An In-Depth Guide to the Current Generation of Graphics Cards. (The Main Event)
Welcome to The GPU Main Event. Bringing you the one and only true winner between AMD and Nvidia!
I've been seeing a lot of threads lately about what graphics card people should get for their desktop and i hope to inform people with this thread.
With the current generation of graphics cards you have two choices as to what gpu manufacturer you want to go with.
AMD or Nvidia.
Lets not get confused with GPU manufacturer and the actual graphics card manufacturers.
Graphics Card manufacturers include ASUS, EVGA, Gigabyte etc and buy the actual GPU core off AMD or Nvidia to sell with their own custom designs, heatsink, fans, software etc.
But we will go in depth into card manufacturers later in this guide.
At the moment i'd like to talk about the gpu's both sides have produced for their current series.
In the Red corner, we have the AMD Southern Islands GPU Family.
First shown in December 2011 with the Radeon HD 7970, the Southern Islands family is the latest series of GPU's from AMD.
They are based on a 28nm manufacturing process and Graphics Core Next (GCN) Architecture.
With standard support for the new PCI-E 3.0 standard, DirectX 11.1, Shader Model 5.0 and OpenGL 4.2 they quickly claimed the mantle as the latest and greatest gpu's available, overtaking Nvidia's GTX 500 series and AMD's previous HD 6000 series.
They were released in sort of a 'backwards fashion' with the most powerful GPU (Radeon HD 7970) being released first.
The HD 7970 was released to the public in January of 2012 with a release price of $549 followed by the slightly cheaper $449 HD 7950 at the end of January. The rest of the series was released from February to March. Unique to the high end 7900 cards was it's 3GB of video memory which was rarely seen in consumer cards.
The extra video memory allows users to run games on higher resolutions without any stuttering or need to turn settings down.
AMD was hit with a lot of negative comments on the release prices of the Southern Islands Family, with customers complaining the prices of their higher end 7900 series was too high.
However the price of the series came skyrocketing down in March 2012 when rival company Nvidia released their GTX 600 series of gpu's.
The price of the original 7970 went down to $449 and AMD launched a counter attack against Nvidia's highest end 680 gpu by releasing the HD 7970 Ghz Edition for $499.
The HD 7970 Ghz Edition was released shortly after the GTX 680 in June 2012, and provided AMD with a direct head-to-head competition against the Nvidia GTX 680. It came with a stock core clock of 1000Mhz (1Ghz) And memory clock of 6000Mhz Effective which trumped AMD's original HD 7970 which was referenced at 925/5500 respectively.
The HD 7970 Ghz Edition also came with a Pixel Fillrate of 33.6 GP/s and Texture Fillrate of 134.4 GT/s, as well as upgraded bandwidth speed and higher power consumption. The HD 7970 Ghz Edition holds an approximate 20% performance increase over the standard HD 7970. The HD 7970 ghz edition came standard with 3GB of video memory and some manufacturers have doubled it to 6GB in their high end cards.
The HD 7970 Ghz Edition was locked in a battle with the GTX 680 for months, performing better at some games and worse at others.
In November 2012 AMD reclaimed the mantle of having the most powerful single gpu chip when they released their 12.11 Beta "Never Settle" drivers.
These drivers gave a huge performance increase in most popular games and made better use of AMD's powerful GCN architecture, effectively putting the HD 7970 Ghz edition ahead of the GTX 680 at most games and benchmarks.
The gap was further widened after AMD Released the 13.1 whql drivers as well as the 13.2 beta which showed more performance enhancements making the HD 7970 Ghz Edition the best 'bang for the buck' gpu as it showed better performance in at least 60% of all popular games and benchmarks.
During the time the HD 7970 Ghz Edition was released, AMD Also released a revised version of the HD 7950 which was at least 15% faster than the original, and then later in November 2012 AMD Released their limited edition HD 7870 XT GPU which performs at least 15% faster than the original 7870.
The Southern Islands Family has been praised for their high overclockability, with some end users being able to get the 7970 Ghz Edition core running at 1.3Ghz (300mhz over stock). As well as most of the 7800 series and 7900 series being able to go 100mhz over their manufactured speeds easily.
However, due to the powerful nature of the GCN Architecture, the higher end Southern Islands chips consume a lot of power, with the 7970 Ghz Edition consuming a whopping 250 watts at 100% load. Most AMD Graphics card manufacturers Recommend a 550 watt Power supply or higher when running a 7970 Ghz Edition card, and at least a 750 watt or higher power supply when running two of them in Crossfire.
And in the Green corner we have the Nvidia Geforce 600 series.
The Kepler Architecture was introduced in March 2012 with the release of the Geforce GTX 680.
Like AMD's Southern Islands family, the Geforce 600 series is based on a 28nm manufacturing process and the Kepler Architecture which is named after the German mathematician, astrologer and astronomer Johannes Kepler.
The architecture isn't considered to be as physically powerful as AMD's GCN architecture however it does something well that AMD didn't do with GCN and that is power savings. Nvidia's Kepler architecture uses less power per gpu when being compared to their AMD's southern islands rivals.
Nvidia's highest end GTX 680 uses 55 watts less than AMD's HD 7970 Ghz edition, this can be a critical factor in consumers who don't have bigger power supplies and allowing consumers to save money on their power bills by using less power.
It contains all the latest standards like PCI-E 3.0, DirectX 11.1, Shader Model 5.0 and OpenGL 4.2 and was released as a direct competitor to AMD's southern islands gpu's.
Their flagship GPU, the GTX 680 was released on March 22 2012 and contained 2GB of video memory standard, 1536 CUDA cores, a core clock of 1006mhz / 1058mhz boost and an effective memory clock of 6000mhz.
Nvidia have also included other technology level improvements such as Adaptive VSync, TXAA and GPU Boost.
All previous Nvidia technologies are included such as PhysX.
The GTX 680 came into the market at $580 and went head-to-head with the Radeon HD 7970 from AMD and was a fair amount better than it. AMD's solution to this was the HD 7970 Ghz Edition GPU which could match the GTX 680 depending on the game.
In November 2012, as a result of AMD's "Never Settle" 12.11 beta drivers - the 7970 Ghz Edition now performs better in most games when being compared to the GTX 680.
The 600 series of GPU's from nvidia have been haunted by bad drivers causing micro-stuttering when in SLI.
Architecture wise the Kepler architecture focused more on power savings and isn't as powerful as AMD's GCN Architecture, however depending on the game the Nvidia 600 series will put up a good fight against their AMD counterparts.
In April 2012 Nvidia released the first dual-gpu solution of the year, the Geforce GTX 690.
The GTX 690 is virtually two underclocked GTX 680 gpu's on one card and gives similar performance to 2 GTX 680's in SLI.
AMD have refused to compete against the GTX 690, despite rumors they were working on a Radeon HD 7990 dual gpu 7970 to rival the 690. Leaving the 690 the only 'official' dual GPU card available.
However Graphics Card manufacturers such as ASUS and Powercolor have created their own custom Radeon HD 7990's by fitting two 7970's onto one card; Namely the ASUS Ares 2 and Powercolor Devil13. The performance of these custom '7990's' perform on average 10% faster than Nvidia's GTX 690 cards.
In May 2012 Nvidia released the GeForce GTX 670 for $399. It contains 2GB of video memory, 1344 CUDA cores, and comes with a 980mhz core clock with 1084mhz boost and 6000mhz effective memory clock.
The GeForce GTX 670 is 10% slower than a GTX 680 at stock speeds, however some manufacturers such as EVGA and ASUS have redesigned the PCB and overclocked the core, allowing it to perform on par with the reference GTX 680 at a slightly higher price than the reference 670.
Some consumers have criticized Nvidia for only manufacturing their high end 600 series gpu's with only 2GB of video memory, causing some issues for users running multi monitor setups. Graphics Card manufacturers have rectified this problem by introducing 4GB versions of the GTX 670 and GTX 680 however the Bus width remains limited.
So, now that i know the specific GPU's that are available to me, what are Graphics Card manufacturers and what manufacturer should i buy my Graphics Card from?
Graphics Card manufacturers are specific companies that AMD and Nvidia sell their GPU's to.
These manufacturers take the GPU core and make the specific graphics card design, then they sell the Graphics Card under their name.
A graphics card manufacturer creates the exterior shell of the graphics card that we all see, and may also do one or more of the following.
- Use their own custom heatsink and fan
- Use their own custom PCB and capacitors
- Use their own custom external design
- Overclock the GPU past it's reference settings
- Add their own custom features to the card and bundle their own software with it.
There is a difference in the quality and design of the exterior shell, Power delivery/PCB, Cooling design, Capacitors and internal parts for all specific graphics card models depending on the manufacturer.
Some manufacturers may use higher quality parts than others and some other manufacturers may use reference design parts which are stock standard.
As of late Nvidia have been telling manufacturers to 'voltage lock' their Nvidia based Graphics Cards. Meaning that users cannot adjust the voltage on newer Nvidia cards, severely crippling the overclocking potential of all newer Nvidia based Graphics Cards as higher voltages allow the core clock to be pushed higher.
There is a work-around to this on some cards which involves flashing a new BIOS, but this will void your warranty.
There has been a huge consumer uproar about this.
I'll now go into detail about most of the popular graphics card manufacturers.
Red = AMD Only Manufacturer. This Manufacturer only creates their own Custom Graphics Cards based on AMD Chips. Green = Nvidia Only Manufacturer. This Manufacturer only creates their own Custom Graphics Cards based on Nvidia Chips. Blue = This manufacturer buys chips from both AMD and Nvidia and sells them in their own custom graphics cards.
The Top Range Manufacturers:
These manufacturers will give you the best of the best, with premium quality components.
ASUS take most of the higher end GPU's from both Nvidia or AMD and place their own DirectCU II Cooler onto them. DirectCU II stands for Direct Copper with 2 Fans. There are heatpipes which are directly touching the GPU instead of using a copper plate like most other coolers. These heatpipes run straight to a heatsink which is cooled by 2 fans. Most of ASUS's higher end cards like the 7970 and 680 use the DirectCU II Cooler with triple slot spacing, this means that the card itself is bigger and there is more room to cool - also the fans on the card will spin at lower rpms due to the extended heatsink allowing for quieter operation. However this also means it's going to take up more room in your case and motherboard, and running 3 or 4 say sli/crossfire with a triple slot cooler is impossible in this day and age. Meaning you'll only be limited to 2 way sli/crossfire providing you have a motherboard with 3 slot spacing. ASUS' mid range cards like the GTX 660Ti and HD 7870 only use dual slot DirectCU II Coolers which are capable of running in a max of 4 way sli/crossfire and taking up less room in your case/motherboard.
Most of ASUS' cards are overclocked from factory settings and come out of the box with a 'factory overclock' meaning they will perform better than the stock reference GPU. ASUS also has their own high end range called "TOP" - ASUS "TOP" Cards like the GTX 680 TOP are overclocked much higher than reference and have 'binned' GPU's. This means that the GPU will be able to overclocked further than standard GPU's as ASUS have tested all 'binned' GPU's by themselves. ASUS have released Special and Limited Edition cards like the "Mars 2", "Ares 2" and "Matrix" line of Graphics cards which are all unique in their own way. The build quality of ASUS cards is generally superior to other cards and they use very high quality solid capacitors in most of their cards and nichicon japanese capacitors in some of their special/high end cards.
ASUS are also known for making motherboards, sound cards, Optical drives and Monitors.
Gigabyte are another high end manufacturer that use GPU's from Nvidia or AMD and place their own custom cooler on it.
They have a wide range of coolers including Windforce (1 fan), Windforce 2 (2 fans) and Windforce 3 (3 fans) which they use on their graphics cards, Gigabyte cards are usually noticeable as they use a blue PCB (The back of the card which is facing upright in your case), most Gigabyte cards do not come with a PCB Backplate.
Like ASUS, Gigabyte uses high end parts in all of their designs and they give a slight overclock to most of the cards they produce. They have a very low return rate and most customers have not had an issue with them, however it is said that their returns department are not as friendly as others.
The highest End Single-GPU Gigabyte card available is the 680 Super Overclock, which features an Overclocked GTX 680 GPU with 5 side fans to provide cooling through the heatsink, it has found some negative reviews due to it's ugly design however it's a solid GTX 680 overall.
Gigabyte are also known for producing Motherboards.
MSI are a high end manufacturer which produce Graphics Cards for Nvidia and AMD. Most of their cards are directed at enthusiasts and gamers, and use their "Twin Frozr" cooling solution which provides a good balance of cooling and acoustics. MSI Cards are well made and their flagship Graphics cards are the 7970 Lightning and 680 Lightning with supreme overclocking performance.
MSI are also known for producing Motherboards.
EVGA are Nvidia's signature manufacturer and manufacture graphics cards for Nvidia only.
All of their Graphics cards are using high end components and come in stock clocks as well as factory overclocked models.
They prefer using the "Blower" style fan which is a single inner fan that sucks air in through the graphics card and is exhausted out the back. This results in fairly good temperatures, however it is louder than most fans. EVGA have recently created their own dual fan solution called the 'Signature 2' and it is available on the GTX 660Ti as well as the GTX 680. Their highest end single-gpu card available is the 680 Classified, which is an overclocked GTX 680 with 4GB of memory. EVGA are renowned for having the best customer service due to having lifetime warranty.
EVGA are also known for producing Motherboards.
Sapphire are similar to EVGA, but instead of manufacturing Graphics Cards only for Nvidia, they manufacture Graphics Cards only for AMD.
Their flagship cooler is labelled "VaporX" and uses a unique Vapor chamber which is meant to absorb and vaporize hot air, it is then pushed through the exhaust by 2 fans. The cooler works well and has no real faults, Sapphire's signature color is a blue/black design and the build quality of their cards is good enough to keep it in the Top Range of manufacturers. Their only real fault as a company is that they only offer a 2 year limited warranty.
Their flagship card is the 7970 VaporX as well as the 7970 TOXIC which are both among the fastest HD 7970's available.
The Mid Range manufacturers:
These manufacturers aren't renowned for being the best, but will still give you decent quality components.
Galaxy produce Graphics Cards for Nvidia only and are generally the cheapest in the range.
Their graphics cards are usually produced at stock speeds, however some models are overclocked. They mainly use a blower style fan like EVGA on their cheaper cards, however they have another design called "GC Edition" on their more expensive cards which provides a decent cooling performance.
Their flagship card is the Galaxy GTX 680 GC Edition.
A Hong Kong based Graphics card manufacturer that generally makes good quality cards. However they do not sell worldwide which loses them some points.
Their signature cooler is labelled as "Double Dissipation" and uses a dual fan design which blows air through the heatsink and out the card.
XFX are renowned for making power supplies.
I can't effectively give much detail on these manufacturers, you should investigate them as thoroughly as possible.
Let the battle begin! What graphics card should i get?
- Nvidia GeForce GT640
- AMD Radeon HD 7770
And the Winner is... AMD Radeon HD 7770
The HD 7770 is the best budget card available, it's not going to break the bank as it's only $120 and it's still going to make your PC more powerful than a console. It will allow you to play all the latest games on ultra at a resolution of 1280x720 or 1366x768 at over 60fps, however it should not be purchased for a computer that is going to be playing games at 1080p or higher.
- ASUS Radeon HD 7770 DirectCU II v2 - $130
- Gigabyte HD 7770 Overclocked - $120
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7770 1GB GHZ Edition - $110
"Cost-Effective Gaming" Tier:
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 660
- AMD Radeon HD 7870
And the Winner is... AMD Radeon HD 7870
The HD 7870 is a card that will allow you to play medium-high setting 1080p games at a price that's not going to force the wife to kill you or make your parents cry. This is all you're going to need for the next few years if you're not fanatical on playing your games at the highest settings possible.
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 660Ti
- AMD Radeon HD 7950
And the Winner is... AMD Radeon HD 7950
There is no competition in this, the Radeon 7950 is the best card if you want to play most new games on Ultra settings at 1080p @ 60fps. It's also the best bang for your buck card available among all mid range cards. If it's overclocked then it's going to perform on par with the original 7970 (not the Ghz Edition)
- ASUS Radeon HD 7950 TOP v2 - $330
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 OC Edition v2 - $320
- Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 Overclocked - $320
The Lone Soldier:
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 670
This is a bit of a tricky situation, The GTX 670 is better than the HD 7950 but it's not better than the GTX 680 and HD 7970 Ghz Edition. So it's kind of a lone soldier, there's no category to put it in. The 670 is the best card to buy if you're gaming on 1080p and just want that little bit of horsepower to go the extra mile. With a little bit of overclocking the GTX 670 can perform on par with a stock GTX 680.
- EVGA GeForce GTX 670 FTW 2GB - $410
- ASUS GeForce GTX 670 TOP 2GB - $420
- MSI GeForce GTX 670 Power Edition 2GB - $410
The "High End Gaming" Tier:
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 680
- ASUS Radeon HD 7970 Ghz Edition
And the Winner is...
AMD Radeon HD 7970 Ghz Edition
Gaming on a 27" monitor? Just want the best single gpu card? Look no further than the AMD Radeon 7970 Ghz Edition. With the new drivers it's more powerful than the GTX 680 and it's cheaper too! What's not to like about that? It's the most powerful single GPU Card available and comes with 3GB of video memory standard so you can game on larger monitors and at bigger resolutions. Sure the GTX 680 may beat it in some games and benchmarks, but there's no point in paying the extra money for it when the 7970 Ghz edition gets the win where it matters. (In most games and benchmarks)
- Sapphire HD 7970 TOXIC Edition - $700
- ASUS Matrix Platinum HD 7970 - $600
- Sapphire Radeon HD7970 OC Edition w/ Boost - $420
The "Extremist" Tier:
There's only one choice if you want to run multi monitors and still game on ultra at 60fps. And that's either buy two high end cards and put them in SLI or Crossfire.
OR buy a GTX 690, the true dual GPU Card of this generation of GPU's.
So, what's next?
Nvidia have hinted a Release of their new "GeForce Titan" Codename GK110 GPU in February of this year (2013). It's been given the labels "Big Kepler" and "GeForce GTX 680 Ultra" and is expected to have 85% of the performance that the GTX 690 has, but on a single GPU! Nvidia claim it's what the Kepler Architecture was truly meant to be. And it'll be interesting to see what comes of these rumors.
When released it's expected to have a launch price of $899USD or approximately $200 cheaper than the GTX 690.
It's unknown weather Nvidia plan to release a full 700 series in 2013, but if they do then one would expect it'd be a refresh of the Kepler architecture and should provide a 20% performance boost to it's 600 series counterparts. Hinted rumors say Q3-Q4 2013.
AMD Have hinted the release of their 8000 series cards based off the Sea Islands Architecture (A refresh of Southern Islands).
The release of the first Sea Islands GPU (Curacao XT) or most commonly known as the Radeon HD 8970 is expected to be Q2 2013.
In theory it should be 15-20% More powerful than the 7000 series with added power savings.
Thank you for reading this guide and i hope it has taught you a lot about GPU's and Graphics cards.
Created by Redux of MPGH.net
30th January 2013
This content may not be copied without credits to the original creator (Redux).