The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

AMD kick-started 2012 with the release of the Radeon HD 7970, the first member of the Radeon HD 7000 GPU series. This launch marked the introduction of the first-ever graphics card to be made on a 28nm design process, representing the company's most complex GPU to date, with 4,313 million transistors in a 352mm2 die.

Following this release, through the year AMD shipped seven additional 28nm HD 7000 cards targeting price ranges from $100 through to $400, which is where the HD 7970 sits today (nearly 30% below its debut price). Most of AMD's lineup has undergone similar price cuts to address stiff competition from Nvidia's own 28nm GPU offerings.

Nvidia arrived slightly later to the party, roughly two months after the HD 7970 debut, the GeForce GTX 680 at $500 was cheaper and faster than the HD 7970, forcing AMD to make swift price cuts even though the GTX 680 remained in very limited supply for many months.

This price war of sorts continued as Nvidia dribbled out new GTX 600 parts over the next five months. Discontent with reactively slashing prices, AMD made an effort to improve margins by releasing overclocked versions of its two top models: the HD 7970 GHz Edition and the HD 7950 Boost.

By mid-September things had settled down and models had been consolidated. We finally had a better idea of where things were going to stand in terms of price and performance, and neither company seemed to have another major release in the works. And then, AMD threw us a curve ball.

The new Catalyst 12.11 beta drivers delivered major performance gains in many popular games such as Battlefield 3, Borderlands 2, Civilization V, Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs and StarCraft II. While most titles ran around 10% faster depending on their settings, Battlefield 3 was 20 to 30% faster.

Around the same time, Nvidia released a new beta driver of its own (GeForce 310.33) which claimed modest gains for the GTX 680 and GTX 660 in several titles, and this driver has since been replaced by the GeForce 310.61 update, which made further performance enhancements. This is what we'll be testing today.

With updated pricing and performance across the board, we figured it would be worth revisiting both company's offerings to see where you should spend your hard-earned cash this holiday season and into early next year.

Benchmarks: Battlefield 3, Borderlands 2

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

Testing Battlefield 3 at 1680x1050 revealed that the GeForce GTX 650 Ti was capable of 43fps, making it 19% faster than the Radeon HD 7770 and 59% faster than the 7750, while it was also 10% faster than the 6870.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

Turning the resolution up to 1920x1200 we find that the GeForce GTX 660 Ti was able to average 60fps, making it 7% faster than the Radeon HD 7870 and just 2% slower than the 7950. Meanwhile the GeForce GTX 660 was able to average 51fps, making it 9% slower than the Radeon HD 7870 and 13% faster than the 7850.

The GeForce GTX 680 averaged a comfortable 74fps, allowing it to match the Radeon HD 7970 while it was 11% slower than the 7970 GHz Edition. The GeForce GTX 670 was just as impressive averaging 67fps, allowing it to beat the Radeon HD 7950 by a 10% margin, though it was 3% slower than the 7950 Boost edition.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

At 2560x1600 the GeForce GTX 680 was now 2% slower than the Radeon HD 7970 and 12% slower than the 7970 GHz Edition. Surprisingly the GeForce GTX 670 was able to improve its performance when compared to the Radeon competition at 2560x1600, matching the Radeon HD 7950 Boost while beating the standard 7950 by an 11% margin.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

Our Borderlands 2 benchmark hits a serious CPU bottleneck at 1680x1050 with mid to high-end graphics cards. That said it did not impact the GeForce GTX 650 Ti which averaged just 53fps, and yet despite this it was still 22% faster than the Radeon HD 6870, 59% faster than the 7770 and 97% faster than the 7750.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

Again even at 1920x1200 the CPU bottleneck is still present when using mid to high-end graphics cards. There was virtually no difference in performance between the GeForce GTX 680 and the Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards and this was also the case with the GeForce GTX 670 and Radeon HD 7950 graphics cards.

Although the GeForce GTX 660 Ti appeared to be limited by the CPU bottleneck it was still 11% faster than the 7870. The GeForce GTX 660 also seemed to be bottlenecked by the CPU, limiting it to 72fps, though despite this it was still 9% faster than the Radeon HD 7870 and 24% faster than the 7850.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

Now at 2560x1600 the CPU bottleneck is no longer an issue as the GPU's are now the weakest link. The GeForce GTX 680 still managed an impressive 69fps, making it 19% faster than the Radeon HD 7970 and 6% faster than the 7970 GHz Edition. The GeForce GTX 670 also did well beating the Radeon HD 7950 by a 23% margin.

Benchmarks: Max Payne 3, The Elder Scrolls V

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

When testing with Max Payne 3 the GeForce GTX 650 Ti averaged 44fps at 1680x1050, making it 2% slower than the Radeon HD 6870 but 10% faster than the 7770 and 38% faster than the 7750.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

Now at 1920x1200 the GeForce GTX 680 can be found averaging 75fps making it 12% faster than the Radeon HD 7970 and 1% faster than the 7970 GHz Edition. The GeForce GTX 670 was 15% faster than the Radeon HD 7950 and 6% faster than the 7950 Boost.

Meanwhile the GeForce GTX 660 Ti was 3% faster than the Radeon HD 7870 and 2% faster than the Radeon HD 7950. The GeForce GTX 660 was 8% slower than the Radeon HD 7850 and 20% slower than the 7870.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison>

Now at 2560x1600 the GeForce GTX 680 loses its lead falling behind the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition by an 8% margin, though it was 2% faster than the standard 7970. The GeForce GTX 670 was able to match the Radeon HD 7950 Boost with 46fps making it 4% faster than the standard 7950.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim saw the GeForce GTX 650 Ti average 50fps at 1680x1050, making it 9% slower than the Radeon HD 6870 while it was 29% faster than the 7770 and 104% faster than the 7750.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

The GeForce GTX 680 averaged 91fps at 1920x1200 which was the same frame rate produced by the Radeon HD 7950 Boost. This meant that the GeForce GTX 680 was 4% slower than the Radeon HD 7970 and 13% slower than the 7970 GHz Edition. The GeForce GTX 670 was 6% faster than the Radeon HD 7950 but 5% slower than the 7950 Boost.

The GeForce GTX 660 Ti averaged 69fps making it 15% slower than the Radeon HD7950 and 3% slower than the 7870. The GeForce GTX 660 managed 65fps making it 8% faster than the Radeon HD 7850 but also 8% slower than the Radeon HD 7870.

The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison

Now at 2560x1600 the GeForce GTX 680 averaged 64fps making it 9% slower than the Radeon HD 7970 and 18% slower than the 7970 GHz Edition. The GeForce GTX 670 averaged 61fps and that meant that it was 3% faster than the Radeon HD 7950 but 8% slower than the 7950 Boost.

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The Best Graphics Cards: Nvidia vs. AMD Current-Gen Comparison Steven Walton is a writer at TechSpot. TechSpot is a computer technology publication serving PC enthusiasts, gamers and IT pros since 1998.