Best Video Cards for Gaming 2015 – Black Friday Guide to GPU Sales

By Published November 26, 2015 at 11:20 pm
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This article specifically looks at single-GPU solutions to gaming at various price-points. We scale our GPU search from $100 to $600, covering PC builders across budget, mid-range, and high-end configurations. We've had extensive hands-on testing with the cards below, a fact accentuated by the burst of game launches in the past few weeks. Most of these cards have been tested in Battlefront, Fallout 4, AC Syndicate, Black Ops III, and the year's earlier titles, like The Witcher 3 and GTA V.

Black Friday starting to hit full swing, we found some of the best graphics cards of the year on sale for – in some cases – significant discount. The GTX 970 at $290, R9 380 at $143, and GTX 980 at $400 are just a few of the finds below.

Other Recent Buyer's Guides

Some of our other recent buyer's guides include sale items through the holiday season, particularly Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Check these out for additional buying assistance:

Video Card Notes Price
ASUS R7 370 2GB ($130 - $20 MIR) $110
MSI GTX 950 2GB ($160 - $30 MIR) $130
XFX R9 380 2GB ($173 - $30 MIR) $143
(Alternative) MSI GTX 960 2GB ($205 - $25 instant - $30 MIR) $150
EVGA GTX 970 4GB ($350 - $60 instant + Prime) $290
ASUS R9 390X 8GB ($440 - $50 instant - $20 MIR) $370
MSI GTX 980 4GB ($500 - $70 instant - $30 MIR) $400
EVGA GTX 980 Ti 6GB ($680 - $50 instant - $20 MIR) $600

Recent Gaming Benchmarks for Graphics Cards

Before talking about each card independently, let's scrub through some GPU benchmarks for the most recent games:

Best Black Friday Sale on an Ultra-Budget Graphics Card – R7 370 ($110)

gpu-guide-asus-r7-370

ASUS R7 370 2GB ($110): AMD's R7 370 falls a little below the tried-and-true R9 270X in some tests, achieving parity at best. The R7 370 is a fierce, little machine at its price-point, outperforming the GTX 750 Ti ($120) in most games. You won't be playing the more intensive games of the seasons – AC Syndicate is out, Battlefront will be an uphill battle (but achievable with lowest settings) – but for games similar to DOTA2, League, CSGO, and other visually simplistic titles, the R7 370 is a good buy.

This is a true budget card. If you can foot the ~$30 extra for something better, we'd strongly encourage it for playing games outside of those listed. That's not always possible, though, and the R7 370 is a reasonable buy in such instances.

Best Black Friday Price on an Entry-Level GTX 950 ($130)

gpu-guide-msi-950

MSI GTX 950 2GB ($130): The GTX 950 hit the market at a price that felt a little awkward, positioned just under the then-$200 GTX 960. As the market has matured and AMD/nVidia devices have stabilized in their price hierarchy, the GTX 950 has become a reasonably-priced GPU. That's mostly true when it's on sale, like today's $130 post-MIR price. For $130, you get a card that outperforms the 750 Ti by double-digit percentages (depending on game), but runs cheaper than the R9 380 and GTX 960. If that extra few bucks between the 950 and the R9 380 ($142) is a little too much – or if you prefer nVidia, perhaps for its lower power draw and thermals – the GTX 950 stands as a good mid-step choice.

black-friday-psu-draw

Best Black Friday Deal on an Entry-Level AMD Video Card

gpu-guide-xfx-r9-380

XFX R9 380 2GB ($142): The R9 380 outperforms the GTX 950 by about 5.2% in GTA V, 4.3% in GRID: Autosport, and upwards of 20% in Metro: Last Light. The 380 is generally slightly ahead of the GTX 960, but some titles with heavier nVidia optimization (AC Syndicate, Witcher 3's 1% & 0.1% lows) will favor the GTX 960. If nowhere else, the 960 does generally hold higher sustained framerates (1% & 0.1% lows), but the R9 380 can push high averages across the board.

The R9 380 and GTX 960 both ship in 2GB and 4GB flavors, with the R9 380 2GB available at $142 currently. We've generally found games trending toward 4GB utilization, especially with highest quality textures, but most games still run well on 2GB (to include Battlefront, BLOPS, and GTA).

The R9 380 is our go-to, with AMD's driver issues largely resolved, but the $150 GTX 960 2GB is the alternative for users needing CUDA or nVidia features. These two cards will allow many of our tested games to play around 'high' settings nearing 60FPS, though those which are more abusive on framebuffer will require a dip in texture quality (due to limited VRAM capacity).

4GB variants of these cards would be the next step up, though at that point, we'd suggest moving to the brand new R9 380X 4GB ($230). The 380X received a favorable review from our team about a week ago.

Best All-Around Video Card at the Mid-Range: GTX 970 for $290

gpu-guide-evga-970

EVGA GTX 970 4GB ($290): The GTX 970 is still one of the best all-around performers, struggling only with higher resolutions or multi-monitor setups. Even still, 1440p is playable on the GTX 970 with more than a few of the games we tested (links above). The 970 is normally priced closer to $330-$350, but at $290 right now, it's one of the easiest choices we made for our list. The GTX 970 generally performs about 22% better than the R9 380X in Fallout 4 (~40.6% better than GTX 960 4GB) at 1080p/ultra, and about 4% worse than the GTX 980. In other games, like Assassin's Creed Syndicate, we see the GTX 970 ~13% behind the GTX 980 and ~29% ahead of the GTX 960 4GB & R9 380X.

Assuming 1080p, the GTX 970 can reliably play almost all games on our benchmark at 'ultra' or otherwise “near-max” settings. 1440p is also playable, with the GTX 970 achieving 68FPS at 1440/ultra in our Battlefront benchmark.

Moving to the High-End: R9 390X for $370, GTX 980 for $400, GTX 980 Ti for $600

gpu-guide-asus-390x-oc

ASUS R9 390X 8GB ($370): The R9 390X is a bit of an oddly positioned card at this point. Some recent games – especially AC Syndicate – actually show superior performance on the cheaper GTX 970, primarily a result of optimizations made on nVidia's hardware. This is also true in Fallout 4, where the GTX 970 outperforms the R9 390X marginally (5.1%) thanks to its tessellation performance.

Still, the R9 390X holds a lead in other games. GTA V, for instance, sees the R9 390X positioned just behind (-5.8%) the GTX 980 at 1080p, with the R9 390X equalizing as resolution increases. In Metro: Last Light, the R9 390X slightly (+3.6%) outperforms the GTX 980. The same is true in Shadow of Mordor, where the 390X (at 1080p) holds a ~1.2% lead over the GTX 980. Unfortunately, there's really no short, distinct answer where we can just tell you to “buy this” – it depends on the games played. If you're looking to play the Witcher 3, AC Syndicate, and Fallout 4, the GTX 980 and GTX 970 are solid choices. For other games, the R9 390X does generally outperform the GTX 970, if not the GTX 980. Learn more here.

gpu-guide-msi-980

MSI GTX 980 4GB ($400): The GTX 980, then, is the next obvious choice for the list of sales. Looking around, we found MSI's 980 selling for $400 after rebates and instant discounts, a full $100 cheaper than the current SRP. For a card that originally shipped at $550, it's come a long way down with the release of higher-tier cards (like the 980 Ti and AMD's Fury series). The GTX 980 can effectively play any game – or nearly so, with careful tuning – at max settings with 1080p. The card is also a capable 1440p performer, falling short only at 4K with higher settings. As we've consistently found, 4K still isn't playable on a wider scale without some sort of multi-GPU setup. That, or heavy compromise on the settings, which lessens the impact of 4K resolution.

gpu-guide-gtx-980-ti

EVGA GTX 980 Ti 6GB ($600): Not quite as impactful a sale as the others, EVGA's GTX 980 Ti ACX card is currently priced $50 below SRP, but about $70 below its normal price-point. The 980 Ti has been our chart-topper since its release, generally led by EVGA's liquid-cooled “Hybrid” variant. The 980 Ti is capable of running some games – Overwatch, Battlefront, GTA V (drop to 'high'), Shadow of Mordor, GRID, and others – at 4K with relatively high settings. This is our go-to, high-end, single-card solution right now.

If you require assistance in parts selection, please leave a comment below or post on our one-on-one support forums.

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- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.

Last modified on November 27, 2015 at 11:20 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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