A collection of thoughts about graphics cards and their trends

Giant Technology Companies
Ask anyone and they’ll say the main benefit of competing companies is lower prices for the public, but another benefit is the advancement of technology that competition brings. Both technology companies have a handful of games in which their cards perform better. AMD cards excel in games that utilize the Mantle API whilst GameWorks titles generally run faster on Nvidia cards. The idea is that one of the giant technology companies has taken a game and made it so their hardware gives a better experience. At least, that’s the idea. It can feel something more like a hostage situation. Choosing a graphics card is no easy feat then. You, the consumer, have to consider which games you want to play and thus choose the most suitable graphics card for the job. Another problem arises when we consider future releases; which of those new games that you want are designed to run better on the graphics card you chose? It seems that Nvidia is working closely with Ubisoft so games such as Far Cry 4 and Assassin’s Creed: Unity have been performing better on Nvidia’s hardware. This looks like a stable partnership and you can bet most future Ubisoft games will be part of the GameWorks series for some time.

Territory Wars
R9 280(X) vs GTX960
GTX970 vs R9 290(X)
Sadly, these are considered mid-range cards by many publications today, but the price of these components stretch from £150 to £300. In 2006, AMD’s best offering of the Radeon 1950XTX would set you back about £300 on release. That was their crème de la crème for £300! So it seems that graphics cards have become more expensive then. Whilst there are factors such as inflation, it is the sad truth that we have to accept. Or do we? People are willing to pay top dollar for mid-range performance and companies are aware of this. They’ve been pushing prices for over a decade and now Nvidia’s best offering is a £460 card; the GTX980. That’s over a 50% increase in price for top (single-GPU) performance. As long as people are willing to pay, this will remain the trend. Problem is, there isn’t much we can really do about it. We could stop buying graphics cards all together, but that ain’t going to happen. People need graphics cards for work, folding, mining and playing games. We’re not going to go without one for an indefinite amount of time in some flimsy hope of sending a message. It’s just not going to happen.

Price/Performance
Enthusiasts can go all out (and do) so price is not a real concern for them. But, for the average consumer, choosing a card revolves around this value. It’s so easy to find and most websites even make it bold so you can make a quick decision.

The price-performance ratio could allow us to easily compare graphics cards, but no-one actually bothers to determine this value. Probably for good reason too; it wouldn’t be that useful. One value can’t tell the whole story of a complex bit of hardware. It would average a lot of data and thus mask it. Many people, myself included, prefer looking at graphs and numbers when choosing a card. We want to see what its short-comings are. Minimum frame rate and frame time values tell us so much about the experience, even more so than the average frame rate. So the idea of price/performance is useless? Well, no. Not exactly. Find a thread of someone debating which graphics card or CPU to get and the term will probably crop up. You see, there are essentially only 2 things most consumers need to consider: How much does it cost? How fast does it go? Price and performance.

Power Consumption
Debating between closely matched cards can be resolved by choosing the cheapest in most cases. But what about the hidden cost of power consumption. AMD is often at the expense of any joke made about power consumption; this tech giant tends to produce products with higher TDPs than their competitors and many people are aware of that fact. They use more power and run hotter. Sounds bad, but in reality it isn’t that big of an issue. It’s especially not an issue for you average Joe that considers the price-performance ratio. And therein lies the problem.

For the following calculations I have:

  • Used UK values in GBP (£)
  • Assumed the average price of electricity per kWh is 14p
  • Used the rounded average of cheapest models available for each card
  • Assumed 2 hours every day for a year
  • Assumed when gaming, the GPU is at full load

The graph is arranged by retail price and you should notice that there is a fairly constant rise except in 2 cases. Between the 280X and the 290X and between the GTX970 and GTX980. There are currently no single-GPU solutions existing between these price points. There are higher memory variant cards but these weren’t included since they have the same power consumption and do not increase performance. With AMD’s 3xx series on the way, we should see AMD discontinue its current line and I think its new counterparts will be priced to fill those gaps. AMD has been cutting prices to shift stock since current channels are saturated, that also explains the delay in Pirate Island’s release. I think we’ll see cards priced higher than their current counterparts, i.e. a 390X could cost £400 even though a 290X currently costs £250. They will be aggressively priced and hopefully not be another refresh of Tahiti. I reckon between now and release is your only chance to grab these cards, but we’re still not sure if they’ll fully support DX12.

This entry was for practice at writing articles and voicing my thoughts about the current state of graphics cards.
Please tell me about any grammatical or factual mistakes I have made, or tell me if there’s something you think I should add.

2 thoughts on “A collection of thoughts about graphics cards and their trends”

  1. 1. Any insight into what nanometer processes are (for laymen) and their impact on GPU performance (estimated of course) and what nm processes both companies are aiming for in 2015/2016. That might be useful IMHO.

    2. VRAM, will NVIDIA continue to skimp on video memory (although 980 and r9 290X both have 4GB now) or will it be more generous in the future? How does the amount of VRAM impact the resolution at which games can be played?

    3. The three new features for Nvidia's pascal architechture; will they be anything significant? Will these cards improve performance at the same rate or can we expect something more drastic?

    Other than that it was a good and interesting article. For us in Pakistan power consumption is a big issue as electricity is pretty expensive so the 980 is more appealing to me than an R9 290x.

  2. It is quite likely the GTX 980 will see a price drop to $400-450 (depending on how good AMD's new offerings are) and a 1280 CUDA GTX 960 Ti based off GM204 slots in between the GTX 960 (underwhelming) and GTX 970 (good price/performance and performance per watt) around $220-260.

    We have rumors of the GTX 980 Ti slotting in between the GTX 980 and GTX TITAN X.

Leave a Reply to dbmsts Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended