Recently we put together a "Top 5 Worst CPUs" feature as a fun side article and readers loved it. The requests came in for a similar article looking at graphics chips and so we’re going to have a go at that today.
As before, remember this is not meant to be taken too seriously, and if you happen to have one of these GPUs nestled away on your graphics card please don’t be offended. If you're looking for any kind of Intel integrated graphics in this list, now that'd be both hilarious and offensive, but don't fret, only discrete options apply.
Worst Mobile GPU: Radeon M470X
Kick starting the worst GPU picks we decided to go mobile, for the longest time mobile gaming has been pretty rubbish to be honest and AMD’s latest efforts on this front are about as, ahh... ordinary, as it gets. The Radeon RX 400 series represented pretty good value on the desktop though in comparison to Nvidia's GeForce 10 series it wasn’t the most power efficient.
This sadly didn’t bode well for the Radeon RX M400 series, the ‘M’ indicating that this is the mobile part. The RX 470 was the budget king and the must have sub-$200 GPU on the desktop, for laptops though it was the "must avoid at all costs" GPU.
The RX M400 series proved so bad for laptops that few brands even offered models supporting them. Power consumption was the key issue here and that caused a knock on effect for mobile parts that destroys everything. The poor efficiency meant AMD had to cut the Radeon RX M470X down to 896 stream processors from the 2048 SPUs of the desktop part, a massive 56% reduction.
This meant the mobile RX 470 performed at best like a desktop RX 460 and if you recall the 460 was embarrassingly slow.
In short, the Radeon M470X offered RX 460-like performance with power consumption that was comparable to that of the significantly faster GTX 1060. So laptops that used AMD’s solution were thick, loud and sadly much slower.
Worst Aging GPU Series: Nvidia Kepler
It’s hard to believe the GeForce GTX 780 series is roughly 4 years old now. That said though, it’s really showing its age. Compared to the Radeon R9 390, the GTX 780 has slipped further behind today. It may be down to the its architecture or Nvidia's neglect of driver development, or a bit of both. Either way we've never seen an Nvidia architecture fall away like Kepler has.
Kepler also marked the birth of the insane $1,000 Titan series, setting the tone for Nvidia's enthusiast boning tactics. You know, where they release the $1m000 model and then later that year release a product that delivers the same or better performance for a much easier to swallow price. Like the GTX 780 Ti!
Yes, the GTX 780 Ti seemed like the ultimate gift to high-end gamers in late 2013 and then by 2015 the ultimate curse.
Today Kepler-based GPUs have become so nurfed in modern games they’re no longer worth even buying. You’d have to be picking up, the once mighty GTX 780 Ti for pocket change to even consider it. It’s not a great deal faster than the GTX 1050 Ti in a lot of modern titles, but it’ll use around 150% more power.
Thankfully we've yet to see any noticeable decline in performance for the following generation, the Maxwell-based stuff. The GTX 970, 980 and 980 Ti still perform very well in modern titles, but as always we're keeping a close eye on this stuff.
Worst Mid-Range GPU: Radeon R9 285
We had a hard time working out which GPU we should pull the trigger on for this category. We only wanted to go back a few years to keep the picks somewhat relevant and we narrowed it down to a few options from both AMD and Nvidia. Finally, we settled on the Radeon R9 285, the model that launched the GCN 3rd-gen architecture in late 2014, about a year after the Radeon 200 series was introduced.
Chief among the reasons why we picked this GPU was its terrible timing. Almost a year after the first 200 series models arrived, the R9 285 was revealed on September 2014 for $250. We wrapped up our review by saying…
“At $249, the R9 285 doesn't exactly redefine the landscape with only 4% more performance on average than the card it will be replacing, the R9 280. Even if you discount the big loss in Tomb Raider, which could possibly be driver related, the R9 285 is still just 6% faster than the R9 280. Bringing a 4-6% boost for the same price obviously isn't bad, but we're not sure if the R9 285 was completely necessary either.”
We also noted that the Sapphire card tested was overclocked by 5% so the results are likely inflated by 2-3%, making the margin between the R9 285 and R9 280 even thinner.” The R9 285 did come with FreeSync support and enhanced DirectX 12 capabilities, but at the time neither were useful for most.
Another and possibly more serious issue for the Radeon was the GTX 970 that launched later that same month. The GeForce offered considerably more performance for a ~30% increase in price. So within the same month, the R9 285 faced a serious price cut just to remain relevant.
Though there was nothing wrong with the R9 285 -- the 2GB VRAM buffer was questionable -- its main issue was arriving too late, it didn’t change anything in the market, and so it disappointed with the latest iteration of the GCN architecture, it was a bit of a buzz kill you could say.
Worst GPU Naming Scheme: Nvidia's Titan
There were a few candidates to take this category, but come on, who's going to dispute this pick: the Pascal-based Titan range. Nvidia wowed the world when they announced an insane Titan X and I don’t mean the Maxwell-based Titan X in 2015, that was the GeForce GTX Titan X, I’m talking about the Nvidia Titan X, yeah the Pascal version.
Okay, so confusingly, on August 2016 we got a second graphics card to be named the Titan X. Since this was all very confusing some of us reviewers decided to rename the Pascal Titan X to the Titan XP. XP was cool for a few reasons. Obviously the P stood for Pascal, but XP or Experience Points are also something you are rewarded with in many modern games, get enough XP and you can level up. So it was also a fun play on that.
So while a questionable and possibly dumb decision on Nvidia’s side, we simply moved on and got to benchmarking. Then months later Nvidia’s marketing team decided to troll us again and actually released a "Titan Xp," can you believe that?
Anyway, the Titan Xp can only be purchased through Nvidia for an eye watering $1,200 and it’s really no faster than a custom GTX 1080 Ti for gaming.
Worst Reference Designs: Radeon R9 290/290X
Wrapping things up, it’s time to pick what I feel was the worst reference card design by AMD or Nvidia in the past few years. Looking at my shortlist there is a heck of a lot more candidates from AMD than there are from Nvidia.
Clearly Nvidia has had some shockers, but with a much larger budget to work with, they've corrected poor designs of the past. Plus, they're now charging a price premium for their reference cards, so that kind of seems like cheating.
Anyway, we don’t have to go back far to find an AMD reference cooler that doubles as a leaf blower. One of my favorite AMD GPUs in recent memory was the Radeon R9 290. It was an amazingly good value buy. We did test the reference model initially in 2013, and we still gave an overall score of 95 out of 100, one of the highest scores we had ever handed over to a GPU.
That said, we did note thermal results were less than desirable, adding to my anticipation of third-party designs. The R9 290 screamed like a jet, but I was confident board partner models would be much better and indeed they were. There was a long and loud two month wait for a quality board partner card that could tame the R9 290.
Unfortunately rubbish reference cards are still the bane of AMD’s existence and they seem unable to do anything about it, money is obviously a key issue here. The RX 480 reference card was another abomination and Vega 64 air-cooled looks to be one of the worst results yet. We should probably just start calling them AMD throttle-card designs, now with automatic underclocking to save your ears.
We hope you enjoyed that, we certainly had fun putting it together. Do let us know what you thought of the picks and what your list looks like.
Also, if you happen to have a computer with an older GPU, maybe something Kepler-based and you want to upgrade, then check out our Upgrade My PC Please! series. It’s a heap of fun and there are loads of cool prizes to be won, so be sure to check it out!