We don’t pay too much attention to the sub-$200 GPU market, but with AMD and Nvidia having boards at around the $150 mark that offer features previously only found on more expensive GPUs, including multi-GPU support and GPU clock boosting (for Nvidia). These new features suddenly made these budget boards very interesting, especially when dual-card setups are taken into consideration. Naturally, we pitted the new cards against one another in a Sweet-Spot showdown.
The Asus Radeon HD 7790 DirectCU II OC is surprisingly powerful given its tiny size, lack of noise, and solitary 6-pin PCIe connector requirement.
Round 1: Specs
On paper, both 28nm cards are extremely similar, though the Nvidia card has a few small advantages. First, the AMD card is only available in 1GB flavors; the Nvidia card comes in both 1GB and 2GB varieties, and features a wider 192-bit memory interface compared to the 7790’s 128-bit channel. The AMD card offers more stream processors at 896 compared to the 650 Ti Boost’s 768 CUDA cores, though this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. For clock speeds, the Nvidia card can hit a higher speed when boosting, 1,137MHz compared to the AMD card’s 1,075MHz clocks, but 60MHz isn’t anything to write home about. Both cards support dual-GPU configs (previously unheard of at this price), so that’s a draw. The AMD card draws a lot less power, though—just 85W compared to the Nvidia’s semi-high 134W.
Round 2: Performance
In this category there is a clear winner, and it’s Nvidia in both single- and dual-card configs. In every benchmark test we ran except for one, the Nvidia card either had a small advantage or the two cards were neck-and-neck, but at no time did AMD have the upper hand. The one exception was in Dirt: Showdown, which is known to be an AMD game, just like Batman: Arkham Asylum is an Nvidia title. Overall, though, the balance is clearly in Nvidia’s favor, with it eking out a small advantage in each test, wiping out any advantage AMD hoped it would gain over Nvidia with the launch of this card. To be fair, AMD originally launched this card against the older GTX 650 Ti, and then Nvidia launched the updated Boost version soon after in response, so AMD probably wasn’t prepared for the response from Nvidia on this one.
EVGA’s GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost SuperClocked is the alpha-male version of this card, overclocked and stuffed with 2GB of RAM.
Winner: EVGA GTX 650 Ti Boost
Round 3: Features
Let’s examine connectivity first. Both cards offer the same number and type of ports: dual-DVI ports, DisplayPort, and an HDMI port. Second, the Asus bundle includes a CrossFireX cable, VGA-to-DVI adapter, and the Asus DirectCU II cooler, which is one of the best available when it comes to silent operation and great temps. The feather in the HD 7790’s cap is the inclusion of a copy of BioShock Infinite—a $60 value and an excellent triple-A title. The EVGA/Nvidia card uses a stock blower-type cooler, which is not sexy, but does the job. The EVGA card also includes a bare-bones bundle that includes a single VGA-to-DVI adapter, driver disk, and a sticker. Both cards ship with superb software, and Nvidia includes $75 worth of in-game money for Hawken, World of Tanks, and PlanetSide 2, which is weak.
Winner: Asus HD 7790
Round 4: Heat and Noise
Just as the Nvidia card has a small advantage when it comes to performance, AMD and Asus have the advantage in this category. First off, the TDP for the HD 7790 is a low 85W, which compares to 134W of the Nvidia card, making AMD the clear winner in terms of power draw. Second, we’ve seen the Asus DirectCU II cooler keep an overclocked GTX 680 totally silent, so you can image what a smaller version of the cooler is capable of with a low-TDP card like the HD 7790. The AMD card is also able to more efficiently manage its power states compared to previous cards, helping it stay totally silent all the time. Now, we’re not saying the EVGA card is loud, but it made a bit more noise in testing than the Asus card, and draws more power, making this category a slam-dunk for AMD/Asus.
Winner: Asus HD 7790
Round 5: Price and Value
This is another round that is easy to decide, because at press time the Asus card was priced at $149 with the copy of BioShock Infinite, and the EVGA card was priced at $179 on Newegg with the $75 of in-game credits. Obviously, the Nvidia card has a speed advantage, and double the memory, but for gamers who are playing at 1080p, the Asus card is totally adequate, so we think it offers a better value given how close the two cards are in every other aspect. Also, the Nvidia card is priced the same as the more expensive Radeon HD 7850, which offers better performance in every test that we use, making the GeForce card seem kind of expensive in comparison. There is a 1GB version of the 650 Ti Boost that costs $149, which is more compelling than this version, in our opinion.
Winner: Asus HD 7790
And the Winner Is…
There is a clear winner at this $150-ish price point, and that’s the Asus DirectCU II Radeon HD 7790. The Nvidia card would be extremely competitive at $150, but not at $170, where it’s just a bit too expensive and unable to compete with the Radeon HD 7850. AMD’s inclusion of BioShock Infinite really sweetens the pot, too, making it an amazing deal at $149 since it includes the superbly silent DirectCU II cooler and always-excellent Asus engineering.