The Best Video Cards For Your Money

| October 21, 2014 | (0)

Fall 2014 Edition: Updated on October 21st 2014

EVGA Geforce GTX 980 SuperClocked

The Nvidia Geforce GTX 980 is the new fastest single-GPU video card available on the market. The one pictured here is the EVGA Geforce GTX 980 SuperClocked, a model with higher frequencies and an efficient dual-fan cooling system.

The best video cards for your money?

By that, I mean the cards that offer the best performance at a given price. Why would you want that, you ask?

Because you want the best bang for the buck, because you want the best possible card for your hard-earned money and because you want the best gaming experience possible!

However, I do realize that not everyone has the time to read detailed video card reviews and to make sense of video card specifications.

This is why I write this guide for you: To help you save your time and money by doing the research for you and letting you know what are the best video cards for your money.

What’s new?

From AMD:

Price drops on Radeon R7 260, 260X, 270, R9 280, 280X 290 and 290X

AMD have been dropping their prices on many of their video cards, to remain competitive with Nvidia new video cards.

New: Radeon R9 285, based on new Tonga architecture

The R9 285 offer 3-5% higher performance than the R9 280 as well as lower power consumption and a few new features.

That said, retailers are liquidating the R9 280, selling it for as little as $180-190, while the R9 285 starts at $220 and is usually found for $250. With the current prices, buying a R9 280 over the R9 285 is a no-brainer to me.

Considering that the GPU on the R9 285 is partly disabled, many people expect an higher-end version, such as R9 285X, at some point in time. Those are rumours for now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

From Nvidia:

New Flagships: Geforce GTX 980 and Geforce GTX 970

Based on the Maxwell architecture; Higher performance with lower power consumption.

Geforce GTX 980
The Geforce GTX 980 is the new king of video cards, offering the highest performance on a single-GPU video card.

Not only does it offer more performance than the Radeon R9 290X, it does so while consuming less power, running cooler and being more quiet!

Geforce GTX 970

Performance wise, it’s between AMD’s R9 290 and R9 290X, faster than the GTX 780 but slightly slower than the GTX 780 Ti.

That said, stocks of the GTX 970 and 980 are currently low, due to the high demand for those cards and prices are often higher than their MSRP of $330 and $550, for the GTX 970 and GTX 980 respectively.

Please note that:

1- This list is based on the best U.S. and the best International(when available) prices for new video cards from NewEgg, Amazon and/or B&H that I’ve seen as of October 21st 2014.
2- Each video card performance will vary based on the games that you play; some games run better on Nvidia cards and some run better on AMD cards.
3- These video card recommendations are based on video game performance. These video cards are way overkill if you don’t play videos games and may not suit your needs for a Workstation.

As cheap as it gets:
Best video card for $65-70:

Geforce GT 730 64-bit GDDR5

- $64.99 – Zotac GeForce GT 730 1GB 64-bit GDDR5
- $64.99 – PNY GeForce GT 730 1GB 64-bit GDDR5
$76.11 – EVGA GeForce GT 730 1GB GDDR5 64bit
$82.99 – EVGA GeForce GT 730 1GB GDDR5 64bit at B&H (International Shipping)

Replacing the previously recommend Radeon R7 240 1GB GDDR5

The Geforce GT 730, equipped with GDDR5 memory on a 64-bit wide memory bus, definitely is a significant step-up in performance at the $70 price point.

Note the Zotac and PNY models are currently less expensive than the EVGA one. They are all just as good, so pick whichever one is the least expensive when you’re buying it.

Is it for you? Only if:

  • You’re on a very tight budget and cannot afford to spend more than $70.
  • You only play older and not very demanding video games.
  • You play at a low resolution, such as a 1366 x 768 (monitor) or 720p (HD TV) or lower.

For those cases, the Geforce GT 730 is an entry level video card perfectly capable of matching your needs.

Avoid:
1- Models that come with DDR3 and 128-bit wide memory bus. Their performance is nothing like models equipped with GDDR5 and a 64-bit wide memory bus.
2- Wasting your money on 2GB of memory, it won’t make any difference in performance at this level.

Most people will need a more powerful video card to get a good gaming experience.

Good to know:

This video card will do the job at 1366 x 768 or 1440 x 900, although you might have to lower details in some games. It also doesn’t need any additional power connector, it gets all the power that it needs from the PCI-Express 16x slot.

Best video card for $95:

Radeon R7 260 1GB

$92.21 – ASUS R7 260 Dual-Fan

At the $95 price point, the R7 260 is replacing the R7 250X/Radeon 7770.

- The R7 250X comes with 640 shader processors, 40 texture units. Frequencies of 1000MHz/4500MHz for the core and memory respectively.
- The R7 260: 768 shader processors, 48 texture units. Frequencies of 1000MHz/6000MHz for the core and memory respectively.

Good to know:

This video card will do the job at 1680 x 1050, although you might have to lower details in some games.

Best video card for $125:

Radeon R7 260X 2GB

- $124.95 – XFX RADEON R7 260X 2GB
- $129.99 – MSI Radeon R7 260X 2GB OC
- $129.99 – Gigabyte R7 260X 2GB OC dual-fan
- $129.99 – Gigabyte R7 260X 2GB OC
- $124.95 – XFX R7 260X 2GB at B&H (International Shipping)
- $133.95 – Gigabyte R7 260X 2GB OC dual-fan at B&H (International Shipping)

At the $125 price point, the R7 260X 2GB is replacing the R7 260X 1GB.

The R7 260X is pretty much the same video card as the older Radeon HD 7790, with the same number of stream processors, but with higher frequencies.

I’m recommending the R7 260X over the Geforce GTX 650 Ti simply because it’s faster in nearly every game.

Compared to the R7 260 recommended for $95:
- The R7 260: 768 shader processors, 48 texture units. Frequencies of 1000MHz/6000MHz for the core and memory respectively. 1GB VRAM
- The R7 260X: 896 shader processors, 56 texture units. Frequencies of 1100MHz/6500MHz for the core and memory respectively. 2GB VRAM

The 1st Gigabyte model is available with a $20 mail-in rebate, bringing its price down to $109.99.
Avoid the ASUS R7260X-DC2OC-2GD5, it appears to be a model with a lot of issues.

Want the most powerful video card that doesn’t require an additional power connector?
If you have an older PC with a power supply that’s not powerful enough to handle power-hungry video cards but want a more powerful video card, the EVGA GeForce GTX 750Ti 2GB, available for $134.99 at Amazon or $139.90 at B&H (International Shipping) is what you want. Pulling all the power that it needs from the PCI-Express 16x slot, it’s a decently powerful video card that sips power.

What games can this video card handle?

The R7 260X is capable of handling the vast majority of games at 1600 x 900 or 1920 x 1080, although you might have to lower details for the most demanding games, especially at 1080p.

Best Video Card for $160:

Radeon R9 270

$159.99 – XFX R9 270 2GB Single fan
- $169.29 – ASUS Radeon R9 270 2GB Dual-fan OC
- $179.99 – MSI Radeon R9 270 2GB
- $169.55 – XFX Radeon R9 270 2GB Dual Fan
- $169.99 – Powercolor Radeon R9 270 2GB Dual-fan
$169.55 – XFX R9 270 2GB Dual Fans from B&H (International Shipping)
$159.99 – XFX R9 270 2GB Single Fan from B&H (International Shipping)

Replacing the previously recommended R7 265 is the R9 270.

The R9 270 is definitely worth the additional $10 over the R7 265, hence why I recommend it over the R7 265 at the $160 price point.

- The R7 265 comes with 1024 shader processors, 64 texture units and 32 ROPs. Frequencies of 925MHz/5600MHz for the core and memory respectively.
- The R7 270? It comes with 1280 shader processors, 80 texture units and 32 ROPs. Frequencies of 925MHz/5600MHz for the core and memory respectively.

The XFX single-fan model is currently $10 less than cards from other brands. That said, the ASUS is $169.29 but is available with a $20 mail-in rebate, bringing its price down to $149.29.

VS the competition:
Nvidia doesn’t have any product competing at this price point, AMD are basically competing with themselves.

What games can this video card handle?

The Radeon R7 270 is capable of handling all games at 1600 x 900 with details at high, as well as most games at 1920 x 1080, although you will have to lower details in more recent and more demanding games.

Best Video Card for $190:

Radeon R9 280

- $189.99 – SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 280 3GB Dual-Fan
- $189.99 – SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 280 3GB Dual-Fan
- $189.99 – HIS Radeon R9 280 3GB
$209.99 – MSI R9 280 GAMING 3G Dual-Fan OC
- $213.99 – Powercolor R9 280 3GB Dual fans
- $205.85 – Sapphire Radeon R9 280 3GB Dual fans
- $217.17 – XFX R9 280 3GB Dual fans from B&H (International Shipping)

With recent price drops on the R9 280, it’s replacing the Radeon R9 270X at the $200 price point.

- The R7 270 comes with 1280 shader processors, 80 texture units and 32 ROPs. Frequencies of 925MHz/5600MHz (256-bit bus) for the core and memory respectively. It comes with 2GB of VRAM.
- The R9 280 comes with 1792 shader processors, 112 texture units and 32 ROPs. Frequencies of 933MHz/5000MHz (384-bit bus) for the core and memory respectively. It comes with 3GB of VRAM.

Note that the R9 280 is being phased out in favor of the R9 285, so act fast if you want to take advantage of the lower prices on the R9 280, stocks likely won’t last for very long.

The HIS R9 280 is available with a $20 mail-in rebate, bringing its price down to $169.99!

What games can this video card handle?
The Radeon R9 280 3GB is capable of handling most games at 1920 x 1080, although you might have to lower details in more recent and more demanding games.

Best video card for $249:

Radeon R9 280X 3GB

$249.59 – XFX RADEON R9 280X 3GB Dual-Fan OC
- $259.99 – ASUS Radeon R9 280X 3GB Dual-Fan OC
- $264.29 – Sapphire Radeon R9 280X 3GB Dual-Fan OC
- $272.95 – XFX R9 280X Dual-Fan from B&H (International Shipping)

With the previously recommended Geforce GTX 770 starting at $275 and with the R9 280X starting at $250, it’s easy to recommend the R9 280X. It’s a few % faster than the Geforce GTX 770 and less expensive right now.

The XFX model runs at a 850Mhz base frequency and a 1000Mhz Boost frequency. The Sapphire R9 280X runs at a 870Mhz base frequency with a 1020MHz Boost. The ASUS R9 280X tops at 1070MHz.

The ASUS R9 280X is is available with a $20 mail-in rebate, bringing its price down to $239.99. The XFX R9 280X is is available with a $30 mail-in rebate, bringing its price down to $219.59! The Sapphire R9 280X is is available with a $10 mail-in rebate, bringing its price down to $254.29.

What games can this video card handle?

This card will run any game at 1920 x 1200 (or 1080 for 1080p) maxed out, with less or more AA/AF, depending on the game, as well as most games at 2560 x 1600, although you might have to turn settings down.

Best Video Card For $270:

Radeon R9 290 4GB:

- $270.74 – MSI Radeon R9 290 Gaming 4G Dual-Fan OC 4GB
- $284.99 – SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290 Triple-Fan OC
- $299.99 – SAPPHIRE VAPOR-X R9 290

The Vapor-X model offers slightly higher performance, a custom PCB (better overclocking abilities), an even better cooling system and a backplate that helps with cooling as well. According to customer reviews on Newegg, it appears to be the most reliable too. I highly recommend it, especially if you get decide to get two in Crossfire.

Upside: High performance for $290

Following the launch of Nvidia’s new Geforce GTX 970 and 980, prices on the Radeon R9 290 have dropped in order to address the new competition.

From a performance point of view, the R9 290 is a notch slower than the Geforce GTX 970, but it’s also a notch less expensive, at $290 versus $350 for the Geforce GTX 970s that are in stock.

Compared to the R9 280X:
The R9 290 offers a massive performance upgrade, as you can see in this comparison chart on AnandTech.

The downsides:

  1. High power consumption: You need a power supply that can handle the power consumption, especially if you overclock or intend to run two in Crossfire.
  2. Cooling system has a lot of heat to dissipate: You need a case that can dissipate that heat too.
  3. Long cards: Due to the larger cooling systems, the R9 290 cards are rather long. If you have a smaller case, double-check the video card length clearance for the case and the video card’s length.

To avoid: Models equipped with the AMD Stock Coolers
Models with custom coolers, like the ones recommended here, run at fine temperatures and perform as intended. Unfortunately, models with the stock AMD coolers (red shroud with a single blower fan) are to avoid, as they are terribly noisy and worse, the GPU will throttle its frequency to avoid overheating, reducing performance in the process!

What games can this video card handle?

This card will run any game at 1920 x 1200 (or 1080 for 1080p) maxed out, as well as games at 2560 x 1600 without any problem. Gaming with a 4K resolution or on multiple monitors is also possible, although you might have to turn settings down, depending on the game.

Best Video Card For $330:

Geforce GTX 970 4GB:

$329.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Dual-fan

Alternative models
The Geforce GX 970 was released recently and the demand for it is greater than what’s available.

What this means is that nearly all cards are out of stock and that sometimes prices are inflated. Make sure to double-check availability and prices when you’re ready to buy, as they change everyday.

With the low stocks on the GTX 970, here are many alternatives that may be in stock and that are worth considering:

- From Amazon:
- $380.45 – EVGA Geforce GTX 970 4GB Blower
- $329.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Dual-fan
- $348.17 – EVGA GTX 970 SC Blower
- $359.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 SSC ACX 2.0 Dual-fan
- $339.99 – MSI GTX 970 Dual-fan OC
- $349.99 – ASUS Geforce GTX 970 Dual-Fan OC
- From Newegg:
- $329.99 – PNY GeForce GTX 970 4GB XLR8
- $329.99 – ZOTAC GeForce GTX 970 Dual fan
- $329.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Blower
- $329.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Dual-fan
- $339.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Superclocked ACX Dual-fan
- $359.99 – EVGA GTX 970 SC Blower
- $339.99 – MSI GTX 970 Dual-Fan OC
- $349.99 – MSI GTX 970 GAMING 4G Dual-Fan OC
- $349.99 – ASUS GeForce GTX 970 4GB Dual-fan OC
- From B&H (International Shipping):
- $329.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Blower
- $329.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 970 Dual-fan ACX 2.0
- $349.99 – MSI GTX 970 GAMING 4G Dual-Fan OC

V.S. the R9 290:

  1. Slightly more powerful
  2. Consumes less power: You don’t need as powerful of a power supply, especially with multiple video cards (SLI/Crossfire).
  3. Runs less hot: Will have no problem running in smaller cases with limited airflow.
  4. More quiet: Always a pro in my book.

Alternative for $360: Radeon R9 290X
That said, if all you care about is performance, the Radeon R9 290X offers slightly better performance than the GTX 970. Just keep in mind the power consumption, the heat and the noise.
- $359.99 – MSI Radeon R9 290X Gaming 4G Dual-Fan OC 4GB
- $369.99 – SAPPHIRE Radeon R9 290X Triple-fan OC

What games can this video card handle?

This card will run any game at 1920 x 1200 (or 1080 for 1080p) maxed out, as well as games at 2560 x 1600 without any problem. Gaming with a 4K resolution or on multiple monitors is also possible, although you might have to turn settings down, depending on the game.

Best Video Card for $550:

Geforce GTX 980:

- $574.99 – Zotac GeForce GTX 980 AMP Triple-Fan OC (Amazon)
- $549.99 – Zotac GeForce GTX 980 AMP Triple-Fan OC (Newegg)
- $579.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Superclocked Dual-Fan (Newegg)

Replacing the EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti Dual-fan SuperClocked is the new Geforce GTX 980.

Simply put, this card features the fastest single-GPU on the market. Not only that, but it’s surprisingly power efficient for such a powerful video card.

Alternative models
The Geforce GX 980 was released recently and the demand for it is greater than what’s available.

What this means is that nearly all cards are out of stock and that sometimes prices are inflated. Make sure to double-check availability and prices when you’re ready to buy, as they change everyday.

With the low stocks on the GTX 980, here are many alternatives that may be in stock and that are worth considering:

- From Amazon:
- $549.99 – EVGA Geforce GTX 980 ACX 2.0
- $569.99 – EVGA Geforce GTX 980 Superclocked ACX 2.0
- $579.99 – EVGA Geforce GTX 980 Superclocked Blower cooler
- $549.99 - Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 OC Blower cooler
- $579.99 – ASUS Geforce GTX 980 Dual-Fan OC
- $549.99 – Zotac GeForce GTX 980 Blower cooler
- $579.99 – MSI Geforce GTX 980 GAMING Dual-Fan OC
- $549.99 – MSI Geforce GTX 980 Blower cooler
- $549.99 – ASUS Geforce GTX 980 Blower cooler
- $549.99 – PNY XLR8 Geforce GTX 980
- $579.99 – Zotac GeForce GTX 980 AMP Omega OC Dual-Fan
- From Newegg:
- $579.99 – ZOTAC GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega Dual-fan OC
- $549.99 – GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 980 Blower cooler
- $549.99 – MSI Geforce GTX 980 Blower cooler
- $579.99 – MSI Geforce GTX 980 Gaming 4G OC Dual-Fan
- $579.99 – ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Dual-Fan OC
- From B&H (International Shipping):
- $619.99 – EVGA Geforce GTX 980 ACX 2.0
- $559.99 – ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Blower cooler
- $644.99 – EVGA GeForce GTX 980 SC Blower cooler
- $629.95 – EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Blower cooler

What games can this video card handle?

1080p and 2560 x 1600 is handled by this card without any problem. 4K and multiple monitors can also be handled, although you should consider a Crossfire or SLI setup for that.

Best Video Card For $660:

Two Geforce GTX 970 in SLI

Upside: A LOT of performance for $660

For $110 more than the Geforce GTX 980, two Geforce GTX 970 in SLI are a force to be reckoned with.

The downside: Power consumption, heat, and Crossfire profiles

Two Geforce GTX 970 in SLI will consume quite a bit of power, emit more heat and consequently, you will need a case with sufficient airflow to get rid of all that heat.

For multiple video cards: Which cooling system works best?
Note that if you intend on getting more than one video card, you’re better off with models that have a closed cooler, because they exhaust the heat outside of your case. Unless you have a case with a lot of airflow, in which case (no pun intended) you’re better off with a dual/triple fan cooler, as they are more quiet and can be more efficient at handling the heat.

Avoid: Two Radeon R9 290/290X in Crossfire
Two Radeon R9 290/290X in Crossfire would consume a whole lot more power, emit a lot more heat, will be far noisier and you will need a case with sufficient airflow to get rid of all that additional heat. Not worth the trouble for most people, in my opinion.

Best Video Card For $990:

Three Geforce GTX 970 in Three-Way SLI

Upside: A LOT of performance for $990

For $110 less than two Geforce GTX 980, three Geforce GTX 970 in SLI are a force to be reckoned with.

The downside: Power consumption, heat, and Crossfire profiles

Three Geforce GTX 970 in SLI will consume a lot of power, emit more heat and consequently, you will need a case with sufficient airflow to get rid of all that heat. You also need a motherboard with Three-Way SLI support, as well as a powerful enough power supply to handle the power requirements for three video cards.

For 3/4 video cards: Which cooling system works best?
With 3 or 4 video cards, you’re better off with models that have a closed cooler, because they exhaust the heat outside of your case.

Avoid: Three Radeon R9 290/290X in Crossfire
Unless you go with water-cooling, three Radeon R9 290/290X in Crossfire is a terrible idea, as their cooling system won’t be able to cope with the heat generated by three of those cards and thus performance would be reduced due to throttling.

What settings can this setup handle?
Three Geforce GTX 780 Ti in SLI will have no problem running the latest games maxed out at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), 2560 x 1440/1600. Games at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD/4K) and a triple 1080p monitor setup (6.2MP) should be able to run maxed out, although the most demanding ones might require you to slightly lower settings. You should be able to run a triple 2560 x 1440/1600 monitor setup (11.1/12.3 Megapixels) or two 3840 x 2160 monitor setup (16.6MP) too, although you may have to turn down settings.

Alternative for $1100:
Two Geforce GTX 980 in SLI

If your case, motherboard or power supply limit you to two video cards, or if you don’t want to deal with three video cards for any reason, two Geforce GTX 980 for $1100 are the way to go.

Best Video Card for $1550:

Three Geforce GTX 980 in Three-Way SLI

Want more performance? Time to step up to three Geforce GTX 980 in Three-Way SLI.

Remember to plug the Nvidia Three-Way SLI bridge on the three cards to be able to enable Three-Way SLI. It’s included with the motherboard.

Make sure to get the latest version of the drivers straight from Nvidia, avoid those on the included DVD as those are outdated. There are updates on a regular basis, especially when new games are launched. New drivers fix bugs, increase performance and support newer games.

What settings can this setup handle?
Three Geforce GTX 980 in a Three-Way SLI will easily run the latest games maxed out at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) or 2560 x 1440/1600, same with games at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD/4K) and a triple 1080p monitor setup (6.2MP).

You should also be able to max out or run at high settings with games on a triple 2560 x 1440/1600 monitor setup (11.1/12.3 Megapixels) and with slightly lower settings (lower AA/AF) for a two 3840 x 2160 monitor setup (16.6MP).

Note that for Three-Way SLI, I recommend the blower style cooling system, which exhausts the hot air outside of the case, which is preferable for a multiple video card setup.

Best Video Card for $2200:

Four Geforce GTX 980 in a Four-Way SLI

Want as much performance as possible? Four Geforce GTX 980 in a Four-Way SLI is the way to go.

Make sure that your case, motherboard and power supply can handle such a powerful setup.

Note that for Four-Way SLI, I recommend the blower style cooling system, which exhausts the hot air outside of the case, which is preferable for a multiple video card setup.
What settings can this setup handle?
Four Geforce GTX 980 in a Four-Way SLI will have no problem running the latest games maxed out at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), 2560 x 1440/1600, 3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD/4K) or on a triple 1080p monitor setup (6.2MP)

For a triple 2560 x 1440/1600 monitor setup (11.1/12.3 Megapixels) or two 3840 x 2160 monitor setup (16.6MP), this is the ideal setup.

A few important recommendations and notes regarding video cards:

1- Get the latest version of the video card drivers directly from AMD or Nvidia. This will ensure that you get the latest bug fixes and the best performance possible from your video card(s).

2- To confirm whether Crossfire or SLI is working or not, use GPU-Z which will show that information to you in the last field at the bottom of the program.

3- SLI Guide: How to enable SLI, check if SLI is enabled, actually working in your game and what to do if it’s not is a great guide from the Notebook Review forums.

4- When using two or more video cards in Crossfire or SLI, you want to connect your monitors into the top video card, i.e. the video card that is the closest to the CPU.

5- Most video cards require one or two PCI-Express 6 or 8 pin power connector(s) to be plugged into them to function properly. Make sure that your power supply comes equipped with enough 6 and/or 8 pin connectors for your video cards.

Category: The Best PC Parts For Your Money

About Mathieu Bourgie: HR Founder - Computer expert with 13 years of experience in building, fixing and modifying PCs. Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for PC hardware and now I enjoy helping others build their own PCs! In April 2008, I launched Hardware Revolution and ... Read more at my about page .