once again, the AMD Radeon R9 290X tops the charts; its relatively slow 5MHz memory clock controls a 512-bit bus, providing 320 GBps memory bandwidth. Surprisingly, two midrange cards, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 and GTX 680, have more memory bandwidth, about 288 GBps, than our two top picks, which cap out at 224 GBps.

    Processor cores and memory bandwidth all work toward a single purpose: getting processed image data to your display. We've used texture fillrate and pixel fillrate to measure this capability. Most graphics applications, including most games, model the images they display using geometric meshes. The faces of these meshes are filled with image data called textures, and each texture is composed of many texels, a fundamental graphics element. The texture fillrate is a measure of how fast the GPU can process texels. It's measured in gigatexels per second (GTps).

    Pixels are a measure of display screen real estate. When you're talking about resolutions like 1920 x 1080, you're talking about pixels. Pixel fillrate measures how fast the processor can send pixel data to your display. Pixel fillrates are measured in gigapixels per second (GPps). High texture fillrates are critical for rendering complex scenes efficiently, while high pixel fillrates are required to support high-resolution screens or multiple displays. As you might expect, the best graphics cards have faster texture and pixel fillrates. The AMD Radeon R9 290X uses its memory bandwidth to achieve the best texture fillrate, 176 GTps, while the GTX 780 clocks in at a close second, 166 GTps. Our top choice, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, achieves a somewhat disappointing 144 GTps texture fillrate, but it gets top marks for pixel fillrate, managing an impressive 72.1 GPps.

    Other Features We Reviewed

    Inside the Case: Graphics Card Physical Characteristics

    Powerful graphics cards show off your images and videos and display the beautiful, immersive environments created by your games. All that power does have a price. Graphics cards use quite a bit of electricity and produce lots of heat, especially when they're working hard. More heat means more fans and more noise at your desk.

    We evaluated the power requirements of these cards while they ran in three different modes: idle, gaming and maximum. As you would expect, idle mode uses the least power, with consumption ranging from 10 to 20 watts. When you start gaming, power usage rises drastically. Gaming-mode power consumption ranged from 150 to a whopping 242 watts. Maximum-mode power consumption is even higher, 153 to 305 watts, high enough to put a dent in your household electric bill. If you're concerned about energy costs, either turn off your computer when it's not in use or take advantage of its sleep mode. Sleep mode shuts down your computer system, including your video card, automatically when it's not in use. When you need to get back to work or play, you can press a key or move the mouse, and your sleeping computer is ready to use in a few seconds.

    There are some surprises in store when you compare graphics power to electricity used. While all the top cards in this graphics card test used more than the average amount of power in all three modes, some low-ranked cards used as much or more electricity than the number one card. Some cards use twice as much power as others in all modes. It's clear that some cards are simply more energy-efficient than others. If you're concerned about the ongoing cost of running a computer with a graphics card, you should carefully review the power consumption ratings of the ones you're considering. Overall, Nvidia graphics cards use less power than comparable AMD cards. For example, the AMD Radeon R9 290X, our Bronze Award pick, uses almost twice as much power at the maximum load as our Silver Award pick, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970.

    Getting all that electrical power to your video card takes dedicated connectors. All the cards in our lineup use two six- or eight-pin connectors to transfer power from your computer's power supply to the card. You should ensure your system has the proper connectors and provides enough electrical power for the card you buy. Most graphics card technical specifications include a minimum wattage requirement for power supplies. You may also want to plan cable routing within your case to ensure these cables won't interfere with fans or airflow. You should also keep them away from hot surfaces like heat sinks and motherboard components.

    Graphics processors produce a surprising amount of heat. Even at idle, the graphics cards we tested had temperatures ranging from 86 to just under 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which doesn't sound all that hot. But once you start using the GPU, temperatures rise quickly. We saw maximum temperatures of 158 to 201 degrees Fahrenheit when we tested these cards. That's hot enough to cause severe burns if you touch the GPU.

    The hottest video card in our lineup is the AMD Radeon R9 290X. Its GPU reached temperatures of 201.2 degrees Fahrenheit, almost hot enough to boil water. If you're concerned about your computer case's cooling capacity or worried about adding heat to your office or gaming room, you may want to consider cool-running cards like the AMD Radeon R9 280X and the AMD Radeon HD 7970. These cards don't perform as well as our top picks, but less-demanding consumers may appreciate their heat efficiency.

    The heat video cards produce has to go somewhere. All the cards we tested have built-in heat sinks and fans that send accumulated heat out the computer's backplane. These fans need a good supply of air inside your computer so they can do their job. Be sure your computer's case fans provide sufficient airflow and that all air input and exhaust ports are unobstructed by objects or dust.

    Cooling fans move air efficiently, but they also generate noise. We measured both idle and maximum noise levels for each card in our video card comparison. Idle levels were all quite similar, ranging from 31.2 to 34.2 dBA. Maximum noise levels were a different story. They ranged from the relatively quiet 39.4 dBA produced by the Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 to the AMD Radeon R9 290X's quite noisy 59.2 dBA. That's about as loud as normal conversation. Noise levels that high are quite distracting, especially if you're watching a movie or playing a game. If you choose a noisy card, you may want to place your computer so that intervening furniture muffles the sound.

    A Final Detail: Will It Fit?

    While computer components, including graphics cards, are built to specific standards, motherboards and cases do vary in layout. Graphics cards like those we've reviewed here are big and bulky. Fans, heat sinks, cables and memory components inside your case can make it impossible to fit these large cards. Be sure you carefully measure your available space and thoroughly review card dimensions before you buy.

    Our Review Process

    Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.

    Graphics Cards: Our Verdict and Recommendations

    The results shown in our graphics card comparison chart indicate a clear winner: The Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 is the best graphics card in this lineup. This card uses the second generation of Nvidia's Maxwell architecture, the GM204 GPU. It outperformed the competition in each of our real-world game performance and benchmark tests. It was also the only card to come close to 60 fps performance in the 2160p test. While the AMD Radeon R9 290X and Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 beat its 144 GTps texture fillrate, the GTX 980 has the highest pixel fillrate, clocking in at 70 GTps. Considering its excellent performance, the GTX 980 is efficient, quiet and cool. This card's power consumption while gaming, its maximum noise output and its maximum temperature were all very close to the lineup average. The GTX 980's great graphics performance coupled with its reasonable physical characteristics make it our Gold Award winner.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 provides impressive gaming performance. Our gaming fps and benchmark tests show this card running neck and neck with our third-place card, the AMD Radeon R9 290X. This performance is not surprising, since the GTX 970 uses a scaled-down version of the GM204 GPU used by the GTX 980. Our Silver Award winner's biggest weakness is its low texture fillrate, just 109.2 GTps, which barely beats the lowest scores in our video card comparison chart. When it comes to physical attributes, the GTX 970's trimmed-down GPU does have some advantages. It's one of the quietest cards we tested, and it has the lowest gaming and maximum power consumption in our lineup. The GTX 970 may be the best graphics card choice if you're looking for quiet and efficient performance.

    The AMD Radeon R9 290X is our Bronze Award winner. Performance-wise, this is a solid card. In gaming fps and standard benchmark tests, it came very close to our second-place card, beating its scores in a few cases. The R9 290X also had the second-best 2160p performance in our lineup, rendering 51.3 fps in this mode. The Radeon R9 290X's Hawaii XT GPU has access to 8GB of dedicated memory, double the RAM of its nearest competitor. It also has the highest memory bandwidth and fastest texture fillrate in our lineup, rendering an impressive 176 GTps. This video card's biggest weaknesses are its physical characteristics. Among the cards in this graphics card review, the R9 290X's maximum temperature; idle, gaming and maximum power consumption; and idle and maximum noise levels were the highest by a substantial margin. This card has good performance, but these drawbacks are considerable.

    If you're searching for a dedicated video card to handle less demanding tasks like gaming at lower resolutions, video editing or digital image processing, you should consider the Radeon R9 280X or the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680. Both these cards fared well in our gaming video card tests and posted reasonably good benchmark scores. The R9 280X has 3GB of onboard memory, as opposed to the GTX 680's 2GB, but the Nvidia card has better texture and pixel fillrates. You can use either of these products in multi-card setups, SLI or Crossfire, depending on which video card you choose. The GTX 680 uses less power and is quieter, but it does run hotter.

    Graphics Cards: Final Thoughts

    Picking a graphics card can be a daunting task. Before you start, evaluate your computer's interior layout and power supply, and define your usage requirements. Once you know your system's limitations and how much graphics power you need, take a look at our graphics card performance charts and detailed reviews to narrow the field. Compare both real-world gaming tests and standardized benchmarks to ensure you have an accurate understanding of each card's actual performance.

    You should also review available memory, memory bandwidth, and texture and pixel fillrates, which may highlight performance bottlenecks. Be sure you evaluate heat and noise levels and physical space requirements too. Compare graphics cards from different manufacturers to identify attractive features and warranties they offer. Finally, choose a retailer with a good return policy to ensure a hassle-free purchase.

    Our Recommendations

    1. Nvidia GeForce GTX 980

    Our top pick and Gold Award winner in this graphics card comparison is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980. This powerful card is built around the second-generation Maxwell GPU, the GM204. The processor delivers superb performance quietly and efficiently. It achieved the highest average fps rating in our real-world gaming tests and topped the charts in both of our standard benchmarks. It hit 99.2 fps in Unigine Heaven. It also scored 13,297 in 3DMark's Fire Strike tests at 1080p resolution, exceeding the next-highest score by 14 percent.

    The GTX 980 is also the only video card that produced an acceptable frame rate in our 2160p test, reaching 58.3 fps. Pixels are no problem for the GTX 980. It pumps out over 72 GPps. The card does stumble a bit when it comes to texture fillrate, though. It scored only 144 GTps, slower than both the AMD Radeon R9 290X and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 780.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 delivers all this performance while using approximately the same amount of power as much slower cards; its maximum power consumption is just 225 watts. The card's efficient fan layout keeps temperatures under control and noise levels low, even when the card is running at full speed.

    Like all Nvidia graphics cards, the GTX 980 supports DirectX 11 and 12, OpenGL, OpenCL, and PhysX. It's capable of driving up to four monitors and can be used in SLI-linked multiple graphics card setups to achieve even better performance.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 is a high-performance graphics card that can handle the toughest rendering tasks or the most intense games. Its blend of power and efficiency makes it one of the best graphics cards on the market and one of the few single-GPU graphics card that can manage acceptable 2160p gaming.

    PROS / Top-notch performance and low power requirements set this card apart.

    CONS / The 256-bit memory bus is somewhat disappointing.

    VERDICT / There simply isn't a better single-GPU card than the Nvidia GTX 980.

    2. Nvidia GeForce GTX 970

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 shares the GTX 980's Maxwell GM204 GPU architecture but runs fewer CUDA cores at a slightly slower clock speed than its big brother. Despite the scaled-back GPU, it achieves impressive results. The GTX 970 racked up the second-highest scores across the board in almost all our gaming and benchmark tests, barely edging out the AMD Radeon R9 290X. It achieved an impressive average of 94.5 fps across all test categories, but it lagged behind both the GTX 980 and the Radeon R9 290X in our 2160p test, where it managed only 50.2 fps.

    When it comes to pixel fillrates, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 beats all other video cards except the GTX 980, churning out a solid 67.2 GPps. Like its upscale brother, the GTX 970 is a bit slow with textures. Its texture fillrate is 109.2 GTps, slower than all but two of the other cards in our lineup. This weakness, shared to a lesser degree by the GTX 980, could be due to the card's somewhat disappointing 256-bit bus width.

    If you want a quiet and powerful card, the GTX 970 might be the best graphics card for you. Its maximum noise rating is just 40.8 dBA. It's also efficient, consuming just 153 watts at maximum power. The card can run up to four displays and has DVI-I, HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2 connectors. The card can provide 4K resolution output and supports the PhysX engine. It supports SLI too, but only three GTX 970s can be linked together.

    The powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 is well made in terms of power and efficiency. Performance-wise, it's competitive with the top graphics cards in the Nvidia and AMD product lines, but it is quieter and more efficient than its competitors. Its biggest weakness is a somewhat low texture fillrate.

    PROS / This graphics card has a low power profile for its performance.

    CONS / You can only run three 970s in SLI, which is a silly restriction when you can SLI four 980s.

    VERDICT / The GTX 970 is an excellent graphics card that combines low power consumption with undeniably good frame rates.

    3. AMD Radeon R9 290X

    The AMD Radeon R9 290X is our graphics card Bronze Award winner. This card is built on AMD's Hawaii GPU and has 2,816 stream cores. It's similar to the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 when it comes to performance. Its real-world gaming scores and benchmark results are very close to those of our second-place card.

    This graphics card's biggest weaknesses are power consumption and noise. It is the noisiest and most power-hungry graphics card in our lineup by a wide margin. At maximum power, it uses a whopping 305 watts and produces 59.2 dBA of noise. All that electrical power generates a lot of heat too. It's the hottest card in the lineup, with a maximum temperature of 201.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

    When running at 1080p, the AMD Radeon R9 290X can handle any game at any resolution and still maintain a high frame rate, thanks to its 512-bit memory bus. Even with a relatively slow memory clock, it still has 320GB of memory bandwidth. AMD claims the R9 290X can handle 4K gaming, and our 2160p graphics card test shows that it can, mostly. It achieved a score of 51.3 fps, which is acceptable but not great. If you're serious about 4K gaming, you should probably invest in a multi-card setup. This model can be linked into a graphics card array using AMD's Crossfire system. You can link up to four Radeon R9 290X cards together using that technology.

    This card supports the OpenGL, OpenCL, and DirectX 11 and 12 APIs. It also supports Mantle, AMD's proprietary API that provides low-level access to its GPU. The AMD Radeon R9 290X can handle up to six separate displays. It displays impressive graphics performance, but we were forced to dock its score because of its high power consumption and distractingly noisy fans.

    PROS / This graphics card has high memory bandwidth and excellent game performance.

    CONS / The card is loud and consumes a lot of power.

    VERDICT / For gaming and hardware enthusiasts, the 290X delivers on almost everything. Its loud fans aside, the 290X outperforms most other single-card GPUs.

    4. Nvidia GeForce GTX 780

    Nvidia originally introduced the GeForce GTX 780 to fill a pricing gap between the most expensive graphics cards and less costly products. It uses a trimmed-down version of the GK110 Kepler GPU, the same GPU used in Nvidia's powerful GeForce Titan. It has 2,304 CUDA cores and a somewhat low 863MHz core clock speed from the factory.

    The GPU's maximum clock speed is 900MHz, so there may be room for overclocking here. The graphics card has 3GB of memory and 288.4 GPps memory bandwidth, so getting data to the GPU is not a problem. It also has the second-highest texture fillrate in our lineup, 166 GTps. Only the AMD Radeon R9 290X was faster in this category. Its pixel fillrate is a significant drop from the top three cards. We found it has a rate 41.4 GPps, whereas the R9 290X, our Bronze Award winner, has a pixel fillrate of 64 GPps.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 delivered excellent performance in our gaming tests, scoring well over 60 fps in most cases and averaging 71.6 fps overall. The card did slow considerably when it hit our 2160p test. It only managed 41.9 fps at this resolution.

    This card is a bit power-hungry, pulling 247 watts at maximum power, the second-highest power consumption rating in this graphics card review. Despite the power it uses, its fans are quiet, producing only 31.2 to 41.6 dBA. The GeForce GTX 780 supports DirectX 11 and 12, OpenCL, OpenGL, and PhysX. It drives up to four displays and can be used in SLI configurations, but you're limited to a maximum of three cards.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 is a fairly quiet graphics card that provides solid graphics power. It can handle most games at the highest settings, but it does stumble at 4K resolutions.

    PROS / This graphics card combines a large number of CUDA cores with high memory bandwidth.

    CONS / The card doesn't have access to the Mantle API.

    VERDICT / The GTX 780 has some minor flaws, but its excellent real-world performance and access to Nvidia's proprietary tech make this card a real contender in the highest tier of gaming graphics cards.

    5. Nvidia GeForce GTX 770

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 is built on the GK104 GPU, the same processor used in the GTX 680. It has 1,536 CUDA cores running at 1,046MHz, but its memory bandwidth is only 223.3GBps. This video card has a solid 134 GTps texture fillrate and a less impressive 33.5 GPps pixel fillrate. The card only has 2GB of memory, on par with the lowest value we saw in this lineup.

    As we move into the middle ratings in our graphics card review, we notice a drop-off in speed and power, particularly at 4K resolutions. For the most part, the GTX 770 achieved solid scores in our real-world graphics card tests, but it did dip below 60 fps when running "Metro: Last Light" and "Thief." Its benchmark scores were a little more than half those of the top-ranked GTX 980, an indication of just how fast graphics card technology changes and improves.

    Our 2160p test proved too much for the GTX 770; it only managed 36.1 fps. This result is not particularly surprising, since even our top-ranked cards couldn't break 60 fps in this test. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 is among the quietest cards in our lineup, producing just 30.9 dBA in idle mode and 41.3 dBA at maximum load. Its idle and maximum load temperatures were about average.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 supports all major operating system graphics APIs and Nvidia's PhysX engine. You can use Nvidia's SLI technology to link as many as three of these cards into a parallel array. This model can drive up to four monitors.

    The GTX 770 is a powerful graphics card that delivers solid performance for 1080p gaming. This card does have some weaknesses, with only 2GB of onboard memory and fairly low memory bandwidth, but it's also one of the quietest cards we tested for this review.

    PROS / This graphics card has a high core clock speed and memory clock speed.

    CONS / The 256-bit memory bus limits the card's bandwidth to 223.3GBps.

    VERDICT / The GTX 770 is a powerful graphics card that revitalizes the GK104 chipset's capabilities. The card has some flaws, but its real-world performance is above average.

    6. AMD Radeon R9 280X

    The AMD Radeon R9 280X uses the Tahiti XT2 GPU to drive its graphics performance, and it doesn't disappoint. This processor has 2,048 stream processors running at 1MHz. The 384-bit memory bus provides quick access to the graphics card's 3GB of RAM. With that much processing power, the card's texture and pixel fillrates, 109 GTps and 27.2 GPps respectively, are a bit disappointing. They're the lowest values in this lineup.

    This graphics card managed respectable frame rates in most of our real-world gaming tests. It averaged 69 fps across all games but dipped below 60 fps in both "Thief" and "Metro: Last Light." Its Unigine Heaven benchmark score was 52.3 fps, and its 3DMark Fire Strike score was 8,020, both midrange values for this lineup. This card supports ultra-high resolutions, but, as expected, it struggled with our 2160p test, running at just 37 fps.

    When it comes to physical characteristics, the Radeon R9 280X is pretty weak compared to its nearest performance rivals. It's quite loud, 48.4 dBA at maximum load. It also consumes quite a bit of power, a maximum of 244 watts. That's more than either of our two top graphics cards. The noise is a bit surprising, since this is the coolest card in our lineup. The R9 280X's maximum temperature is 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The Radeon R9 280X supports OpenGL, OpenCL, and DirectX 11 and 12. It also supports AMD's Mantle API. The card can drive up to six displays. You can link up to four of these video cards into a Crossfire array for more graphics processing power, but the noise that produces might be a bit much.

    Overall, the AMD Radeon R9 280X provides average performance compared to the other mid-ranking cards in our graphics card comparison. Its loud fans are one of its biggest weaknesses.

    PROS / This graphics card has a high core clock rate and a very high memory bandwidth.

    CONS / The card is fairly loud.

    VERDICT / Especially if you don't mind a loud graphics card, the 280X is a good option with enough power to run modern games at their highest settings.

    7. Nvidia GeForce GTX 680

    As we move into the lower half of our lineup, we start to see overall card performance drop off. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 was one of the best graphics cards for gaming when Nvidia launched it, but now, a couple of generations later, it's starting to show its age. This video card is based on the powerful GK104 GPU, the same processor used in the GTX 770. It has 1,536 CUDA cores and a clock speed of 1,006MHz, but it only has 2GB of onboard memory and a narrow 256-bit memory bus, which limits memory bandwidth to 192.2 GBps.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 scores fairly well in our gaming tests. It averaged 67.9 fps overall, but it slowed considerably when running "Thief," topping out at 47.8 fps in that game. It also dropped below 60 fps in "Metro: Last Light" and only hit 53.2 fps in the Unigine Heaven benchmark. This graphics card supports 4K resolution but only scored 33.7 fps in our 2160p test. It's probably not the best graphics card for ultra-high resolution gaming. The card has the top texture and pixel fillrates in the lower half of this lineup: 128.8 GTps and 32.2 GPps, respectively.

    The card did well in our physical tests. It uses a maximum of 208 watts of power and has a maximum temperature rating of 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Its idle noise level is a bit high at 33.3 dBA, but it only rises 10 dBA when the card is fully loaded, reaching a maximum noise level of 43.2 dBA. The card supports up to four displays, and you can use four Nvidia GeForce GTX 680s in an SLI array. This card is a bit old, but it still has the power to run many games at high settings, and it can certainly handle streaming HD video or video editing tasks.

    PROS / This card has a 1GHz base clock speed and a high memory bandwidth.

    CONS / The GTX 680 only has one HDMI connection.

    VERDICT / Though it shows its age a bit, the GTX 680 still boasts graphic excellence and allows you to play any game on its highest settings.

    8. AMD Radeon HD 7970

    The AMD Radeon HD 7970 is a bit dated now, but it still provides reasonable graphics processing power. Its Tahiti XT GPU has 2,048 stream processors and uses AMD's PowerTune technology to change the GPU's clock speed dynamically based on the current processing load. PowerTune allows the 7970 to adjust to the constantly changing graphics needs of demanding video games. This graphics card has 3GB of RAM and a fast bus feeding its GPU at 264 GBps, and its 118.4 GTps texture fillrate and 29.6 GPps pixel fillrate reflect these features.

    When it comes to real-world gaming performance, the AMD Radeon HD 7970 starts to show its age. It averaged 66.6 fps across our gaming graphics card tests but dropped below 60 fps in two games: "Thief" and "Metro: Last Light." This card's Unigine Heaven score was only 48.4 fps, and it struggled in our 2160p test, achieving only 36.3 fps. Its test results are very similar to those of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680.

    Physically, the HD 7970 is a large, power-hungry card. It uses 256 watts at maximum power and produces 48.8 dBA when fully loaded, giving it the highest power consumption and noise ratings in the bottom half of our graphics card comparison chart. It can drive up to six displays, and you can link up to four of these cards using AMD's Crossfire technology. This card supports the DirectX 11 and 12, OpenGL, OpenCL, and Mantle APIs.

    Despite its age, the AMD Radeon HD 7970 still delivers reasonable performance. It struggles a bit with some recent games, but it can certainly handle older games at the highest settings or deal with any video editing or image processing task. While this is not the best graphics card for 4K gaming, it may be a good choice if you use 1080p displays to run less-demanding games.

    PROS / The Radeon HD 7970 overclocks at over 1GHz.

    CONS / The card is very big and generates more heat than competing cards do.

    VERDICT / This graphics card can handle any game you throw at it on the high and ultra settings, although you may want to add extra cooling options.

    9. Nvidia GeForce GTX 760

    Nvidia produced the GeForce GTX 760 as an entry-level card for high-end gaming. It uses a trimmed-down version of the GK104 GPU, the same GPU that the more powerful GTX 770 uses. The GTX 760's GPU has 1,152 CUDA cores and a core clock speed of 980MHz. A 256-bit memory bus with 192.2 GBps bandwidth provides access to the graphics card's 2GB of onboard RAM. The GTX 760 has the lowest texture fillrate in this lineup, 94.1 GTps. Its pixel fillrate, 31.4 GPps, is squarely in the middle of the bottom half of our graphics card comparison chart.

    As one might expect, this older, entry-level card struggled with modern games at their highest settings. It averaged 57.2 fps in our tests and dropped to a range of 40 to 48 fps for "Battlefield 4," "Metro: Last Light" and "Thief." Its Unigine Heaven and 3DMark Fire Strike scores were the lowest among the cards we tested. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 tied for the lowest score in our 2160p test, achieving just 27.6 fps.

    The GTX 760 does have a few positive points. It runs pretty quietly, just 39.8 dBA at maximum load, and it's energy-efficient. The card draws just 157 watts under a full load. Like all Nvidia graphics cards, it supports DirectX 11 and 12, OpenGL, OpenCL, and PhysX. It can run up to four monitors, and you can link up to three of these cards in an SLI array to increase graphics processing power.

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 is a bit dated, so it's probably not the best graphics card for a demanding gamer. However, it is fast enough to handle casual games or more demanding content at lower settings. It also has the power to handle image processing or video editing tasks, and it can certainly deal with streaming video at 1080p resolution.

    PROS / This card has a good core clock speed and runs quietly.

    CONS / The GPU isn't as powerful as those of higher-end graphics cards.

    VERDICT / The GTX 760 is a good option if you want solid gaming performance at 1080p.

    10. Nvidia GeForce GTX 670

    The Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 is one of the older cards in this lineup, and as you can see from our graphics card comparison chart, it's showing its age. This card uses Nvidia's Kepler architecture, which focuses on performance per watt. The GK104 chip this card uses is also used in newer cards like the GTX 680 and the GTX 770.

    This graphics card has 2GB of RAM and 192.2 GBps memory bandwidth, both the lowest values among the cards we reviewed. It manages to achieve a 102.5 GTps texture fillrate and a 29.3 GPps pixel fillrate despite its relatively low-speed memory bus and slow core clock.

    In our real-world game testing, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 managed an average score of 59.6 fps. Its frame rate dropped below 50 fps in three of the games we used in this test: "Battlefield 4," "Metro: Last Light" and "Thief." The card's benchmark scores were among the worst we tested, but these numbers are very close to those achieved by other graphics cards with similar power limits. The GTX 760 tied for last place in our 2160p test, but it does support 4K resolution.

    As a less-powerful product, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 is fairly energy-efficient, using only 164 watts at maximum load. It is also the quietest card in our lineup when running at maximum load, producing 39.4 dBA of fan noise. Its idle and maximum temperatures are about average.

    While the Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 won't break any speed records, it's still a reasonably powerful card. As you might expect, this older card is not a good choice for 4K gaming. It can handle all but the latest games at fairly high-quality settings, and it should have no problem with video editing or viewing, even at HD resolutions. The card supports the usual array of APIs and can drive up to four displays. It also supports up to three-way linkages using SLI.

    PROS / The GTX 670 has a base clock speed of 915MHz, and it can easily be overclocked to over 1GHz.

    CONS / The fan noise is noticeable when running at maximum.

    VERDICT / The GTX 670 handles heavy graphical workloads with ease, but it's somewhat dated.