Nvidia’s recent release of the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 graphics processors were a shot across the bow of AMD. Built on Nvidia’s “Big Maxwell” GPU architecture, early reviews crowned the GTX 980 the clear single-GPU graphics card to beat in both performance and power efficiency, and at the same $550 selling price as AMD’s flagship Radeon R9 290X. Worse, the consensus opinion was that the $330 GTX 970 often trumped the $400 R9 290 and delivered frame rates dangerously close to the R9 290X in many tests, despite costing so much less than AMD’s cards.
So AMD’s partners are doing the logical thing: Dropping prices on Radeon graphics cards to make their price-to-performance ratio more competitive. (An AMD representative stresses "AMD did not make a price move" officially.) The Radeon R9 290X and R9 290 have seen the steepest cuts, with triple-digit price drops, but discounts are trickling down to the R9 280 and R9 270 series as well.
As first noticed by PC Perspective, Radeon R9 290X cards are now selling for $400 on Newegg, Amazon and other e-tailers, a whopping $150 drop over its previous sticker price. Radeon R9 290 prices, meanwhile, have been slashed to $300, a $100 decrease.
Radeon R9 280X cards, meanwhile, now start at $260 (after debuting at $300 and up). The R9 285 has dipped to $230, though much of the available stock are more feature-rich cards that sell for $250 or $260—$250 being the original price for stock (not fancy) R9 285 cards.
Fudzilla’s anonymous sources say the cuts are a direct response to Nvidia’s new cards.
Why this matters: By cutting prices so quickly and so drastically, AMD undermines the GTX 900 series’ price-to-performance advantage, making power efficiency, sound, and price the more key differentiators between the Radeon and GeForce flagships.
The devil's in the details
AMD’s cards run hotter and louder than Nvidia’s, but is the GTX 970 worth $30-plus more than a R9 290? And sure, the GTX 980 may have a performance advantage over the R9 290X in many tests, but does the difference make up for the $150 between the 980’s $550 price tag and the R9 290X’s new $400? That’s a lot of green. Another key differentiator is AMD's game bundling. AMD's R9-series cards come with three free games of your choice, with Alien: Isolation and Star Citizen modules recently added to the list.
With no new GPU architecture of its own announced, AMD’s price cuts and game bundles keep its flagships competitive with Nvidia’s new cards—and brings high-powered gaming down to more affordable levels. AMD's flagships were built to work well with pixel-packed 4K displays.
But the discussion may be moot anyway: Nvidia’s GTX 980 and 970 are still in short supply and hard to find online. Look for PCWorld's review of Nvidia's latest cards to land soon.
Editor's note: This article originally ran on 10/7/14 under the headline "AMD steeply slashes flagship Radeon graphics card prices after Nvidia's GTX 980 launch" but was updated 10/14 with clarification on AMD's role in the price cuts, and news of price drops across the entire R9 290 line.