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

AMD Radeon R7 260

Date: December 23, 2013
Author(s): Rob Williams

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.



Introduction

I can’t remember the last time I took a look at a graphics card that hovered around the $100 price-point, but for a couple of reasons, I couldn’t wait to dig into AMD’s $109 Radeon R7 260.

For starters, with the roll-out of the “next-generation” consoles having wrapped-up, my interest in modestly priced GPUs has recently piqued. As I’m sure is clear by now, neither the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 offer the sort of graphics we envisioned a couple of years ago for a “next-gen” model. When “price” and “size” are the major focuses during development, compromises have to be made, and those have been made quite obvious here.

Tying into that, I often see console fans around the Web claim that PC gaming is “expensive”. For a solid build, that’s true; the up-front cost will be more. But to compare the PC as a platform to consoles in an apples-to-apples manner is a bit unfair. Unlike consoles, PCs are part of an open platform – they can be upgraded, and otherwise poked and prodded in ways consoles can’t be (take game mods, for example). So, while a good PC might cost more than a console, it’ll offer a much higher level of flexibility.

AMD Radeon R7 260

For those reasons, AMD’s $109 R7 GPU comes at a great time, as it allows us to see what a truly affordable card can pull off. All of our benchmarks focus on the 1080p resolution, which is notable since many blockbuster games on the latest consoles are limited to 720p to preserve smooth performance.

There’s a Techgage reason for AMD’s R7 260 dropping at a good time, as well: This is the first GPU review where we’ve implemented a proper “Best Playable” feature. While we’ve dabbled with this idea in the past, we’ve worked over the mechanics and plan to include it in all of our future GPU reviews.

The reason this feature is important: Our goal is to find the best graphics configuration that will allow a game to run at 1080p with an average performance of 60 FPS – or at least close to it. And because a visual cue has never hurt anyone, we’ll be providing an ingame screenshot for each title which was snapped using the same graphics settings we provide. With these screenshots, you’ll be able to see exactly what you’d be getting, all with the realization that you’d be enjoying the game at a cool 60 FPS.

I’ll explain the feature a bit more on that page, but for now, let’s take a quick look at AMD’s current-gen lineup:

AMD Radeon Cores Core MHz Memory Mem MHz Mem Bus TDP Price
R9 290X 2816 1000 4096MB 5000 512-bit 250W $549
R9 290 2560 947 4096MB 5000 512-bit 250W $399
R9 280X 2048 <1000 3072MB 6000 384-bit 250W $299
R9 270X 1280 <1050 2048MB 5600 256-bit 180W $199
R9 270 1280 <925 2048MB 5600 256-bit 150W $179
R7 260X 896 <1100 2048MB 6500 128-bit 115W $139
R7 260 768 <1000 1024MB 6000 128-bit 95W $109
R7 250 384 <1050 1024MB 4600 128-bit 65W $89

The R7 260 utilizes the same architectural design as the R7 260X, but a couple of important changes have been made. The biggest one is a drop of GDDR5 density, from 2GB to 1GB. I don’t like seeing 1GB framebuffers in this day and age, so a secondary goal while testing will be seeing how much of a detriment it proves to be at our target resolution of 1080p.

The other changes include a slight drop in cores (from 896 to 768), and a drop in clock speed (from 1.1GHz to 1.0GHz). As would be expected, these changes also result in a lower power draw; -20W in this particular instance, resulting in a rating of 95W.

Thanks to the introduction of our Best Playable feature (and the swapping out of two games), I’ve had to start the process of rebenchmarking our current fleet of GPUs. So for this review, I’m just going to have results from both of these cards in question, which is all well and good given the next step up GPU-wise would bring us to the $200 price-point (I do not have an NVIDIA card on-hand which is priced like either of these two AMD cards, and current-gen models that would be suitable are not available).

With all of that said, let’s proceed to our testing methodology page, and then get right into testing.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our test-bed specifications, but also a detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

Test Machine

The below table lists our testing machine’s hardware, which remains unchanged throughout all GPU testing, minus the GPU. Each card used for comparison is also listed here, along with the driver version used.

  Graphics Card Test System
Processors Intel Core i7-4960X – Six-Core @ 4.50GHz
Motherboard ASUS P9X79-E WS
Memory Kingston HyperX Beast 32GB (4x8GB) – DDR3-2133 11-12-11
Graphics AMD Radeon R7 260X 2GB (Catalyst 13.12)
AMD Radeon R7 260 1GB (Catalyst 13.12)
Audio Onboard
Storage Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD
Power Supply Cooler Master Silent Pro Hybrid 1300W
Chassis Cooler Master Storm Trooper Full-Tower
Cooling Thermaltake WATER3.0 Extreme Liquid Cooler
Displays ASUS PB278Q 27″ 2560×1440
Dell P2210H 22″ 1920×1080 x 3
Et cetera Windows 7 Professional 64-bit

When preparing our test-beds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

General Guidelines

To aid with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing inaccurate test results. For example, disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

The services we disable are:

For further fine-tuning, we also use Windows’ “Classic” desktop theme, which gets rid of the transparency that can sometimes utilize a GPU in the background.

Vendor Favortism

Sometimes, either AMD or NVIDIA will work with a game studio to help their development process along. As history has proven, this often results in a game that is tuned better for one vendor over the other, although sometimes the tides can change over time, resulting in the opposite vendor offering the better experience.

One of our goals is to provide as neutral a benchmarking suite as possible, so while it’s impossible to avoid games sponsored by either of these companies, we can at least make an effort to achieve a blended list. As it stands, our current game list and their partners are:

(AMD) – Battlefield 4
(AMD) – Crysis 3
(AMD) – Sleeping Dogs
(NVIDIA) – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
(NVIDIA) – Metro: Last Light
(NVIDIA) – Splinter Cell Blacklist
(Neutral) – GRID 2
(Neutral) – Total War: SHOGUN 2

With that, let’s move on to a quick look at the game settings we use in our testing:

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag Benchmark Settings

Battlefield 4

Battlefield 4 Benchmark Settings

Crysis 3

Crysis 3 Benchmark Settings

Crysis 3 Benchmark Settings

GRID 2

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

GRID 2 Benchmark Settings

Metro Last Light

Metro Last Light Benchmark Settings

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Settings

Sleeping Dogs Benchmark Settings

Splinter Cell Blacklist

Splinter Cell Blacklist Benchmark Settings

Splinter Cell Blacklist Benchmark Settings

Total War: SHOGUN 2

Total War SHOGUN 2 Benchmark Settings

Unigine Heaven

Unigine Heaven 4 Benchmark Settings

Game Tests: Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4

Given the sheer number of titles in the Assassin’s Creed series, it’s a little hard to believe that the first game came out a mere six years ago. You could definitely say that Ubisoft hit the ball out of the park with this one. To date, we’ve never considered an AC game for benchmarking, but given the number of graphical goodies featured in the PC version of Black Flag, that trend now ends.

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The saved game starts us not far from the beginning of the game under a small church which can be climbed to synchronize with the environment. To kick things off, I scale this church and rotate the camera around once, making sure to take in the beautiful landscape; then, I climb back down and run all the way to the water (the top of this small church and the water can be seen in the above screenshot).

Note: For some reason, Ubisoft decided to cap the framerate to 60 FPS in Black Flag even if Vsync is turned off. For most games, this would ruin the chance of it appearing in our benchmarking, but because the game is graphically intensive, I’ve chosen to stick with it, as at higher resolutions, reaching 60 FPS is a perk that will belong only to high-end graphics cards.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (1920x1080)

Considering the $30 difference between these GPUs, I expected a much wider delta between the two cards – but not so. Past that, given our high graphics levels, I’d say performance is pretty impressive for a $109 graphics card.

Battlefield 4

Thanks to the fact that DICE cares more about PC gaming than a lot of developers, the Battlefield series tends to give us titles that are well-worth benchmarking. Battlefield 3 offered incredible graphics and became a de facto benchmark immediately, so it’s no surprise, then, that BF4 follows right in its footsteps.

Battlefield 4 - 1920x1080

Manual Run-through: The Singapore level is the target here, with the saved game starting us on an airboat that must be driven to shore, where a massive battle is set to take place. I stop recording the framerate once the tank makes its way to the end of this small patch of beach; in all, the run takes about 3 minutes.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Battlefield 4 (1920x1080)

It’s clear that BF4‘s top-end settings trump AC4‘s, as the performance is much weaker here. For 1080p / Ultra, a $109 card that can deliver 24 FPS is impressive, but that’s unplayable by all standards, so you’ll want to stick around for our Best Playable results later.

Game Tests: Crysis 3, GRID 2

When the original Crysis dropped in late 2007, it took no time at all for pundits to coin the phrase, “Can it run Crysis?“, almost to the point of self-parody. At the time, the game couldn’t have its graphics detail maxed-out on even top-of-the-line PCs, and in reality, that’s a great thing. I’d imagine few are opposed to knowing that a game could actually look better down the road as our PCs grow into them. As the series continued, Crytek knew it had a legend to live up to, and fortunately, Crysis 3 (our review) lives up to the original’s legacy.

Crysis 3 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: There’s no particular level in Crysis 3 that I could establish was “better” for benchmarking than another, but I settled on “Red Star Rising” based on the fact that I could perform a run-through with no chance of dying (a great thing in a challenging game like this one). The level starts us in a derelict building, where I traverse a broken pipe to make it over to one rooftop and then another. I eventually hit the ground after taking advantage of a zipline, and make my way down to a river, where I scurry past a number of enemies to the end spot beneath a building.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Crysis 3 (1920x1080)

Can the R7 260 run Crysis 3? Yes, yes it can. Once again, performance is far from stellar, so our Best Playable results are going to be quite interesting.

GRID 2

For those who appreciate racing games that are neither too realistic nor too arcade-like, there’s GRID. In GRID 2 (review), the ultimate goal is to build a racing empire, starting from square one. Unlike most racing titles that have some sort of career, the goal here isn’t to earn cash, but fans. Whether you’re racing around Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina or tearing through a gorgeous Cote d’Azur coastline, your goal is simple: To impress.

GRID 2 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: The track chosen for my benchmarking is Miami (Ocean Drive). It’s a simple track overall, which is one of the reasons I chose it, and also the reason I choose to do just a single lap (I crash, often, and that affects both the results and my patience). Unlike most games in the suite which I test twice over (save for an oddity in the results), I race this one lap three times over.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - GRID 2 (1920x1080)

Unlike the first three games benchmarked here, GRID 2 is fully playable at our preset graphics settings with AMD’s $109 graphics card. Admittedly, 60 FPS is a better target for a racing title, but after having actually played it using these settings, I could understand it just fine if some folks wanted to stick with that. For some, graphics fidelity is weighed much higher than total smoothness of performance.

Game Tests: Metro Last Light, Sleeping Dogs

Crysis has become infamous for punishing even top-end systems, but let’s be fair: The Metro series matches, if not exceeds its requirement for graphical horsepower. That was proven by the fact that we used Metro 2033 in our testing for a staggering three years – only to be replaced by its sequel, Last Light. I’m not particularly a fan of this series, but I am in awe of its graphics even at modest settings.

Metro Last Light - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: Because this game is a real challenge to benchmark with for both the reasons of variability in the results and the raw challenge, I choose to use the built-in benchmark here but rely on Fraps to give me more accurate results.

Note: Metro Last Light‘s built-in benchmark is not representative of the entire game; some levels will punish a GPU much worse than this benchmark will (namely, “The Chase”, which has lots of smoke and explosions). What this means is that while these settings might suffice for much of the game, there might be instances where the performance degrades enough during a certain chapter or portion of a chapter to force a graphics setting tweak.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Metro Last Light (1920x1080)

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the R7 260 is quite capable for such a well-priced offering, though it wouldn’t surprise us if at some point during the game, the card’s 1GB framebuffer would (or could) cause a bit of degraded performance.

Sleeping Dogs

Many have called Sleeping Dogs (our review) the “Asian Grand Theft Auto“, but the game does a lot of things differently that helps it stand out of the crowd. For example, in lieu of supplying the player with a gazillion guns, Sleeping Dogs focuses heavily on hand-to-hand combat. There are also many collectibles that can be found to help upgrade your character and unlock special fighting abilities – and if you happen to enjoy an Asian atmosphere, this game should fit the bill.

Sleeping Dogs - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: The run here takes place during the chapter “Amanda”, on a dark, dank night. The saved game begins us at the first apartment in the game (in North Point), though that’s not where I begin capturing the framerate. Instead, I first request our motorcycle from the garage. Once set, I begin recording the framerate and drive along a specific path all the way to Aberdeen, taking about two minutes.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Sleeping Dogs (1920x1080)

Like GRID 2, even though the R7 260 only managed 39 FPS here on average, I found it to be suitable enough to keep for the long-haul. However, because the High AA mode doesn’t offer a significant difference in image quality, most will want to knock that down to Normal – the FPS boost will be worth it, as we’ll see on the Best Playable page.

Game Tests: Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Total War: SHOGUN 2

Tom Clancy is responsible for a countless number of video games, but his Splinter Cell series has become something special, with each game released having been considered “great” overall. The latest in the series, Blacklist, is no exception, and thankfully for us, its graphics are fantastic, and not to mention intensive. For those who love a stealth element in their games, this is one that shouldn’t be skipped.

RIP, Tom Clancy.

Splinter Cell Blacklist - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: From the start of the ‘Safehouse’ level in Benghazi, Libya, we progress through until we reach an apartment building that must be entered – this is where we end the FPS recording.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Splinter Cell: Blacklist (1920x1080)

Blacklist is an absolute tank of a game, so it’s no surprise that we’re skirting with 30 FPS here.

Total War: SHOGUN 2

Strategy games are well-known for pushing the limits of any system, and few others do this as well as Total War: SHOGUN 2. It fully supports DX11, has huge battlefields to oversee with hundreds or thousands of units, and a ton of graphics options to adjust. It’s quite simply a beast of a game.

Total War: SHOGUN 2 - 1920x1080 Single Monitor

Manual Run-through: SHOGUN 2 is one of the few games in our suite where the built-in benchmark is opted for. Strategy games in particular are very difficult to benchmark, so this is where I become thankful to have the option of using a built-in benchmark.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Total War: SHOGUN 2 (1920x1080)
* Test run at 2xAA

Thanks to the 1GB framebuffer, I was forced to reduce the anti-aliasing to 2x for the R7 260; otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to provide a result at all. So with that in mind, the 260X offers a substantial performance improvement here; it could use a higher AA mode and still deliver 7 FPS more on average. Of the eight games we’ve tested here, this is the biggest gain we’ve seen, so it’s clear that SHOGUN 2 loves GPU memory.

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
1920×1080 Minimum Average
AMD Radeon R7 260X 51 60
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Environment: High Shadow: Normal
Texture: High Reflection: Normal
Anti-aliasing: FXAA God Rays: Off
Ambient Occlusion: Off Volumetric Fog: On
Motion Blur On  
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 260 48 58
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Environment: High Shadow: Normal
Texture: High Reflection: Normal
Anti-aliasing: Off God Rays: Off
Ambient Occlusion: Off Volumetric Fog: Off
Motion Blur Off  
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
1920×1080 Minimum Average
AMD Radeon R7 260X 49 62
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Quality: High Texture Filtering: High
Lighting: High Effects: High
Post Processing: High Mesh: High
Terrain: High Terrain Decoration: High
Anti-aliasing Deferred: Off Anti-aliasing Post: Off
Ambient Occlusion: Off    
Battlefield 4 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 260 48 58
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Quality: High Texture Filtering: High
Lighting: High Effects: High
Post Processing: Medium Mesh: High
Terrain: High Terrain Decoration: High
Anti-aliasing Deferred: Off Anti-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
1920×1080 Minimum Average
AMD Radeon R7 260X 36 54
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing: Off Texture: Medium
Effects: Medium Object: Medium
Particles: Medium Post Processing: Medium
Shading: Medium Shadows: Low
Water: Low Anisotropic Filtering: x16
Motion Blur: Medium Lens Flares: Yes
Crysis 3 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 260 36 50
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing: Off Texture: Medium
Effects: Medium Object: Medium
Particles: Low Post Processing: Low
Shading: Medium Shadows: Low
Water: Low Anisotropic Filtering: x16
Motion Blur: Medium Lens 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
1920×1080 Minimum Average
AMD Radeon R7 260X 50 58
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Multisampling: 4x MSAA Night Lighting: High
Shadows: Ultra Advanced Fog: On
Particles: Ultra Crowd: Ultra
Cloth: High Ambient Occlusion: Low
Soft Ambient Occlusion: Off Ground Cover: High
Vehicle Details: High Trees: Ultra
Objects: Ultra Vehicle Reflections: Ultra
Water: High Post Process: High
Skidmarks: On Advanced Lighting: On
Global Illumination: Off Anisotropic Filtering: Ultra
GRID 2 - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 260 41 64
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Multisampling: 4x MSAA Night Lighting: High
Shadows: High Advanced Fog: On
Particles: Ultra Crowd: Ultra
Cloth: High Ambient Occlusion: Low
Soft Ambient Occlusion: Off Ground Cover: High
Vehicle Details: High Trees: Ultra
Objects: Ultra Vehicle Reflections: Ultra
Water: High Post Process: Medium
Skidmarks: On Advanced Lighting: On
Global Illumination: Off Anisotropic 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
1920×1080 Minimum Average
AMD Radeon R7 260X 62 71
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing: Normal High-res Textures: On
Shadow Resolution: High Shadow Filtering: High
Ambient Occlusion: High Motion Blur: High
World Density: Extreme  
Sleeping Dogs - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 260 55 63
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Anti-aliasing: Normal High-res Textures: On
Shadow Resolution: High Shadow Filtering: High
Ambient Occlusion: High Motion 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
1920×1080 Minimum Average
AMD Radeon R7 260X 51 77
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Detail: Medium Shadow: Medium
Parallax: On Tessellation: Off
Texture Filtering: 2x Ambient Occlusion: Field AO
Anti-aliasing: Off  
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Blacklist - Best Playable - AMD Radeon R7 260X
AMD Radeon R7 260 48 72
Graphics Settings
& Screenshot
Texture Detail: Medium Shadow: Medium
Parallax: On Tessellation: Off
Texture Filtering: 2x Ambient 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+.

Synthetic Tests: Futuremark 3DMark, 3DMark 11, Unigine Heaven 4.0

We don’t make it a point to seek out automated gaming benchmarks, but we do like to get a couple in that anyone reading this can run themselves. Of these, Futuremark’s name leads the pack, as its benchmarks have become synonymous with the activity. Plus, it does help that the company’s benchmarks stress PCs to their limit – and beyond.

3DMark

While Futuremark’s latest GPU test suite is 3DMark, I’m also including results from 3DMark 11 as it’s still a common choice among benchmarkers.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Futuremark 3DMark

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Futuremark 3DMark 11 - Performance

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Futuremark 3DMark 11 - Extreme

Both 3DMark’s back up the performance deltas between these two cards quite well when compared to what we saw with our real-world testing.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

Unigine might not have as established a name as Futuremark, but its products are nothing short of “awesome”. The company’s main focus is its game engine, but a by-product of that is its benchmarks, which are used to both give benchmarkers another great tool to take advantage of, and also to show-off what its engine is capable of. It’s a win-win all-around.

Unigine Heaven 4.0

The biggest reason that the company’s “Heaven” benchmark is so relied-upon by benchmarkers is that both AMD and NVIDIA promote it for its heavy use of tessellation. Like 3DMark, the benchmark here is overkill by design, so results are not going to directly correlate with real gameplay. Rather, they showcase which card models can better handle both DX11 and its GPU-bogging features.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Unigine Heaven 4.0 (1920x1080)

A graph like this makes the R7 260 look all the more attractive – the price difference is $30, after all.

Temperatures, Power & Final Thoughts

To test graphics cards for both their power consumption and temperature at load, we utilize a couple of different tools. On the hardware side, we use a trusty Kill-a-Watt power monitor which our GPU test machine plugs into directly. For software, we use Futuremark’s 3DMark to stress-test the card, and AIDA64 to monitor and record the temperatures.

To test, the general area around the chassis is checked with a temperature gun, with the average temperature recorded. Once that’s established, the PC is turned on and left to site idle for ten minutes. At this point, AIDA64 is opened along with 3DMark. We then kick-off a full suite run, and pay attention to the Kill-a-Watt when the test reaches its most intensive interval (GT 1) to get the load wattage.

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Temperatures

AMD Radeon R9 260 - Power Consumption

Both the 260 and 260X idled the same, but the latter peaked much higher. AMD quotes the 260X as drawing 20W more at load, but we found it to be 26W. Likewise, the temperature has also seen a significant gain.

Final Thoughts

I sometimes have a hard time getting excited about budget hardware, but given the recent console launches and the fact that I might have been in a great mood the day I received the R7 260, I couldn’t wait to see what a $109 GPU could bring to the table.

What’s delivered is impressive. As seen on the Best Playable page, this lowly $109 graphics card is able to deliver some great-looking experiences at 1080p while retaining a performance level of ~60 FPS. Putting this all into perspective quite well are the ingame screenshots. While I’ll always opt for the bigger, badder GPUs, I no longer feel that bad for someone who has to run a $110 GPU. With some tweaking, games can look good and run smooth.

The R7 260 does have a couple of downsides, but for a $109 GPU, they’re kind of hard to complain about. This card is based on a last-gen model, for starters, and when it’ll be available for sale… we’re not sure. On the flipside, the card does offer a couple of important perks: Support for multi-monitor setups, and Mantle, which we hope to see a game utilize sooner than later.

AMD Radeon R7 260

In the matchup between the R7 260 and R7 260X, the test results prove that for the most part, the $30 required to get the X model isn’t going to result in the same increase in performance. Despite its 1GB framebuffer, the 260 managed to handle all of our tested games without issue – with the exception of SHOGUN 2, which required an anti-aliasing decrease.

Usually when I sit down to test a $100-ish GPU, I cringe. I expect to have to make some severe compromises to see what’s playable, and put up with manually benchmarking games with our apples-to-apples settings at incredibly low framerates. That wasn’t the case here. As I benchmarked, I found myself constantly impressed by what the R7 260 could muster.

If your budget has some leeway, I consider the $200 price-point to be place to find the best value, but that’s a far cry from $110. The upside, then, is that for those who don’t have wiggle-room in their budget, AMD’s Radeon R7 260 offers some serious value at its very low price-point.

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