Best Graphics Cards of 2016: Top picks for every budget

By Steve · 70 replies
Jan 25, 2016
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  1. Combined, AMD and Nvidia released over a dozen new GPUs in 2015, with models ranging in price from $100 to $1,000. Picking the right product for your rig can be tricky, especially with many cards occupying the same price bracket, such as the Radeon R9 380 and GeForce GTX 960, which both cost $200.

    Now, let's say you have missed some of that action, and you are just now looking to upgrade or buy a new GPU. Don't mind all that testing, marginal fps gains depending on the game you play, power consumption figures, or overclocking potential. You want a simple question answered.

    Given a certain budget, which is the graphics card you should buy? Fret no more.

    Read the complete guide.

    misor likes this.
  2. VitalyT

    VitalyT Russ-Puss Posts: 3,660   +1,948

    No mentioning R9 Fury X? Was it that bad?
  3. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    It was mentioned in the second paragraph...

    "Compared to AMD's big hitter, the Fury X, the 980 Ti is faster before any overclocking takes place. Nvidia's flagship may be larger, but it doesn't come with a bulky radiator hanging off the back. Moreover, custom cards from Gainward, MSI, Gigabyte, and others run rather cool and quiet."

    No, it's not a bad graphics card.
    wastedkill, Darth Shiv and VitalyT like this.
  4. transerv

    transerv TS Member

    These cards are getting OLD this time next year ALL new cards will be out there NO reason to waste money on these. D12 is for 4K that means the next cards will be Twice as Powerful. Wasn't that long ago we had the 680 then the 780 now the 980 is 2 years Old. I read where a card like the 980TI will be out at twice as Fast at 700 $$ for D12 and 4K.
    9Nails likes this.
  5. SlickR

    SlickR TS Rookie

    Only an Nvidia shill would recommend the gimped GTX 370 with 3.5GB or ram for $330 which is the average price it goes for in the world.

    Also the GTX 950 is another absurd recommendation, it costs $160 in the USA, its 160 euros in Europe and that is for the 2GB model, that is absurd card to recommend. The AMD r9 270 costs the same, yet is about 15% faster on average.
    darkzelda and NightAntilli like this.
  6. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,298   +1,396

    I was thinking the same thing about the 970. The problem from the 3.5gb of ram prevents it from being a long term investment. because of the problems associated with the extra 0.5gb of vram the card is unpredictable at higher resolutions. I am an nVidia shill and I'd still avoid the 970 like the plaque. However, I've been making due with my 680 just fine and I'll upgrade when pascal comes out.

    Quite frankly, given the performance problems associated with the 970 it shouldn't even be on this list, I don't care if it's the most popular graphics card. The bandwagon argument is never a reliable gauge of quality.
    Evernessince and NightAntilli like this.
  7. Royalgok

    Royalgok TS Member Posts: 33

    Excellent article. Content like this is exactly why I always keep TS bookmarked. On a related note, quite happy with my 770; can't wait for Pascal.
  8. Cryio

    Cryio TS Addict Posts: 207   +62

    "980 Ti, Also the Best for Multi-GPU 4K Gaming"? Whaaat? FuryX in Xfire gets 10-20% better performance than 980 Tis in 4K and the 4 GB framebuffer of the FuryX is 95% not a problem. If you overclock both cards, FuryXs still come ahead of 980 Tis in 4K.

    "Best value 970" WHAT? The 390 is faster, has more VRAM and is usually cheaper. Given AMD's track record, the 390 will only improve in time, while the 970 will only slow down in time.

    "Best mainstream 380" = Finally, a sane choice. Though 380 4 GB version sounds better.

    "Best Budget 950" = Yeah, can't argue here. Pretty dumb AMD didn't release anything GCN 1.2 under R9 285 and their R7 370 is slower than their previous R9 270.

    "Best HTPC/Compact Card R9 Nano". I'd say best card overall. It's same price as the 980 now, it's cheaper than a Fury, it's more efficient than the 980, it's quieter, it's faster, it's significantly faster in 2K/4K and some 10-20% faster in 1080p and can overclock to FuryX level of performance.
    Evernessince likes this.
  9. I too, avoid plaque with my handy dandy toothbrush! :D

    Regarding the article, after reading it and then reading the comments, I thought I haven't read it! These comments have nothing to do with the article!!?? I still could not locate where in the artice GTX370 was mentioned as the go-to card, as transerv & SlickerR point out.

    As for me, I've been eyeing this card:
    still have not pulled the trigger since I'm contemplating the definition of Crossfire. :D :D
  10. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,304   +648

    I'm not into cutting edge, gave that up when I stopped playing video games. Graphic performance for me is just what makes photoshop work. I will usually upgrade my system, when photoshop updates, but now with the CC version, I usually wait til last years "flagship" card gets discounted because of a new flagship card comes out. Sometimes you can really get some good deals on graphic cards after a year.
  11. cartera

    cartera TS Evangelist Posts: 365   +113

    Thanks for the update on how progress and evolution is made.

    Good article, pretty much sealed the 980ti as the choice for my new rig.
    wastedkill and Darth Shiv like this.
  12. Geforcepat

    Geforcepat TS Booster Posts: 140   +16

    The best cards of 16 have not released yet.
  13. Julio Franco

    Julio Franco TechSpot Editor Posts: 7,667   +987

    This is a follow up to our annual graphics card roundup (Oct/15), and the plan is to keep it updated throughout the year as new GPUs are released. Think of it as your one-stop resource for what GPU to buy at any given time.

    As noted in the article, we don't expect new generation GPUs to come out until Q2 or Q3.
    Tibeardius likes this.
  14. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 2,085   +1,266

    The 970 is a very tempid choice. The only reason the 970 should be getting the edge on the 390 is because it's an awesome overclocker. Otherwise, the 390 is going to perform better now and in the future. More vRAM helps right now and more later above 1080p, DX 12 support of the 970 is poor compared to the AMD card, and simply less raw power are all large factors. Nvidia tends to support their cards only when they are new and then they cease getting performance improvements. The 7970 has been around for quite awhile and still an awesome card.
    Apogee777, Techman3 and darkzelda like this.
  15. richcz3

    richcz3 TS Member Posts: 22   +9

    The 680 with 4GB is still a viable card after all these years - Have one in one of my rigs.

    As for the 970, yes there is the 3.GB issue if you're trying to push 4K. It is more than capable card for 1080 players who shoot for high frame rates at a decent price. I notice there's a lot of focus on 4k gaming and there are very few real good 4K monitors that are affordable while 144Hz 1080 monitors are really a bargain. Even 2560x1600 monitors. I'll take very high frame rates over resolution any day
  16. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,811   +472

    I don't see your point. How could it possibly be a long term investment when it is only really adequate for 1080p for current games? It can't do 1440p at decent fps. 3.5GB means at you turn textures down for games that are really stretching it already for raw performance.
  17. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,811   +472

    The card is sensational... I only run 1440p so can't say what the 4K will go like in personal experiences but the card I have is quiet, ~62C under load and framerates well over 60 for what I've thrown at it so far with details max and 2560x1440 res. Cost a bit but the question is what do you need performance wise to be happy? Those marks were my target and lesser cards were short so I bit the bullet.
  18. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,298   +1,396

    There is a hardware issue with the extra .5gb of vram where the other 3gb slows down when it's in use. So when you use that extra .5gb of vram you're actually running slower than if you only had 3GB. Essentially the 970 is not a true 3.5gb card. Because of this the potential lifespace of the 970 is significantly shorten. They have released some software fixes to help ease this problem, but since it is a hardware issue they can only do so much with driver updates.
  19. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,868   +2,035

    I have to assume you are talking about the GTX 970? Even so it makes no sense. What is with you guys and your obsession over VRAM? Firstly, can you please provide some evidence where the GTX 970 suffers from a lack of VRAM under playable conditions. It is out right faster than the 390 at 1080p due to AMD’s driver overhead issue and matches the 390 at 1440p. It consumes less power and overclocks much better. It also costs the exact same amount.

    The GTX 950 is an obvious choice here so I am not even going to bother arguing the point. The R9 270 has been heavily handy capped through poor driver optimisation for the latest games and well it is a discontinued product.

    You are a Nvidia shill are you? You go to bat for AMD in every CPU comparison and defend them like your life is on the line in any GPU related article. Anyway rather than speculate and make baseless claims feel free to provide hard evidence of your claims.

    The GTX 970 is NOT unpredictable at higher resolutions (higher being greater than 1440p), it is far TOO SLOW at higher resolutions, just as the R9 390 is.

    No the 390 isn’t faster, it has more VRAM it can’t use and it’s the same price. The 390 will only improve with time? Huh how is that working out for the 200 series?

    The Nano isn’t faster than the 980 and it’s not more efficient either. It’s certainly not quieter and again it isn’t faster at 2K or 4K, it is also much slower at 1080p. Yes it can overclock to Fury X level of performance and gain a small amount of performance.
  20. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,298   +1,396

    I own an i7 3770k and a GTX680.


    and just because I own nVidia and Intel hardware does not mean I want AMD to do poorly. Both companies competing with quality products is better for us all.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2016
  21. darkzelda

    darkzelda TS Evangelist Posts: 302   +107

    I have myself a GTX 970 and I would not recommend it over a R9 390. Nvidia doesn't support properly its old GPU's, right now the old R9 280x fares better than the GTX 770, besides the GTX 970 has 3,5 vRam and sooner or later games will benefit from more vRam. I don't know, when I buy a video card I hope to stay with it from 3 to 4 years and the GTX 970 doesn't seem to hold really well for that long.
  22. lipe123

    lipe123 TS Evangelist Posts: 718   +236

    How is ANY video card in the $350-400 price range a "long term investment"? The best you can hope for is one generation gap like my 670 -> 970 upgrade.

    As far the Vram BS non-issue that everyone and their dog swears completely cripples the card - you are pulling that out of thin air and its simply untrue.
    I play games on a 16:10 monitor (1920x1200 resolution) every day of my life on my gtx 970 with ZERO problems and amazing frame rates.
    So WAY above mainstream 1080p junk it still performs damn great!

    I'm starting to think that all these "zomg the 970 is such fail" posts are done from computers with Intel HD4000 series video cards and solitaire running in the background.
    Steve likes this.
  23. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,298   +1,396

    Well perhaps "long term investment" was a bad choice of words, but I'll describe what I mean by that. I have 2 computers, so when I buy something I plan on having it for 6-7 years. I have my main rig and the secondary one. Whenever I upgrade, my main rig at the time turns into the secondary one. I use the secondary mostly to experiment, but it's also used as a second gaming machine when I have a friend over. The advantage of having hardware for a long time is that you become familiar with common issues helping to diagnose problems when you're experimenting. My secondary rig, currently, is a 940BE, 8gb of ram and a GTX 470.

    When I buy hardware I try to have it for 6-7 years. I've had my i7/680 going on 4 years now and I think I got the 940/470 in late 2009. IIRC I had an 8800GT on the 940 for awhile before I bought the GTX470. So 6-7 years is a long term investment when it comes to technology. I know most people want a shiny new whatever the minute it comes out, but this hardware is useful for many years after it's purchase.
    Evernessince likes this.
  24. lipe123

    lipe123 TS Evangelist Posts: 718   +236

    My 670 frustrated the heck out of me, I had stutters and slow frame rates and whatnot in easy to play games like orcs must die 2 or diablo 3(now diablo has some issues but still) I've had no issues at all with the 970, it was well priced and I'm quite sure it will last me at least 2-3 more years unless something major changes.

    My point of the post was everyone goes the AMD 380 should be the better card because the 970 is "gimped" and thats just untrue. It's not gimped or a poor performer if you use it for its intended purpose. It's NOT a 4K video card.
  25. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,298   +1,396

    The problem with the "it can't do 4k" argument that I hate is that if you want to play at 4k, you can, just not at max settings. And I don't know what's going on with people today, but todays looks AMAZING even at low and medium settings if you tweak them right. Of course you can't max everything out if you want to play on 4k, but you can play at 4k. I know this because I play at 4k on my GTX 680 with my Philips BDM4065UC. Granted, I have to keep things mostly at medium, but I can play 4k at 40-50 FPS semi-reliably. Now ofcourse I don't like playing at 30 FPS and there-abouts, but it is playable.

    Now while the memory issues on the 970 may not affect many people directly, it leads to problems with performance diagnoses that I'm better off simply eliminating. The software fix on the 970 is mostly just a bandaid and not a 100% fix. If I were to buy the 970 the memory issue would cause problems for me. However, I planned on skipping the 900 series from the get go so I was never in the market for 970. It's been rough waiting for Pascal, but it'll be worth it.

    All that said, I am happy that you are enjoying your purchase and that nVidia has managed to keep the problems in check, but I stand by the notion that it's a card that you're better off trying to avoid if you can. I understand that for many people it's the most that they can afford and that's the end of that.

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