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AMD Radeon R9 380 review: The best US$200 graphics card you can buy for 1080p gaming

Brad Chacos | Sept. 7, 2015
A little bit of extra oomph in the clock speeds help make it the most enticing option for mainstream gamers today.

nvidia gtx 950 3dmark fire strike
Click on image to enlarge.

The VisionTek Radeon R9 380’s the clear winner in 3DMark’s synthetic, but widely respected Fire Strike benchmark, as well.

gtx 950 power use
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Power use is where AMD’s card stumbles a bit, as usual. AMD’s Radeon GPUs simply aren’t as efficient as Nvidia’s power-sipping Maxwell architecture. Power is measured by plugging the entire system into a Watts Up meter, then running a stress test with Furmark—which both AMD and Nvidia dub a “power virus”—for 15 minutes.

nvidia gtx 950 temp load
Click on image to enlarge.

VisionTek’s cooler handles the extra heat with aplomb, however. Temperatures for the Radeon R9 380 and the EVGA GTX 960 SSC are roughly equal, and both are pretty chilly.

Bottom line: The new 1080p champ

Add it all up and there’s only one conclusion to reach: Despite the higher power draw, the Radeon R9 380 is clearly the best graphics card for the money in the $200 price range. It consistently out-performs the heavily overclocked GTX 960 SSC in everything but GTA V, though Nvidia’s card hangs closely enough to be tempting if the R9 380’s power draw is a concern, or if you’re building a home theater PC and need an HDMI 2.0 port to output a 60Hz signal to a 4K TV. (The GTX 950 supports HDMI 2.0; the Radeon R9 380 is limited to HDMI 1.4a’s 30Hz at 4K.)

For your money, you’ll get a mostly uncompromising mainstream 1080p gaming experience, hovering around 60fps at Ultra settings in many cases, though you may need to tone down some of the more extreme anti-aliasing options or set the graphics options to High in some of most strenuous titles—but only if the 60fps barrier is sacrosanct to you. If you’re fine with a console-quality 30fps, the VisionTek Radeon R9 380 never faltered below that mark, even with all the bells and whistles enabled in the most strenuous games.

But if console-quality graphics aren’t a bother, you can save some money by dropping down to the $150-$170 price range, where the tables turn and Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 950 reigns supreme. Graphics cards in that range can hit 40fps-plus at 1080p on High graphics settings.

visiontek radeon r9 380 box
VisionTek’s Radeon R9 380.

For most people, we’d recommend saving your pennies for a few weeks more and stepping up to the $200 price range. The leap in graphics performance is massive, delivering a much more compelling 1080p gaming experience for a price that still won’t break the bank. It’s crazy how much performance you can get for $200 these days.


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