Big flagship Radeon graphics card price cuts add pressure to GTX 970 memory furor

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Surprise! AMD and its partners have eagerly leveraged the furor surrounding the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970’s memory allocation performance and corrected specifications, dropping prices on the high-end Radeon R9 290X.

The potent price-to-performance ratio of the GTX 970 forced AMD hardware partners to cut the cost of the R9 290X and other graphics cards to as low as $299 around the time of the Nvidia card’s launch. In the months since, however, prices for the flagship Radeon have generally crept back up to the $330-ish range—the same MSRP as a stock GTX 970.

Now that the Nvidia hardware’s unorthodox memory design and performances are thrust into the spotlight, AMD’s seizing the opportunity with price cuts and a taunting social media campaign, such as the following tweet by AMD technical communications lead Robert Hallock.

Meanwhile, prices for the AMD R9 290X on Newegg have dropped as low as $280 after rebates on some models, with many others selling for $310 or $320 after rebates. Prices for the stepped-down, but still very potent Radeon R9 290 are as low as $250 after rebates. Those are incredibly compelling prices for graphics cards that deliver performance nearly on par with the GTX 970 at 1080p and 2560x1600 resolution. Less than six months ago the R9 290X was selling for $500.

AMD’s touting the cards’ 4GB of memory with a very wide 512-bit bus, which creates a large frame buffer for the R9 290-series cards. That makes them ideal for gaming at high resolution with anti-aliasing settings cranked to the max.

nvidia geforce gtx 970 stylized

The GTX 970 has a 256-bit bus and, as it turns out, splits its 4GB of memory between a speedy 3.5GB pool and a far slower 512MB partition. (Its memory is clocked at 7.0Gbps compared to the 5.0Gbps of the Radeon cards, however.) Though you’d be hard-pressed to coax a game into using more than 3.5GB of RAM under normal single monitor scenarios, GTX 970 users are running into stuttering and frame rate issues when they do have to access that smaller memory pool.

Nvidia’s working on a driver to minimize potential issues. (EDIT: No it isn't, apparently. The Nvidia employee who said a driver was coming has edited his post to remove the claim.) The performance hit exhibited when the GTX 970 taps that 512MB segment doesn’t appear to be significant, especially when you consider that in common scenarios you’d  already need to force games down tounplayable frame rates before you crossed the 3.5GB memory threshold, as PC Perspective's testing found.

We’d still heartily recommend the GTX 970, especially for the price. The card's a beast no matter how it handles memory allocation. But TechPowerUp reports that “perfectly functional” GTX 970s are being returned in Europe for “false advertising.”

It’s those disillusioned buyers that AMD hopes to sway to Team Red—and a Radeon R9 290x for under $300 is a very tempting offer indeed.

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