Having completed our mechanical keyboard & gaming motherboard buyer's guides, we're now moving on to the gaming world's most critical component: Video cards. This video card buyer's guide looks at the best GPUs for gaming at various budgets, starting at $100 and rising up to the $600 flagships. Then again, you could build the $300 ultra-budget APU-powered machine we posted.
AMD and nVidia have recently been embattled in price wars, most clearly highlighted by the GTX 760's price-drop to $200 and the R9 270's drop to $135, both powerful GPUs that launched at significantly higher price points. This price war has influenced several other graphics solutions currently on the market, ensuring a prime buying period for those building new PCs.
And that price-tag includes the operating system. CyberPower is selling its Fang Mini R9 SE complete gaming system for $99, a box partnered with Gigabyte that resembles the Brix. The Fang Mini (product page) ships equipped with an R9 M275X 2GB GPU, A8-5557M quad-core CPU, Windows 8.1, and a 120GB SSD. This small form factor gaming box normally retails at nearly $1000, but will be marked down to $250 with $150 of rebates, landing it at $99. The unit is being offered as a “door-buster” pre-Black Friday sale in limited quantity. 300 units will be available, starting at 6PM (1800) EST today, 11/26.
The unit is capable of driving medium graphics in larger AAA games, but needs a serious RAM upgrade. We'd recommend a minimum 4GB kit of SO-DIMM DDR3L RAM, like this Kingston 1x4GB DDR3L 1600MHz kit for $70.
Graphics card manufacturer VisionTek has been in the business for a long time now – nearly 25 years – and has been a long-time exclusive AMD board partner. The group just recently announced plans to sell off old AMD hardware for $1-$3, ranging from AGP units and Radeon 2000 cards up through relatively recent Radeon 5000 cards.
Motherboard selection is mercifully less intimidating than picking a laptop for gaming. With boards, we can establish a set of criteria and narrow down the selection immediately to something more manageable; lower prices than other components also make selection somewhat easier to mentally justify. Our criteria for motherboard selection typically includes consideration of socket type, form factor, ability to overclock, and chipset
We've previously published chipset guides for both AMD's latest chipsets and Intel's Haswell chipsets, each of which shows the differentiating features between various inter-platform options. This buyer's guide looks at the best gaming motherboards for Intel's Haswell and Devil's Canyon processors, then AMD's FM2+ platform. AM3+ is not considered in this guide, given its age and our decision to abandon the platform in PC build guides. We've also opted to exclude X99 motherboards from this guide, given the added complexity and entirely different architecture.
We'll start with tables, then cover the things to look for in a motherboard, and then move on to our selections for this season.
This launch season has been one of the most hectic I can remember. The entire year has been a bit chaotic, actually; we had major GPU announcements, architecture changes (Intel & NVIDIA), several AAA game titles (Dragon Age, Warlords of Draenor, ACU, Far Cry 4, Call of Duty), and more. It's been non-stop games news for the entire year, and that's indicative of a healthy industry.
We recently benchmarked Assassin's Creed Unity and Far Cry 4, both Ubisoft titles, and found that each game is fairly graphics-intensive and demanding of system resources. This ~$1000 DIY gaming PC build allows for near-max settings in Assassin's Creed Unity and Far Cry 4, and with help from ShadowPlay, it'll stream to Twitch with relative ease.
CPU cooling and PSU manufacturer Be Quiet! has just announced its first high-end enclosure, the “Silent Base 800.” The company indicated to press earlier this year that it had plans to enter the enclosure market prior to the 2014 holidays, and it looks like that target date was hit.
The Silent Base 800 enclosure is advertised as offering “the perfect symbiosis of noise prevention and cooling performance,” which in non-marketing speak translates to “noise damped and ventillated.”
I don't think we've ever tested any AAA games without a follow-up “crash fixes” article. Bugs run rampant – especially for PC users – in most modern triple-A titles, and that remains true for Far Cry 4. After last week's Assassin's Creed benchmark and crash fix posts, we've returned with a Far Cry 4 crash fix guide.
This crash fix guide addresses Far Cry 4 white screens, failure to launch, black screens, CTDs, frame stuttering, & AMD issues.
Ubisoft launched all its AAA titles in one go for the holiday season, it seems. Only days after the buggy launch of Assassin's Creed Unity ($60) – a game we found to use nearly 4GB VRAM in GPU benchmarking – the company pushed Far Cry 4 ($60) into retail channels. Ubisoft continued its partnership with nVidia into Far Cry 4, featuring inclusion of soft shadows, HBAO+, fine-tuned god rays and lighting FX, and other GameWorks-enabled technologies. Perhaps in tow of this partnership, we found AMD cards suffered substantially with Far Cry 4 on PC.
Our Far Cry 4 GPU FPS benchmark analyzes the best video cards for playing Far Cry 4 at max (Ultra) settings. We tested lower settings for optimization on more modest GPU configurations. Our tests benchmarked framerates on the GTX 980 vs. GTX 780 Ti, 770, R9 290X, 270X, 7850, and more. RAM and VRAM consumption were both monitored during playtests, with CPU bottlenecking discovered on some configurations.
Update: For those interested in playing Far Cry 4 near max settings, we just put together this PC build guide for a DIY FC4 PC.
Server GPUs for HPC (high-performance computing) applications aren't exactly within the realm of our gaming coverage, but the Tesla K80 is worthy of note purely from a technological standpoint. Nvidia's new Tesla graphics accelerator hosts dual-GK210 Kepler GPUs capable of double-precision floating-point performance of approximately 2.91 TFLOPs, or single-precision FP performance at a staggering 8.74TFLOPs. Strictly for reference – because the Tesla is not comparable to gaming cards – the GTX 980 GM204 pushes about 4.6TFLOPs single-precision FP performance.