In a bid to garner attention in the graphics market, AMD's Radeon graphics division has branded its newest Catalyst driver update simply as “Omega.” Unlike previous iterations, the new driver attaches a codename to symbolize the dramatic changes made to the underlying software. Catalyst Omega introduces direct competitors to NVIDIA technology (like DSR, seen here), offers greater Linux support, and hosts a suite of media playback smoothing options. We'll look into all of those here, along with some driver benchmarks.
Here's a quick overview, as provided by AMD (note that AMD's numbers differ from our benchmark numbers, shown and explained further below):
Like many sites, our site relies heavily upon referral commission from online retail outlets. It's a fairly straight-forward operation: We help our readers build computers, find the right video card, and test games; in return for this free service, we earn a small commission on sales from Newegg, Amazon, and similar online retail outlets. It's not a lot of money, but it's something.
Now that Black Friday is over and all of the sales are reporting in, we started analyzing data to see which items were the most popular referred purchases through our site. This isn't representative of the most popular hardware in the industry – just what was recommended on our site – but is a good cross-section for what PC builders are interested in.
We're working our way through all of the major system components and peripherals, hopefully providing easy-to-use buyer's guides for the best components of 2014. Our most recent buyer's guides covered top-performing gaming video cards, mechanical keyboards, and gaming laptops.
This next guide focuses on the best Intel & AMD gaming CPUs on the market, ranging from ultra-budget (~$100) options to high-end semi-production solutions (~$300). Consider following our gaming motherboard buyer's guide to accompany any CPU purchases.
In doing so, we put together a PC that is great for streaming videos, games, and even playing less intensive games like League of Legends, Minecraft, Path of Exile, and DOTA2. This PC should not be considered a viable option if you're looking to play games like Far Cry 4 (benchmark) and Assassin's Creed Unity (benchmark). If you're looking to build the best general purpose streaming PC for the lowest price, this $299 gaming HTPC build is perfect for you.
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.
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.
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.
It's “Black November” again – presumably next year will be “Black 2015,” at the rate we're going. Regardless, there are legitimately worthwhile sales in the gaming hardware and software worlds. We've got full round-ups coming in short order, but for the meantime, we'll just highlight VisionTek's R9 290 “CryoVenom” sale.
We hope you all had a great, Star Citizen-filled Halloween! Now that it's over and the sugar rush is subsiding, let's see what goodies are still out there. This week, we decided to focus on video card sales, having found some great deals on both AMD and NVIDIA cards.