5 Years Later: Revisiting the GeForce GTX 970

We recently looked at the GeForce GTX 980 Ti and the GTX 960, both popular GPUs from yesterday. These features were very welcomed, but in addition to the overall positive responses that we found in your feedback, we were asked to test the GeForce GTX 970. This was the performance / value proposition of the time and a GPU that some of you still rock with some success in today's games.

So today we have an old-fashioned GPU battle between the GeForce GTX 970 and the Radeon R9 290. Whether you want to upgrade or not, it should be interesting to see after 5 years which GPU is the ultimate winner …

Nvidia rewound quickly for a moment, revealing the GTX 970 for the first time in September 2014, about ten months after the Radeon R9 290 was released. The GTX 970 was the newer product, and it was not surprising that it had a little more power offered at a slightly better price. AMD reacted with aggressive price cuts for the R9 290, but with the 970 on average 10-15% faster on average and significantly better energy efficiency, it became a bestseller despite the VRAM controversy.

Throughout 2015, the GTX 970 was typically the puncher GPU. With a range of high-quality AIB models, it easily outbid the R9 290. However, many of those who bought the R9 290 jumped up and down to find out how it would be better investing along the way. At least today we can determine which GPU 2019 performs best.

For this test, we tested 33 games with 1080p, a suitable resolution for these GPUs. We'll take a close look at the results for 13 of the titles before turning to some head-to-head comparison graphs. As usual, the test system used is operated by a Core i9-9900K with 5 GHz and 32 GB DDR4-3200 memory. Now let’s take a look at these blue bar graphs …


First we have Apex Legends and we immediately see a pretty good performance between the GTX 970 and the R9 290. This is too close to name and within the margin of error. One can say with certainty that the performance is identical for both GPUs. Compared to a modern GPU, we see a GTX 1060 3 GB-like performance.

Division 2 is a title that works particularly well with AMD hardware. As Vega 64 shows, beating the GTX 1080 and RTX 2060, while the RX 580 smashes the GTX 1060. With these comparisons previously determined, it is no surprise that the R9 290 dusted the GTX 970 by 19%. The 970 offers significantly better performance than the 3 GB 1060, but you should still reduce the quality settings a little.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is another title where AMD GPUs do quite well. Here the GTX 970 was 12% slower than the R9 290. The GTX 970 mimicked the GTX 1060 3GB, or you could say the 1060 mimicked the 970. In both cases, performance was decent despite the R9 290.

We promise that the order of the games was not chosen intentionally, but here we have another title that works very well with AMD GPUs. Again, the GTX 970 was 12% slower than the R9 290, although the performance was still very playable. In three of the recently published titles, we saw that the R9 290 did well.

Finally a solid win for the GTX 970, this time with Hitman 2 using the DirectX 11 API. The GeForce GPU was 12% faster, although I should point out that enabling the new patched DX12 mode didn't change anything. The 970 was still the superior GPU in this title.

The performance in Just Cause 4 was similar for both GPUs. The GeForce prevailed in our test when looking at the average frame rate. However, the low 1% result was identical to both that manage 40 fps. Overall, the experience was similar.

We find a close fight when testing with Resident Evil 2. Here the R9 290 was only 6 fps faster at 1080p and this meant that the 970 ran more like a 3 GB 1060, which wasn't a bad result given the average frame rate of 66 fps, but this is still a win for the Radeon 290 .

Fortnite is a game that prefers Nvidia GPUs thanks to the use of Unreal Engine 4. This can be seen, for example, when comparing the GTX 1060 and RX 580, also when comparing older GPUs such as the GTX 970 and R9 290. Here the 970 was 18% faster and delivered an average of 87 fps.

The GTX 970 can also hold its own in Metro Exodus with an average of 48 fps at 1080p using the ultra quality settings. This meant that it was 23% faster than the R9 290, essentially equivalent to the 6 GB GTX 1060 and RX 590. A very solid result for the old Maxwell GPU.

Next up is Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege and here the GTX 970 is more competitive than I expected. I remember it was a very easy win for the R9 290 at the time, but here it was only 5% on average. That said, the 1% low performance was more consistent, although the experience with the 970 was still extremely fluid.

The frame rates were surprisingly similar when tested with Battlefield V. Here, the GTX 970 was only 3 fps faster, which corresponds to a margin of 5%. For this reason, we usually call it a tie if the margin is 5% or less. The GTX 970 did well in this title and, as we have seen many times, is often very similar to the 3 GB GTX 1060.

World of Tanks is a game that AMD GPUs don't like very much, or AMD GPUs don't like World of Tanks so much. In any case, it is not good news for the red team. The R9 290 was able to deliver very playable performance, but we see a 36% increase when we look at the GTX 970, and that's obviously significant.

And the last game we're going to take a look at is Far Cry New Dawn. Here we have a tie at 70 fps each. Both the GTX 970 and the R9 290 were comparable to the 3 GB 1060. Performance at 1080p with the Ultra Quality preset was certainly respectable, and you don't have to reject quality settings here.

power consumption

This is an area where the Maxwell GPUs had a big advantage over the AMD competition, and Nvidia still has that advantage today. With a similar performance level, the R9 290 increased the system's power consumption by 30%. For this reason, GTX 970 graphics cards usually run cooler and quieter than R9 290 cards.

Service summary

So the GTX 970 and R9 290 stack up in these preliminary titles, as if we had seen some things back and forth. Based on what we've seen so far, we can't imagine that the GTX 970 is still 10-15% faster than most reviewers in late 2014. In other words, let's see what the comparison with 33 games for means to us.

This is exactly where your "good wine", a.k.a. AMD's slow driver development. Seriously, that's an impressive comeback for the R9 290. Still, the GeForce 970 was 5% or more faster in 16 of the 33 games tested, while the R9 290 was 5% or more faster in just 11 of the games.

So the GeForce GTX 970 was the more stable performance, the smaller primary VRAM partition with 3.5 GB injured it in Wolfenstein, especially with the settings used for testing. DiRT 4 also prefers Radeon GPUs with CMAA, while Strange Brigade is an AMD sponsored title and is well optimized for Radeon GPUs. AMD is also doing well in Division 2, Sniper Elite 4, Forza Horizon 4 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider.

It was mainly the older titles or games sponsored by Nvidia that the green team performed well, such as games like World of Tanks, Warhammer II, Metro Exodus, Project Cars 2 and Fortnite.

GeForce GTX 970 vs. GTX 1060 6 GB

In the further course we decided to see how the GTX 970 beats the GTX 1060 6 GB. On average, the 970 was 14% slower. So here we're comparing a 2014 version with a $ 330 MSRP to a 2016 version with a $ 250 MSRP. For those who wondered when the GTX 1060 6GB started, the 970 was 15% slower, so apparently there was no "Nvidia gimping" as it is often called.

Of course, Nvidia is not actively improving performance. We have proven that this is a lot of nonsense several times now, just like others. They are guilty of prioritizing newer architectures, while optimizations for older generations tend to take place later, if at all, for the really old models.

GeForce GTX 970 vs. RTX 2060

If you've planned to upgrade for $ 300 to $ 400 over the years, the GeForce RTX 2060 may be of interest.

closing remarks

There you go, the GTX 970 went from ~ 10-15% faster four years ago to 1% faster in 2019 compared to the Radeon R9 290, based on our 33 game test sample that contains many newer titles.

Despite the 3.5 GB of fast VRAM, the GTX 970 remains the more reliable performance that may surprise some of you, especially after you've undoubtedly heard over and over again how doomed and soon will be completely useless. It's also the cooler GPU, but most importantly, with both solutions, you can comfortably play at 1080p all these years later.

The doomsday scenario has not yet occurred and with a few small changes, the GTX 970 can easily fight its way through the latest and best titles at 1080p. The Radeon R9 290 is also extremely impressive in 2019 to give credit when credit is due.

We attribute the comeback of the R9 290 entirely to the driver development from AMD and have nothing to do with the fact that the partitioned VRAM buffer or Nvidia neglect driver support. The "good wine" is all about the fact that AMD has improved driver optimization in recent years.

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