The Best Video Cards For Your Money: March 2014

| March 18, 2014 | (0)

Updated on March 18th 2014

Sapphire Tri-x R9 290

The Sapphire Tri-X R9 290, the R9 290X that we recommend in a Crossfire setup at the $1000 price point.

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 highest FPS possible!

However, I do realize that not everyone has the time to read detailed video card reviews and/or have the ability 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.

March 2014 Update: What’s new?

From AMD:

New R7 260 and R7 265 video cards, R9 290 and 290X with custom coolers:

- Radeon R7 260: $110. Basically a re-badged Radeon HD 7790 with similar core and memory frequencies, at the right price.
- Radeon R7 265: $150. Basically a re-badged Radeon HD 7850 with higher memory frequencies, at similar price. Highly recommended, you get more performance at the same price point.
- Radeon R9 290 and 290X with custom coolers: Cards with custom coolers have arrived on the market some time ago. Unfortunately, the cryptocurrency mining craze caused a major spike in the prices of the R9 280x, 290 and 290X, due to far higher demand for those cards. Fortunately, prices have been slowly dropping lately, enough for me to once again recommend the R9 290 and R9 290X, now with custom coolers.

From Nvidia:

Nvidia’s Geforce GTX Titan Black:

Fully enabled GK110 chip, with higher frequencies, 6GB of VRAM and a $1000 price tag!

Following the launch of Nvidia Geforce GTX 780 Ti, the GTX Titan was no longer THE fastest Nvidia video card available on the market.

With the launch of the Geforce GTX Titan Black, the Titan Black takes back the performance crown from the GTX GTX 780 Ti, but just barely and even then, not really…

See, the Geforce GTX 780 Ti core runs at 875/928MHz (Core/Boost). That’s the reference model, you can find far higher clocked models for sale, such as the EVGA SuperClocked GTX 780 Ti, which runs at 1006/1072MHz.

The Geforce GTX Titan Black? Its core runs at 889/980 (Core/Boost). While it’s faster than the reference model of the GTX 780 Ti, it’s slower than the factory-overclocked Geforce GTX 780 Ti that are available for $730, compared to $1000+ for the Geforce Titan Black, if you can find one in stock that is.

So is there any reason to buy a Geforce GTX Titan Black? Only its 6GB of VRAM. Mind you, that’s of very-limited interest to gamers (only interesting if you run a triple 2560 x 1440/1600 monitor setup (11.1/12.3 Megapixels) or two 3840 x 2160 monitor setup (16.6MP) and want to buy three of them for a Three-Way SLI setup for a mere $3000) , but it can be interesting for a workstation instead of paying much more for a workstation-class video card.

Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 750 and 750 Ti:

Very low power consumption, not competitive performance wise at their current price points.

The only reason to recommend the Geforce GTX 750 Ti at its current price is because you’re limited by a weak power supply that can’t handle more power hungry video cards. Seeing as the Geforce GTX 750 Ti is the most powerful video card that doesn’t require additional power plugs (it pulls all the power that it needs from the PCI-Express 16x slot), it’s the ideal solution in that particular case.

As for the GTX 750, it’s a slower variant that’s currently selling for $120. At that price point, the R7 260X easily outperforms it.

Price cuts on the GTX 770:
The Geforce GTX 770 got a price cut recently.

It used to be found for $340 and it can now be found for $310 or so, at which point it is the best card available.

Keep in mind:

1- These video card recommendations are for gamers who desire the best bang for their buck, or in other words, the best performance/features for their money. These video cards are way overkill if you don’t play videos games.
2- This list is based on the best U.S. and the best International prices (when available) for new video cards from NewEgg, Amazon and/or B&H that I’ve seen as of March 18th 2014.
3- Each video card performance will vary depending on the game. Some games run better on Nvidia cards and some run better on AMD cards.
4- The resolution that I mention below should only be used as a guideline to give you an idea of the capability of the video card on recent games.

Best video card for $60:

$58.95 – Sapphire Radeon R7 240 1GB GDDR5

Replacing the previously recommend Radeon HD 6670 1GB DDR3

The R7 240, equipped with far higher performance GDDR5 memory, definitely is a significant step-up in performance at the $60 price point.

If you’re on a very tight budget or if you only play older, not so demanding games or finally, if you play on a low resolution (1366 x 768/720p) monitor/HDTV, the R7 240 GDDR5 is an entry level video card perfectly capable of matching your needs.

Avoid models that come with DDR3 memory. While they may be a bit less expensive, their performance is nothing like their brothers equipped with GDDR5 memory, you’ll lose a good 30-40% in average frame rates.

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 $90:
Gigabyte Radeon R7 250 GDDR5

$89.99 at Amazon (USA) or
$90.24 at B&H (International Shipping)

Available for $80 after a $10 mail-in rebate

Unfortunately, the previously recommended Radeon HD 7770 1GB GDDR5 can no longer be found for $95, as it was a force to be reckoned at that price.

While the R7 250 is a notch less powerful than the Radeon 7770 it replaces, but it’s also available for $90, or $80 after the mail-in rebate, which is less than the Radeon 7770 back when it was available for $95.

For $30 ($20 if you include the MIR) more, the R7 250 is considerably faster than the R7 240 and so, if you can afford it, it’s clearly the better choice.

Good to know:

This video card will do the job at 1440 x 900 and 1680 x 1050, although you might have to lower details in some games.

More powerful upgrade for $10 more:

The PNY NVIDIA GeForce GTX 650 1GB GDDR5: $102.42 at Amazon (USA) or $102.42 at B&H (International Shipping) is currently available at a reasonable price considering its performance.

The Geforce GTX 650 outperforms the R7 250 in most games (according to AnandTech) and for $10 more, can be an interesting alternative. Then again, if you can afford to spend an additional $10, the R7 260 recommended below annihilates the Geforce GTX 650 performance wise.

Best video card for $110:

$109.99 – MSI R7 260 1GB GDDR5 OC

Replacing the Radeon HD 7790 is the R7 260.

The R7 260 is pretty much the same video card as the Radeon HD 7790, with the same number of stream processors and similar frequencies. That’s not a bad thing, considering how much performance you are getting at this price point.

I’m recommending the Radeon HD 7790 R7 260 over the Geforce GTX 650 Ti simply because it’s faster in nearly every game, it consumes roughly 12 Watts less under load and it’s more quiet.

What games can this video card handle?

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

More powerful upgrade for $10 more:

The Gigabyte R7 260X 1GB: $119.99 at Amazon (USA) or $119.99 at B&H (International Shipping) is a great alternative for $10 more.

This particular card is pretty much the same card as the R7 260 recommended above, but with a core frequency of 1188Mhz instead of 1050MHz, or a 13% improvement. For $10 more, that’s a pretty good deal if you ask me.

Best Video Card for $150:

$149.99 – Sapphire R7 265 2GB Dual fan

Replacing the previously recommended Radeon HD 7850 is the R7 265.

The R7 265 offers a small performance boost over the previously recommended Radeon HD 7850, thanks to its faster memory.

VS the competition:
Nvidia recently launched the Geforce GTX 750 Ti. While it’s an highly efficient video card that requires no additional power connector, its performance cannot match the R7 265

Performance wise, the R7 265 2GB offers on average 19% higher FPS versus the Geforce GTX 750 Ti, according to AnandTech.

Thanks to its dual fan design, noise shouldn’t be a problem.

The Radeon R7 265 is capable of handling all games at 1600 x 900 with details at high/maximum, as well as most games at 1920 x 1080, although you might have to lower details in more recent and more demanding games.

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 – $154.99 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.

Best Video Card for $210:

$209.99 – Sapphire Radeon R9 270X 2GB

The Radeon R9 270X is basically a Radeon HD 7870 on steroids, with higher frequencies.

- The Radeon HD 7870 has a Core clock of 1050MHz and a memory frequency of 4800MHz.
- This particular Sapphire R9 270X has a core clock of 1020MHz, a Boost clock of 1070MHz and a memory frequency of 5600MHz.

V.S. R7 265:
Compared to the R7 265, the Radeon R9 270X basically has more stream processors as well as higher frequencies.

- The R7 265 recommended above features 1024 stream processors running at 900MHz (925MHz Boost) and 5.6GHz Memory
- The Sapphire R9 270X offers 1280 stream processors running at 1020MHz (1070MHz Boost) and 5.6GHz Memory

So for $60 more, the new R9 270X offers a significant performance boost over the R7 265. If you’re looking for a video card to handle games at 1920 x 1080 with medium/high/max details, the R9 270X is a good place to start if you can’t afford the Geforce GTX 760.

What games can this video card handle?
The Radeon R9 270X 2GB 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 $250:
Geforce GTX 760:

– MSI GeForce GTX 760 2GB OC: $249.99 at Newegg (USA) or
- EVGA GTX 760 SuperClocked 2GB: $264.99 at B&H (International Shipping)

The Geforce GTX 760 is based on the same Nvidia GK104 chip used in the Geforce GTX 660 Ti, but tweaked to offer better performance, while being less expensive to produce than the GTX 660 Ti that it’s replacing.

According to AnandTech:
“At 1080p (1920 x 1080) it (GTX 760) is clearly ahead of both the stock and boost versions of the (Radeon) 7950, by 13% and 8% respectively.”

This particular MSI Geforce GTX 760 comes factory-overclocked, with its Boost frequency set to 1150MHz instead of the reference 1033MHz, its core frequency set at 1085MHz instead of the reference 980MHz, meaning that it’s even faster than the reference edition.

On top of that, its dual-fan cooler helps lower temperatures and noise as well.

What games can this video card handle?
This card is capable of handling pretty much any game at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 with maximum visual quality, although you might have to scale back details in the most demanding games.

Best video card for $310:
PNY NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 2GB

- $309.99 at Amazon (USA) or
- $309.99 at B&H (International Shipping)

Replacing the previously recommended R9 280X, the Geforce GTX 770 offers higher performance at a lower price.

This specific PNY Geforce GTX 770 offers an excellent triple fan cooling system to keep temperatures and noise in check. It’s also far less expensive than other GTX 770s on the market.

V.S. the competition:
The Geforce GTX 770 main’s competitor is the AMD R9 280X. The R9 280X performance is in between the Geforce GTX 760 and 770, but its price is far higher than the Geforce GTX 770 right now, making the GTX 770 the perfect choice if you can afford to spend more than $260 but not quite $350.

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 without any problem. Gaming on multiple monitors is also possible, although you might have to turn settings down, depending on the game.

Best Video Card For $370:
Geforce GTX 770 4GB

ZOTAC NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 4GB – $369.99 at Amazon (USA) or
PNY NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 4GB – $373.99 at B&H (International Shipping)

What’s the difference with this Geforce GTX 770 and the one recommended above?

The onboard memory. This particular Geforce GTX 770 comes with 4GB of VRAM, unlike the one above, which comes with 2GB of VRAM.

Why 4GB of VRAM?
Some games can already take advantage of more than 2GB of VRAM, so to maximize performance in those games and just as importantly, to ensure good performance for a few years with future games, 4GB of VRAM will help.

What games can this video card handle?

This card is capable of handling pretty much any game at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 with maximum visual quality, although you might have to scale back details in the most demanding games.

Best Video Card For $470:
Radeon R9 290 4GB:

- MSI AMD Radeon R9 290 Gaming OC 4GB – $469.99 at Amazon (USA) or
- Gigabyte AMD Radeon R9 290 Triple-fan OC 4GB – $499.99 at B&H (International Shipping)

The Radeon R9 290 is THE card to beat at this price point.

1- This card performs 10% faster than a GTX 780, yet it’s only $470 compared to the $520+ for a GTX 780.
2- Architecturally, the R9 290 is based on exactly the same Hawaii GPU as the R9 290X ($600+), AMD has kept intact virtually all the features of the R9 290X in the non “X” card including the 512-bit memory bus and 4GB of GDDR5, it performs merely 6% slower, making it the best bang for the buck currently available for both NVIDIA and AMD high end cards, in terms of speed/price ratio.

The downside?

The R9 290 consumes a lot of power and thus the cooling system has a lot of heat to dissipate. Models with stock coolers are to avoid, as they are terribly noisy and worse, the cards can throttle to avoid overheating, thus reducing performance. Models with custom coolers, like the one recommended here, run more quietly and perform as intended.

Alternative card for Crossfire setups:
If you intend to buy a second R9 290 for Crossfire, avoid the MSI model recommend above, as it has overheating and throttling problems when you run two of them in Crossfire. Instead, get the $499.99 – SAPPHIRE TRI-X OC Radeon R9 290 4GB, which has no problem when you run two in Crossfire.

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 $600:
Radeon R9 290X 4GB

- ASUS R9 290X 4GB Dual-fan – $599.00 at Amazon (USA) or
- Gigabyte R9 290X 4GB Triple-fan – $629.99 at B&H (International Shipping)

How does the ASUS R9 290X compare to the MSI R9 290?
The MSI R9 290 has 2560 stream processors running at 977MHz.
The ASUS R9 290X has 2816 stream processors running at 1050MHz.

Overall, the ASUS R9 290X is about 10% on average than the MSI R9 290.

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 $730:
EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti:

- EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti Superclocked w/Dual-fan Cooler 3GB – $729.99 at Amazon (USA) or
- EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB (lower frequencies, single fan cooler)- $699.99 at B*H (International Shipping)

Replacing the EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti is the EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti Dual-fan SuperClocked, which features higher frequencies and an improved dual-fan cooling system.

Simply put, this card features the fastest single-GPU on the market, even faster than the Radeon R9 290X and the Geforce Titan Black, thanks to its SuperClockeded higher frequencies than the stock GTX 780 Ti.

The stock Geforce GTX 780 Ti is faster than the R9 290X by an average of 11%, according to AnandTech. It’s also far more quiet, thanks to the high-quality reference Nvidia cooler.

The stock Geforce GTX 780 Ti core runs at frequencies of 876/928MHz at base and boost frequencies respectively. This SuperClocked EVGA model? Its core runs at 1006/1072MHz, which is a LOT faster.

Needless to say, the EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti SuperClocked has no problem outpacing the R9 290X, while consuming less power and being less noisy.

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 $1000:

$1000 – Two SAPPHIRE TRI-X OC Radeon R9 290 4GB in Crossfire

Upside: A LOT of performance for $1000

Offering performance close to two Geforce GTX 780 Ti in SLI, while costing a whooping $450 less, two Radeon R9 290 in Crossfire a force to be reckoned with.

The downside: Power consumption, heat, and Crossfire profiles

Two Radeon R9 290 in Crossfire will consume a lot of power, emit a lot of heat and consequently, you will need a case with sufficient airflow to get rid of all that heat.

Thanks to the Sapphire triple-fan cooling system, noise is kept under control, unlike with reference AMD coolers which were deafening.

You also will have to deal with Crossfire profiles, updates and games that sometimes need an update to perform properly.

Micro-shuttering is no longer an issue with the R9 290 and 290X, thanks to fixes done at the hardware level.

Avoid: Geforce GTX 780 Ti Black
lol

Best Video Card for $1450:
Two EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti in SLI

- Two EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB SuperClocked in SLI – $1460 at Amazon (USA) or
- Two EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB Reference frequencies in SLI – $1400 at B&H (International Shipping)

Simply put, this card features the fastest GPU on the market, faster than the Radeon R9 290X, even faster than the GTX Titan Black, thanks to the EVGA GTX 780 Ti SuperClocked higher frequencies.

So if you want more performance, what do you do? You get two times the fastest video card on the market and you run them together.

This is what we have here, with two Geforce GTX 780 Ti in SLI.

These particular EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti SuperClocked from run at higher frequencies than the standard edition, with core/boost frequencies of 980MHz/1046MHz vs 876MHz/928MHz for reference cards, resulting in even higher performance!

Remember to plug the Nvidia SLI bridge on the two cards to be able to enable 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?
Two 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.

For a triple 2560 x 1440/1600 monitor setup (11.1/12.3 Megapixels) or two 3840 x 2160 monitor setup (16.6MP), I highly recommend upgrading to a three Geforce GTX 780 Ti in a Three-Way SLI setup as recommended below.

Note that for 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:
Three EVGA Geforce GTX 780 Ti in Three-Way SLI

- Three EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB SuperClocked in Three-Way SLI – $2190 at Amazon (USA) or
- Three EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB Reference frequencies in Three-Way SLI – $2100 at B&H (International Shipping)

If you want the best performance possible, without consideration for price nor power consumption, three Geforce GTX 780 Ti in Three-Way SLI are the way to go.

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

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 780 Ti 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.

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 .