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Gaming Sensations Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 vs. AMD Radeon HD 7970

Of the major rivalries in the technology industry, few get as heated as often as that of Nvidia and AMD. When it comes to releasing new graphics hardware, the two companies take no mercy:

Every year (or thereabouts, if they don’t bother to follow the calendar) they trade off the title of “the most powerful video card in the world” for this price range or that price range, and frequently leave consumers confused by the options available to them.

This is certainly true with regards to the companies’ two recent flagship video cards: the AMD Radeon HD 7970, which came out toward the end of last year, and Nvidia’s just-released GeForce GTX 680. Both are single-GPU models at the top of their respective lines, utilizing all the latest video display technologies; both promise outstanding frame rates in the hottest 3D games; and both cost around $500. So if you’re upgrading your computer, or building one from scratch, how can you choose between them?

Gaming Performance
Let’s face it: Pretty much the only reason people ever drop $500 or more on a video card is because they want to play the latest games. And in that department, the two cards run pretty much neck and neck most of the time. In our real-world game benchmarks, the 7970 only came out definitively ahead in Aliens vs. Predator, at both 1,920 by 1,200 (59.2 frames per second, or fps, versus 52fps) and 2,560 by 1,600 (37.4fps versus 31.7fps); and the GTX 680 proved superior at everything else (including two AMD-branded titles at the same resolutions, DiRT 3 and Total War: Shogun 2). On our synthetic benchmarks, which measure a broader scope of performance features that don’t necessarily show up in games, the GTX 680 also came out ahead:

In Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 it scored 3,151 to the 7970’s 2,754, and beat the AMD card on the Heaven Benchmark 3.0 at 1,920 by 1,200 (43.6fps versus 40.5fps). The 7970 just barely edged out the GTX 680 when Heaven was upped to 2,560 by 1,600 (29.3fps versus 28.9), however. As with so many things, a lot depends on the games you play, but—even though its leads weren’t always decisive—the Nvidia card proved itself the champ more often.
Advantage: Nvidia

Price
If you can afford to buy either of these cards, clearly cash flow is not a problem for you at the moment. But that doesn’t mean price isn’t—or shouldn’t be—an issue: You undoubtedly want the best one you can get for the least amount of money. Right now, however, that’s not the 7970. It lists for $549, which is also the lowest price we found for one on Newegg. The GTX 680 lists for $499—and a number of those are available on Newegg for just that much.
Advantage: Nvidia

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