It wasn't long ago when AMD announced an all-new GPU dubbed the HD 7790 1GB based on new silicon named "Bonaire" that, at $150, was designed to slot in between its HD 7770 and the more-expensive HD 7850. Not surprisingly, Nvidia then announced a revamped “Boost” version of its GTX 650 Ti, with added support for dual-card SLI, higher clock speeds, and a 2GB frame buffer, countering AMD’s effort and shoring up what both companies refer to as the "GPU sweet spot." This month, AMD counterattacks Nvidia's counterattack with a 2GB version of the HD 7790 from Sapphire, leveling the playing field and raising the stakes by including a super-sweet game bundle. Can Nvidia's revamped 650 Ti Boost dominate the midrange GPU field, or is AMD's silicon the better deal? And how do they measure up to the former champs in this price range? To help settle this feud once and for all, we benchmarked not just the new guys, but all of the cards in this tax bracket.
Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 7790 OC 2GB
When Sapphire called and asked if we were interested in checking out its 2GB version of the recently launched HD 7790, we had just one question: Does a bear benchmark in the woods? We had already sampled a reference design card, and the Asus 1GB version (see benchmark chart), so we were very curious to see what difference an extra 1GB of memory would make in our benchmarks. Since we run all the tests at 1080p, it wouldn’t have a chance to shine at higher resolutions; we figured the extra headroom might instead help with antialiasing, but we were wrong, as all cards remained pretty close in scores.
Sapphire’s card is the first HD 7790 we’ve seen with 2GB of memory.
Despite its midrange status, this 7790 card has several high-end features, including a fancy aftermarket cooler (as opposed to the reference cooler), a backplate for increased cooling on the board’s caps and VRMs, CrossFire support, and a bundle that includes an HDMI cable, a CrossFire cable, and a copy of BioShock Infinite. This is also the Overclock Edition, so the core clock is goosed 50MHz over stock speeds, and the memory gets a 100MHz nudge, as well. Like other HD 7790 cards, this Bonaire GPU features eight power states (the HD 7970 only uses four) to help it more efficiently use power and remain mostly silent all the time. This card uses much less power than the GTX 650 Ti Boost, which is a bit of a change of fortunes since on the high-end it’s Nvidia that has the TDP advantage.
The HD 7790 uses a single 6-pin PCIe connector, takes up two slots like every other video card, and has a semi-low TDP of just 85W. This card’s main neutering has taken place on its memory pipeline, which is skinny at 128 bits, whereas the GTX 650 Ti Boost has a 192-bit memory bus. This 7790 features 896 stream processors, has two DVI ports, an HDMI port, and DisplayPort, and support's AMD EyeFinity multidisplay technology.
In our tests, the Sapphire card performed decently but it faces a few hurdles. First, it's not as fast as the more expensive GTX 650 Ti Boost from EVGA, but the difference is just a handful of frames in all the games we test, with a few notable exceptions. In Battlefield 3 and BioShock Infinite, the GTX 650 Ti had a clear advantage, but in the rest of the tests, it was close enough to call it a wash. We also didn't see any real advantage to having a 2GB frame buffer versus the 1GB when compared to the Asus HD 7790, so while we're certainly not opposed to having more RAM just in case, our tests didn’t reveal any measurable difference running tests at 1080p with 4X AA. An even bigger problem for the Sapphire card is the HD 7850, which is an older card but, as our tests show, is clearly faster, by a decent amount across the board, and the HD 7850 is actually less expensive than the Sapphire card, making it a better overall deal when looking at performance alone.
We said last month that we think the HD 7790 is a great card for 1080p gaming, and the Sapphire card doesn’t change that, but it does show you can save money by going with a 1GB version. We also love the fact that this card, and all HD 7790s as of press time, include a free copy of BioShock Infinite, which majorly tilts the advantage to AMD in this price category since performance is so close among cards.
EVGA offers four versions of the GTX 650 Ti Boost, so it sent us its Superclocked double-RAM version, which, at $180, costs $30 more than the stock version (at press time there was a $10 rebate, however). This card looks exactly like Nvidia’s reference design, so the only changes are internal, in the form of a core overclock of 92MHz and twice the frame buffer at 2GB. Like other “Boost” cards, this GPU features a wider 12-bit memory interface than the standard Ti, which features a 128-bit bus. It sports 768 CUDA cores and a 1,137MHz Boost Clock, which is also a new feature, as the standard Ti didn’t overclock at all. The card offers HDMI, DisplayPort, and two DVI outputs, and like all EVGA cards we’ve tested, includes a bare-bones bundle featuring just a VGA-to-DVI connector and a Molex-to-PCIe adapter. One other new feature of the Boost version of the card that deserves mention is the fact that, in addition to overclocking and higher performance, this version of the card now supports dual-card SLI, which is a first for cards in this price range.
Nvidia’s GTX 650 Ti Boost brings overclocking and SLI to the sub-$200 GPU world.
On paper, the GTX 650 Ti Boost certainly looks to be a faster card than the AMD HD 7790 due to its wider memory bus and higher clock speeds, and in the real world of Lab testing, we saw those results laid bare. The Nvidia card is faster, but the AMD card isn’t too far behind, and nips at its heels despite having a 55W deficit. The real issue for the GTX 650 Ti Boost is, once again, our little friend the HD 7850 and his $190 buddy the GTX 660. The HD 7850 is faster in some tests and costs less, but the two are very close overall, making it hard to recommend the Nvidia card in that matchup. The GTX 660 is only a smidgen faster despite costing more, so we’re inclined to say save your money and get the Boost when comparing those two cards.
Finally, on the software side of things, this card includes a $75 coupon to spend in-game on either Hawken, World of Tanks, or PlanetSide 2. When compared to the inclusion of BioShock Infinite with the AMD card, this offering seems rather weak in comparison, so Nvidia has some catching-up to do. On the hardware side, though, it’s clearly the front-runner at around $170 or so, so it’s a shame its bundle brings it down.
Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a 3.33GHz Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition in an Asus P9X79 motherboard with 16GB of DDR3/1600 and a Thermaltake ToughPower 1,050W PSU. The OS is 64-bit Windows 8 Ultimate. All tests are run at 1920x1080 with 4X AA except for 3DMark and Catzilla.