The $109 Console-killer GPU: AMD’s Radeon R7 260 Graphics Card Reviewed

AMD Radeon R7 260
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by Rob Williams on December 23, 2013 in Graphics & Displays

No one should be surprised at the fact that testing out $500 graphics cards is fun, but with the right perspective, budget cards can be, too. Take the $109 AMD Radeon R7 260, for example, which has debuted following flagship console releases. With that in mind, let’s see what such an affordable GPU can pull off at the much-loved 1080p resolution.

Best Playable: 1080p Single Display

For about as long as GPU-accelerated games have existed, an ideal performance target has been 60 frames-per-second. Owing thanks to this is the standard 60Hz monitor, which delivers its best result when the framerate matches its refresh rate. To make sure the monitor’s refresh rate and game’s framerate keep aligned, to avoid visible tearing, VSync should be enabled.

While I believe our Best Playable results will appeal to any gamer, they could especially prove useful to those intrigued by livingroom gaming or console replacements. The goal here is simple: With each game, the graphics settings are tweaked to deliver the best possible detail while keeping us as close to 60 FPS on average as possible.

Because our Metro Last Light and Total War: SHOGUN 2 tests are timedemos, and because this kind of testing is time-consuming, I am sticking to six out of the eight games I test with for inclusion here.

With all that said, let’s get to it.

 Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
1920×1080MinimumAverage
AMD Radeon R7 260X5160
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Environment:HighShadow:Normal
Texture:HighReflection:Normal
Anti-aliasing:FXAAGod Rays:Off
Ambient Occlusion:OffVolumetric Fog:On
Motion BlurOn 
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 2604858
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Environment:HighShadow:Normal
Texture:HighReflection:Normal
Anti-aliasing:OffGod Rays:Off
Ambient Occlusion:OffVolumetric Fog:Off
Motion BlurOff 
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260

When the GPU in question is about as budget as it gets price-wise, anti-aliasing is often the first thing to go when trying to achieve the smoothest framerate possible. While FXAA was suitable enough on the 260X, it had to be disabled on the 260. To improve things further, Volumetric Fog was also disabled.

 Battlefield 4
1920×1080MinimumAverage
AMD Radeon R7 260X4962
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Quality:HighTexture Filtering:High
Lighting:HighEffects:High
Post Processing:HighMesh:High
Terrain:HighTerrain Decoration:High
Anti-aliasing Deferred:OffAnti-aliasing Post:Off
Ambient Occlusion:Off  
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 2604858
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Quality:HighTexture Filtering:High
Lighting:HighEffects:High
Post Processing:MediumMesh:High
Terrain:HighTerrain Decoration:High
Anti-aliasing Deferred:OffAnti-aliasing Post:Off
Ambient Occlusion:Off  
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260

Post-processing is one of the biggest hogs with Battlefield 4, so simply decreasing that from High to Medium helped us inch closer to 60 FPS. While we don’t have AA or AO enabled, the fact that we see Battlefield 4 look like that on a $109 GPU without dipping below 48 FPS is downright impressive. Note that these results are not representative of online play.

 Crysis 3
1920×1080MinimumAverage
AMD Radeon R7 260X3654
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing:OffTexture:Medium
Effects:MediumObject:Medium
Particles:MediumPost Processing:Medium
Shading:MediumShadows:Low
Water:LowAnisotropic Filtering:x16
Motion Blur:MediumLens Flares:Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 2603650
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing:OffTexture:Medium
Effects:MediumObject:Medium
Particles:LowPost Processing:Low
Shading:MediumShadows:Low
Water:LowAnisotropic Filtering:x16
Motion Blur:MediumLens Flares:Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260

When “budget GPU” and “Crysis” appear on the same line, it can be assumed that “disabled anti-aliasing” has to come next. That’s the case here. Overall, we have a blend of medium and low settings here, and still didn’t manage to reach 60 FPS. However, I found the game to play extremely well when averaging to 50 FPS; good enough to make me think twice about degrading image quality further just for a gain that won’t be too noticeable (the motion blur helps with that).

 GRID 2
1920×1080MinimumAverage
AMD Radeon R7 260X5058
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Multisampling:4x MSAANight Lighting:High
Shadows:UltraAdvanced Fog:On
Particles:UltraCrowd:Ultra
Cloth:HighAmbient Occlusion:Low
Soft Ambient Occlusion:OffGround Cover:High
Vehicle Details:HighTrees:Ultra
Objects:UltraVehicle Reflections:Ultra
Water:HighPost Process:High
Skidmarks:OnAdvanced Lighting:On
Global Illumination:OffAnisotropic Filtering:Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 2604164
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Multisampling:4x MSAANight Lighting:High
Shadows:HighAdvanced Fog:On
Particles:UltraCrowd:Ultra
Cloth:HighAmbient Occlusion:Low
Soft Ambient Occlusion:OffGround Cover:High
Vehicle Details:HighTrees:Ultra
Objects:UltraVehicle Reflections:Ultra
Water:HighPost Process:Medium
Skidmarks:OnAdvanced Lighting:On
Global Illumination:OffAnisotropic Filtering:Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260

GRID 2, as gorgeous a game as it is, isn’t that demanding. We didn’t need to tweak much to reach 60 FPS on the R7 260; in fact, it was just post-processing, which was knocked down to Medium, from High. The 260X, by contrast, was able to keep the High setting while also delivering a better minimum FPS.

 Sleeping Dogs
1920×1080MinimumAverage
AMD Radeon R7 260X6271
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing:NormalHigh-res Textures:On
Shadow Resolution:HighShadow Filtering:High
Ambient Occlusion:HighMotion Blur:High
World Density:Extreme 
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 2605563
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing:NormalHigh-res Textures:On
Shadow Resolution:HighShadow Filtering:High
Ambient Occlusion:HighMotion Blur:High
World Density:Extreme 
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260

Sleeping Dogs is graphically impressive, but despite that, it tends to run well on modest hardware. In this case, all that had to be reduced was anti-aliasing, which in truth doesn’t make a huge difference due to its weird implementation (let’s hope the game’s sequel includes proper AA modes).

 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist
1920×1080MinimumAverage
AMD Radeon R7 260X5177
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Detail:MediumShadow:Medium
Parallax:OnTessellation:Off
Texture Filtering:2xAmbient Occlusion:Field AO
Anti-aliasing:Off 
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 2604872
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Detail:MediumShadow:Medium
Parallax:OnTessellation:Off
Texture Filtering:2xAmbient Occlusion:Field AO
Anti-aliasing:Off 
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260

For Blacklist, I kept the exact same settings that I settled-on with the 260X. Increasing even a single option here brought me below 60 FPS enough to disregard it as an option, and unlike Crysis 3 which plays well with 50 FPS, Blacklist definitely favors 60+.