So you've decided to move up to the big leagues. No more integrated or budget graphics cards for you. You're a serious gamer and you want the best mid range graphics card that gets you the performance you deserve. But you're also financially savvy - you know you don't need a top of the line card (looking at you GTX 1080). A mid range graphics card has more than enough power to play all of the current AAA titles, and will get respectable frame rates even at the highest settings. Included below are our picks for the best mid range graphics cards on the market today. Enjoy!
Best Mid Range Graphics Card: Our Picks
The GTX 970 is arguably the best mid range graphics card, and our top recommendation. At around $300, it packs the punch of all but the highest previous generation nvidia cards, and will play any AAA title with ease. With a core clock speed over 1100 MHz and 4GB of RAM, the GTX 970 really does check all the boxes of a mid range graphics card.
When it comes to buying a GTX 970, you certainly have options. A number of different manufacturers produce their own line of 970, all with slightly different specifications. Two of the most well known are MSI and EVGA, but there are a number of others including Zotac, GIGABYTE, PNY, and ASUS.
For our recommendation, we've selected the MSI version. They make a quality product, and rarely have any challenges with hardware malfunctions. While the EVGA version has a slightly higher out-of-the-box core speed, the MSI GTX 970 can be boosted well over the 1140 MHz stated speed.
One piece of negative feedback we've seen from the marketplace regarding MSI is their rebate policy. MSI requires postmark within 15 days of PURCHASE, so waiting a week for shipping and then a week to finish the build on your pc while the rest of the parts arrive means no rebate, ever. Definitely something to keep in mind while considering mid range graphics cards, but don't let it stop you from getting the best card available within your means.
One other thing to keep in mind with the GTX 970 is that while the RAM is stated at 4GB, there have been issues where the last 500MB is not used as effectively as the previous 3.5GB, resulting in a total RAM of less than 4GB. However, this specific issue is still factored into any benchmarking (since it is an issue across the board), so the performance differences between the GTX 970 and the rest of the top mid range graphics cards is still valid.
AMD Radeon R9 390X
The R9 390X is at the high end of the mid range graphics cards on our list, coming in at around $400. But don't let that turn you away from this card. Meant to be a competitor to the GTX 980 (over $200 more expensive), the 390X delivers the performance of a high end card in the price range of a mid-level graphics card.
With 8GB of DDR5 RAM and a standard 1050 MHz clock speed, which can of course be overclocked, this card is a step up from the GTX 970 and boasts better gaming performance across all benchmarking tests.
Get this card for two reasons; either you prefer AMD graphics cards to Nvidia, which is totally fine, or you want a card with a little more oomf than the GTX 970 (and you have a bit more money to spend).
AMD Radeon R9 380
The AMD competitor to the GTX 960 (a step below the 390X/GTX 970), the R9 380 features a lower price point ($200 on average), and comparable performance. If you're looking for the best mid range graphics card around, it's important to see how the card performs in crucial benchmark tests. The R9 380 made it onto our list because it boasts a higher 3DMark06 score than the 960, which means it scores higher across the following functional areas (courtesy of wikipedia):
- HDR rendering
- Shadow mapping is used for all objects (specifically cascaded shadow mapping, with the depth textures filtered via hardware PCF)
- Water surfaces are created using pixel shaders with HDR refraction, HDR reflection, depth fog and Gerstner wave functions
- Atmospheric effects are generated via the use of heterogeneous fog, light scattering and cloud blending
- Material surfaces use either Blinn-Phong shading model or Strauss lighting model and subsurface scattering in some cases
The score also incorporates CPU tests to accommodate for more demanding games; however, the 970 and 390X beat it out across the board in terms of raw computing power including average clockspeed, frame rate, and pixel rates.
Another 900 generation nvidia card, the GTX 960 falls towards the bottom of the mid range graphics cards, but also has a lower price point to match (around $200). Looking at the Nvidia benchmarks, you'll notice that there is a pretty drastic reduction in performance between the 970 and 960. Additionally, the 960 falls behind a number of the 700 generation models including the GTX 770 in terms of raw numbers.
However, if you look at the price versus performance benchmarks, the 960 actually comes out ahead of all the other mid range graphics cards. This is particularly interesting for our mid range graphics card discussion because we are definitely looking for the most bang for our buck. So while it is not the top pick in terms of capabilities, it is the best mid range graphics card in terms of affordability. When on a very limited budget, you can't go wrong with this card.
Like the 970, the GTX 960 comes in a number of different flavors. This time we've picked the EVGA model for its high starting clock speed and overclock potential (1279 and 1342 MHz respectively). The EVGA version also has a low profile and is .5 inches smaller than the MSI model in terms of length.
So...is there no single best mid range graphics card?
The short answer is: yes, but it depends on you. There are too many variables for there to be a categorical best but that doesn't mean that just any graphics card can be considered. There can be clear differences between efficiency and performance between similarly-priced cards that make some far batter candidates for having the potential to be the best mid range graphics card. This list gives you the cards with the highest potential to be the very best for you.