AMD Radeon R9 380 review feat. VisionTek: The best $200 graphics card you can buy

A little bit of extra oomph in the clock speeds help make it the most enticing option for mainstream gamers today.

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We retested several additional graphics cards to get a sense for the Radeon R9 380’s value, including Nvidia’s competing $160 GeForce GTX 950 and $200 GeForce GTX 960, with both being EVGA Super Superclocked models. Read: not stock, though we also downclocked the GTX 950 to reference base clock speeds to represent very roughly stock performance for that card. Note that doing so doesn’t provide a direct simulation of the stock GTX 950’s behavior, however, due to the way Nvidia’s GPU boost works.

We also tossed in an older VisionTek R9 270X. Ideally, it would’ve been nice to test the $150 Radeon R7 370, which performs slightly slower than the 270X, but alas, we don’t have one on hand. And since gamers on a budget may also have or be considering the older GeForce GTX 750 Ti or GTX 650 Ti Boost, we tested EVGA versions of those, as well.

Every game was tested using its in-game benchmark, using the default graphics settings stated unless noted otherwise, with V-Sync and any vendor-specific features disabled. We stuck to 1080p resolution alone, since going any higher is really pushing these cards further than they’re designed to go. The Radeon cards were tested with AMD’s newest Catalyst 15.7 drivers, while the GeForce cards used Nvidia’s 355.65 drivers.

gtx 950 gtav

Grand Theft Auto V is notorious for hogging memory at higher resolutions, but it scales well and performs admirably at 1080p. Because the game doesn’t have preset graphic levels, we enabled FXAA, set all configurable detail settings placed to Normal, and cranked all the sliders in the Graphics menu to the max.

Note that frame rates look great here, but they’ll drop a bit once you start cranking the details beyond “normal.” That said, both the Radeon R9 380 and GTX 960 hit frame rates north of 60 frames per second with most options set to High or Very High, though we didn’t formally benchmark the games using higher detail settings.

Spoiler alert: GTA V is the only raw gaming benchmark that the GTX 960 wins.

gtx 950 dai

It manages to keep the race tight in Dragon Age: Inquisition at Ultra settings, though the performance gap widens in the R9 380’s favor once you start to tone things back—which you may be likely to do, as dropping down to High settings lets you crack the fabled 60fps barrier with the R9 380, and flirt with it with the GTX 960.

gtx 950 shadow of mordor

Nvidia may claim a place of honor on Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor’s splash screens, but AMD’s cards utterly pound GeForce GPUs in performance. The Radeon R9 380 again flirts with 60fps on Ultra settings—which we test by manually cranking every graphics option to its highest setting, though we do not use the optional memory-gobbling HD Ultra Texture Pack on 1080p cards—and beats the GTX 960 by roughly 15fps at High settings. Whew.

gtx 950 alien isolation

Every graphics card tested, even the $150 models, easily surpass 60fps on Alien: Isolation’s Ultra setting. Like GTA V, this game scales like a champ—but it’ll scare the crap out of you. Seriously, this is a terrifying, stress-inducing game. It’s wonderful.

Next page: Gaming benchmarks continued; 3DMark Fire Strike, heat, and power use results.

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