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Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2014

Best Graphics Cards For The Money: December 2014
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AMD releases its Catalyst Omega driver in time for the holiday season, adding impressive new functionality that matches some of what the competition does. This time of year always has an effect on pricing, so read up on the market changes inside!

Detailed graphics card specifications and reviews are great, assuming you have the time to do the research. But at the end of the day, a gamer needs to know what the best graphics card is for their money. So, if you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right card, then fear not. We've compiled a simple list of the best gaming cards offered in any given price range.

December Updates:

There weren't any product introductions in the last month, but AMD did notably roll out a handful of new features with its Catalyst Omega driver. Fresh functionality includes Virtual Super Resolution (VSR, AMD's version of Nvidia's Dynamic Super Resolution), FreeSync support (AMD's open-source counterpart to G-Sync), 5K monitor support, support for Eyefinity groups of up to 24 monitors, frame rate and frame pacing performance improvements and an updated Gaming Evolved client with an improved interface to better compete with Nvidia's GeForce Experience software. It's an impressive package that does a good job of improving AMD's standing. However, we can't forget to acknowledge Nvidia for getting there first. When it comes to VSR and FreeSync, AMD is playing catch-up. For more detailed info, check AMD's Catalyst Omega Graphics Driver Bursting With New Features, Including FreeSync, 5K Support And More.

As we leap headlong into the holiday buying season, prices tend to rise slightly. This year is no different, although there are a few exceptions. For example, the Radeon R9 295X2 dropped an impressive amount making it a much more attractive buy for users who want two Hawaii GPUs in one 16-lane PCI Express slot. The GeForce GTX Titan Z was also discounted across the pond but at over a thousand pounds, it remains a difficult sell (particularly next to the similarly-performing Radeon R9 295X2).

The rest of the price movement trends upward, rather than down. The Radeon R9 290, the Radeon R9 285 and the Radeon R9 270X are all up. From Nvidia, the GeForce GTX 970, the GeForce GTX 980 and 750 Ti are up. None of those price increases are dramatic enough to have a significant impact on our buying recommendations though, which remain relatively stable. The only real change is a re-introduction of AMD's Radeon R9 290X as a viable alternative to the GeForce GTX 970.

We are hearing more whispers about new products from AMD and Nvidia. Our own Niels Broeckhuijsen passed on a rumor regarding AMD R9 390X 'Captain Jack' In The Offing that suggests an upcoming card that may potentially perform well in both the performance and power usage arenas. More news is surfacing about a GeForce GTX 960 card from Nvidia, too.

Aside from this, graphics card junkies may want to read our recent Zotac GeForce GTX 980 AMP! Omega Edition Review: The Big Gun and XFX Radeon R9 285 Black Edition Review: Maximum Overdrive. We also announced Gigabyte's GTX 980 WaterForce 3-Way SLI Kit Pricing Revealed and talked about Nvidia's New GK210 GPU Powers Dual-GPU Tesla K80 For Accelerated Computing since last month's update.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, the cards on this list are more expensive than what you really need. We've added a reference page at the end of the column covering integrated graphics processors, which is likely more apropos for home, office, and basic multimedia usage models.
  • Recommendations for multiple video cards, such as two Radeon cards in CrossFire mode or two GeForce cards in SLI, typically require a motherboard that supports CrossFire/SLI and possibly a chassis with plenty of space to install multiple graphics cards. These setups also usually call for a beefier power supply than what a single card needs, and will almost certainly produce more heat than a single card. Keep these factors in mind when making your purchasing decision. In most cases, if we have recommended a multiple-card solution, we try to recommend a single-card honorable mention at a comparable price point for those who find multi-card setups undesirable.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t base our decisions on always-changing pricing information, but we can list some good cards that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest, along with real-time prices for your reference.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will almost certainly vary.
  • These are new card prices. No used or open-box cards are in the list. While these offers might represent a good deal, it’s simply outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
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