Our Top Pick for 2018: EVGA GeForce GTX 970 4GB SC+ GAMING ACX 2.0
Read our full review.
Graphics make a gamer’s world go round. No one wants to step into a virtual world and see jagged edges, simple polygons, and experience a consistently tearing screen. When it’s time to upgrade to a snazzier graphics chipset, there are always a ton of choices on the market, and the only one you really want to patently avoid are those created by Intel, as these aren’t really designed for gaming. With those types aside, AMD and Nvidia simply won’t let you down if you execute the due diligence and check out their newer graphical chipsets. Still, it can get a bit confusing with all of the non-reference models out there, so we’ve gone and composed a list of some of the best GPUs on the market today and also made a list of some things to consider when you set out to buy one. Sit back, crank your graphics to ultra, and take a look at our list of the best graphics cards around the $300 price range.
Let’s Have a Quick Look of Our Top 4 Picks:
#1. EVGA GeForce GTX 970 4GB SC+ GAMING ACX 2.0
As is often the case, our Gold Pick graphics card is well-received by consumers and critical groups alike. Developed by EVGA, the company that began its history in 1999 when it developed its first non-reference chipset, this GeForce 970 variant packs in a lot of power and is the perfect little beast of a card to overclock or superclock as EVGA puts it. As the intermediate entry in the Nvidia GeForce 900 series of cards, you can rest assured that your extended game play will be vivid and full of startling visuals; at blazing speeds.
Let’s start with the connections on this graphics card. VGA connections are slowly being phased out of modern day graphics cards, and this 970 card is no exception to this trend. The three types of connections included with this graphics cards are:
• 2x DVI connectors – One is dual link DVI-I, the other a dual link DVI-D, this is a good combination of connectors if you’re planning on utilizing a dual monitor setup. DVI connectors, for the most part, have the same graphics capabilities as HDMI, without the ability to stream sound in most cases. Nevertheless two of these types of connectors give you some good extended screen potential. EVGA has included an adapter for a VGA connection if you still utilize this type of monitor.
• 1x HDMI connector – This is what has become the standard connector for HD televisions. This card has a single connector that will allow you to connect up to a HDMI-ready monitor or HDTV.
• 1x DisplayPort connector – DisplayPort utilizes a graphics technology that will allow you to achieve a 4096 x 2,160 at 60 fps. This card includes one of these connector types.
Each of these connectors is placed in a perfect position. There have been cases where some non-reference brands have placed the HDMI connector too far to the left or right of the rear paneling. The result is a situation where a case’s rear plating can make it impossible to plug in a HDMI cable since it has such a flat form factor. Fortunately, this card’s connector plate places all of the connectors in logical positions to ensure that you don’t lose out on any specific connector.
The “SC” in this card’s name stands for the aforementioned Superclock. This is an apt titling because the GPU’s base clock speed is set at 1,165MHz, when overclocked you can achieve a heightened clock speed of 1,317MHz; an increase of 11 percent, which is high for today’s typical level of overclocking.
On the rightmost side of the card, you’ll find two six pin PCI-E connectors that will allow you to provide power to the card. Since this card is designed to run with three additional SLI’d cards, EVGA was sure to provide more than enough power options for this card. Just remember, if you’re planning on utilizing a multiple-card SLI setup, remember that you’ll need a power supply that can give your cards the juice they need. EVGA states that you should have at least a PSU with wattages of 500 or greater for a single card, so when considering additional cards, keep this in mind.
This card uses eight 512 MB memory chips to produce the four GB of computational power for the GPU, which will provide all the gaming oomph you need; especially as the RAM format is GDDR5, which has a faster memory bandwidth than the DDR3 standard of the past. This amount of RAM is perfect for generating 4k resolutions or powering the displays on a multi-monitor setup. What typically makes a card non-reference is the cooler and EVGA utilized their ACX 2.0 cooling tech that runs the fans at a fast enough rate to increase airflow for the sometimes superclocked GPU.
Out of an impressive 1,774 reviews on Amazon, 86 percent of these were of a four or five star level of positivity. The general consensus about this card is that it provides some of the best bang for the buck on the market right now; especially considering the potentially high price points of Nvidia’s other 900 series chipsets. Here is one five star review that summarizes the general sentiment about this card:
“This Card is everything I wanted! I can play GTA 5 at Very High 1080p at 60fps. Plus the zero RPM fan mode on the dual bios means that the fans don’t even spin up until the card gets up to 60° C. So near silent performance with a pretty good kick to it. Amazingly I have no complaints about this card!”
#2. EVGA GeForce GTX 960 4GB SSC GAMING ACX 2.0+
Our Silver Pick, like our Gold Pick comes from EVGA and provides some great performance that comes in under a $300 price point. Also part of the 900 series of GeForce cards, this GPU has slightly less performance graphically than our Gold Pick, but also is part of the SSC line of EVGA cards. As you might remember, “SC” stands for superclocked and this naming convention extends to this card as well; “SSC” stands for super-superclocked, meaning that this card comes out of the box overclocked and ready to tackle some tough graphical requirements. Let’s take a look at some of its features.
• 3x DisplayPort connectors – Similarly to the 980 in this series of cards, EVGA opted to include three DisplayPort 1.2 connectors with this card. This will allow you to connect up to three monitors running at a crisp 4k resolution (4096 x 2,160), and 60Hz.
• 1x HDMI connector – Also keeping in mind the current industry trends, EVGA opted to include a single HDMI 2.0 connect that will allow you to connect a 4k ready monitor to this card.
• 1x DVI connector – The final connector type is a dual link DVI. You may not be able to get 4k resolutions using this connector, but you’ll still get great standard res performance out of this. For those that have older monitors, EVGA has opted to include an adaptor for the VGA connectors of yesteryear.
The four 4k-ready connectors are positioned along the bottom of the paneling in the rear, and it does seem a little weird that the lone HDMI port is nestled in the middle of the DisplayPort connectors, but in the end, this makes it fairly easy to find when plugging your HDMI cable in. The DVI connector is positioned above the output vents on this card’s rear, which really illustrates that even this technology is progressing into obsolescence.
As previously mentioned, this is a super-superclocked card, and as such, its default clock speed is already overclocked at 1279 MHz and you can boost this to 1342 MHz; while this isn’t as large a difference as our Gold Pick, this is still quite a goodly amount of overclocking. To manage this, and just like our Gold Pick, EVGA opted to use its ACX 2.0 technology to create balanced airflow that will cool the entire chipset; especially when overclocked. A neat feature of this cooling system is the fact that it will actually go 300 RPM slower than the original ACX cooling system when not under load. This will ensure that you won’t have to tolerate a loud fan in the middle of the night.
Also like our Gold Pick, this card utilizes 4 GB of GDDR5 RAM to manage computational processes. This type of RAM will help provide all of the oomph that is required in many of the newer games on the market like Overwatch, The Witcher 3, and Fallout 4’s Far Harbor DLC.
Out of 1,422 reviews on Amazon, a startling 92 percent were positive. People really love the mid-range performance of this card as well as the lower price point. Here is one review from Amazon:
“Purchased for my first ever desktop computer custom build, designed for heavy gaming, but without blowing the bank account to smithereens, this graphics card really hit the right spot for me.”
#3. PNY GeForce GTX 970 4GB Rev 2 Graphics Card
Our Bronze Pick is manufactured by U.S. company PNY, which stands for Private New York. PNY has actually moved on to New Jersey, but still produces some of the world’s most popular electronics. Over the years they’ve come to specialize in everything from computer locking systems to flash memory; each product being recognized for its build quality and rich feature set. They’re non reference version of the GeForce 970 has several great features that incorporates some of the key attributes of the PNY brand.
• 2x Mini-DisplayPort Connectors – Don’t be fooled by these connector’s sizes, these mini-DisplayPort connectors can provide 4k resolution gaming with the right monitor. While you typically find these mini versions on laptops, PNY utilized their smaller form factors to save space on the rear panel of this card.
• 1x HDMI Connector – This is a standard HDMI 2.0 connector that will allow you to connect seamlessly to a 4k monitor or television. PNY also opted to include a mini-HDMI to standard HDMI adaptor, which is perfect for connecting up to a laptop or tablet that supports this connection type.
• 1x DVI Connector – The standard DVI connector. Like EVGA, PNY has also included a VGA adaptor for this connector.
For those that fear the world of overclocking because they’ve heard horror stories of the bricked GPUs that sometimes occur when you turn up the power, PNY has created a unique solution to allay your fears: This GPU comes with a lifetime warranty! Now, this isn’t to say that this card is easy to burn out, the opposite is actually true for the majority of new cards, but this extra layer of protection is truly great to have; just in case.
Insofar as the process of overclocking this GPU goes, you can boost the card’s clock speed from 1050 MHz to 1178 MHz, which will give you a decent amount of additional graphical performance. To cool the cores, PNY utilizes a single blower that has a high RPM and does a great job moving air through the card’s internals. Unfortunately, with a single blower that has to spin this fast, it can be a bit loud at times. Also, the heatsink underneath the body of the card is a little flimsy and utilizes only two heat pipes for heat management. While this doesn’t mean that the card will overheat easily, it’s clear that PNY might have cut some corners with this heatsink.
Insofar as RAM, this card has 4 GB of on-board video RAM, which is of the GDDR5 variety. Having this type of memory setup will ensure fast computational speeds for the overall card. Polygons will be rendered quickly and the frame rate should be significantly crisp.
82 percent of the reviews on Amazon are of a four or five star rating level. Most reviewers note the great performance of this card as well as its Shadowplay gaming capture software. Here is one review that notes this feature:
“This is not only an excellent card for gaming AND moderate video editing , its ShadowPlay technology is practically the holy grail of gameplay capture. I’m quite serious when I say I’ve scoured the internet for all different kinds of capture methods, both software AND hardware, and for PC capture, this is by far the slickest.”
#4. MSI GAMING GTX 960 4GB OC Twin Frozr-V HDCP Ready
MSI has become very famous for their Gaming G series line of PC gaming-centric peripherals and laptops. As one of the most dedicated to gamer brands on the market today, you can definitely expect to have an easier time building a strong gaming-friendly PC when utilizing MSI gaming components. Not only are their components high-quality, but oftentimes they are very low cost as well. If you’re looking for a new graphics card that won’t break the bank, then MSI’s 960 Twin Frozr-V card is the perfect ballin’ on a budget item.
When it comes to rear connectors, the MSI card is nearly identical in configuration to the other 960 card on our list. As with the EVGA Silver Pick, this card sports:
• 3x DisplayPort Connectors – This gives you a lot of options; especially if you want to have a multi- monitor setup. You’ll be able to get 4k resolutions out of each, but beware: as this is a 960 card, you probably won’t get super fast 4k frame rates when using a multi-monitor configuration.
• 1x HDMI Connector – The current standard for standard res and 4 resolution setups. This connector is of the 2.0 variety that will let you view your games in Ultra HD.
• 1x DVI Connector – The legacy connector, MSI has also included a VGA adaptor for this port as well.
When it comes to overclocking, you can boost this card’s performance from the base1216 MHz to a boost clock speed of 1279MH. To cool this, MSI has developed a great system. Utilizing the Twin Frozr V thermal design, MSI has created a proprietary heat pipe that is shorter, and thusly is more efficient at heat dispersion than some of the cooling pipes used in other cards. Also, to better manage ambient heat, MSI utilizes Torx fans on this card that allow for 19 percent better airflow on the card. Despite this additional airflow, these fans are actually whisper quiet.
On Amazon, 95 percent of the reviews for this product are positive. As a matter of fact, a full 85 percent are actually five star reviews. Here is one such five star review:
“If you game at 1080p and are on a budget, this is the card to buy, runs almost every new game at max settings and gets 60+ FPS, if you’re looking for 1440p or 4k you should look elsewhere like at a 970. The fans at 100% aren’t much louder than any normal case fan so its extremely quiet, which is surprising since the temps never exceed 50C on stock clock speeds.”
How Much You Want to Spend
Even though this is a list of graphics cards that are around the $300 price point, there are several that cost a lot more cash. If you are intending to play games like Overwatch on their maximum settings, you might have to spend a little more money to buy a card that will support a 4k monitor, will have minimal screen tearing during the action and will hum at a frames per second that is consistently over 60. Many of the items we reviewed here will definitely give you a great video experience in games like Overwatch or even the latest version of The Witcher, but bleeding-edge graphics may cost you significantly more. When considering your options for a new graphics card, don’t hesitate to think about your budget. Establishing one of these will help make the decision of what level of graphics experience you’ll have until your next upgrade much easier to make.
Brand: Nvidia or AMD
This has been an argument that has interested gaming enthusiasts for decades now. Ever since Nvidia initially went up against the dominant ATI in 1993, the differentiation between the two graphic’s giants’ chipsets has been the hot topic in PC gaming conversations. In 2006, microprocessor giant AMD purchased ATI, but that didn’t end the conversation about who produced the better chipset; Nvidia who has the GeForce line of boards, or AMD who produced the ubiquitous Radeon line. One of the classic arguments is that Nvidia produces cards that run quieter and cooler and cost a little more, and AMD produces cards that are a little louder and run a bit hot, for a little less. With this in mind, both run really well for gaming applications and some will even run flawlessly for the new crop of VR games.
Graphics cards will almost always have a few connections that you’ll have to consider before making a purchase.
HDMI – Do you own an Ultra HD or standard HD monitor? Then you’ll want to be sure your new graphics card has a HDMI connector so that you can enjoy super smooth HD visuals. Also, HDMI cables have the added benefit of carrying audio data as well. This is because most modern HDTVs use HDMI to carry sound and video feeds. Unfortunately, there are downsides to utilizing HDMI. If you are using a HDMI 1.4 connection, you’ll be limited to a resolution of 3,820 x 2,160, and you’ll only hit a fps rate of 30. In order to get 60 fps, you’ll need to be sure you have a HDMI 2.0 connection.
DisplayPort – This, like the remainder of our connection types, is primarily a computer connection port with very little carry-over into the TV world. DisplayPort technology will allow you a similar resolution to HDMI 1.4, but at a crisp 60 fps. Also, DisplayPort cables go for a very similar price to HDMI cables.
DVI – There’s not much difference in video signal between DVI and HDMI, but DVI rarely transfers audio signals. DVI, on the other hand, is more robust as you can screw in your connectors so that there are no accidental unplugs. There is one caveat: be sure that you know the base resolution of any purchased DVI cable, as they can vary.
VGA – VGA is an old type of connection that’s working its way steadily into obsolescence. You can get some good resolutions, but this connection type is analog, so you won’t get great image quality.
Overclock or Not to Overclock
Many gamers overclock their CPUs in order to get extra performance out of them. This has been going on for decades, and the common misconception is that overclocking reduces the lifespan of your graphics card. Fortunately, this is not necessarily true. As long as you stay within reasonable voltages, monitor your temperature, and clean your GPU coolers before you start your overclocking software, the process should go smoothly. Overclocking is a great way to squeeze a little extra life out of an aging GPU or to get the maximum performance out of a new card. With new steps available for overclockers that make the risk to your chipset minimal, feel free to pump up the power a little.
The more RAM your graphics card has, the more computations it will be able to make at a time. Faster computational speed equals more polygons, more anti-aliasing, and a more powerful, realistic gaming experience. RAM on a GPU is different than system RAM; system RAM helps your computer with the computations it needs to run programs. This RAM is tied up in this process, so this is why video RAM is needed to ensure graphical performance.
Memory bandwidth for RAM is one of the most important features of the current crop of video RAM. Previously, DDR3 was the winner when it came to memory bandwidth in GPU Ram, but with the most recent crop of cards, the GDDR5 RAM format incorporates more memory bandwidth into newer card’s structures. When you have more memory bandwidth, more information can pass through the card, thusly making room for more computational power.
Reference or Non-Reference
Many of the cards on our list are non-reference types of cards. Non reference means that it doesn’t come directly from Nvidia or AMD and there may be additional tech that has been constructed and implemented by a third party company. For the most part, these implemented changes are centered on the cooler itself, but any modification to performance can be used by a third party company.
Some popular non reference graphics brands are:
Reference style cards are manufactured and sold directly from Nvidia or AMD. These will simply have the cooling system that they choose to best cool their card and will not necessarily have any extra features that you might get from a non-reference card.
Conclusion (Wrapping it up)
PC gaming has only gained in popularity over the years, and fortunately manufacturers have been developing some quality graphics cards that are based on the GeForce 900 series of chipsets. While there certainly are a plethora of these types of cards to choose from, the ones we presented on this list are some of the best on the market today. Also, each won’t set you back very far when it comes to the price tag. We hope you’ll consider one of the devices we’ve presented as each will grant you hours of epic game playing, and don’t forget to consult our pre-purchase considerations, so that you’ll find the device that’s best for your needs.