4K Testing and Closing Thoughts

Very High Preset

(Please excuse the FRAPs and Observed FPS graphs stopping at 40s rather than 60s without the graphs adjusting. A small error in our analyzation scripts needs to be ferreted out.)

Okay, let’s crank up the resolution and see what gamers will find if they have invested in a 4K monitor or plan to in the near future. Again, your frame rates are going to dip into the 35-45 FPS range but we actually found that the AMD Radeon cards had a better performance. The R9 290X holds a 10% advantage over the GTX 980 (44 FPS vs. 40 FPS) and the R9 290 has a larger 14% advantage over the GTX 970 (40 FPS vs. 35 FPS). None of the four cards tested show any kind of frame variance concerns though and offer very smooth delivery of frames, even those frame rates are lower than you might like. (This is why variable refresh monitors like G-Sync can be really helpful for improving gaming experiences.)

Ultra Preset

The Ultra preset really brings all of these cards to their knees and even the fastest card of the bunch, the Radeon R9 290X, can’t cross 40 FPS for an average frame rate. The comparison differences remain though and NVIDIA finds itself behind AMD in card-to-card comparisons; the GTX 980 loses to the R9 290X and the GTX 970 loses out to the R9 290.

One thing I consider kind of interesting with these results is just how relevant technology like G-Sync is at 4K. The GeForce GTX 980 has average frame rates that range between 35 and 50 FPS in our testing and is perfectly positioned to produce a great experience using variable refresh rate displays. NVIDIA has G-Sync already available and we know that AMD is working on FressSync (based on the Adapative Sync feature of DisplayPort 1.2a, should be available early next year), so both vendors now understand the importance of VRR. When I hooked up our GPU test bed to the Acer XB280HK 4K G-Sync monitor (which we reviewed here) it was immediately obvious that the experience was improved (and drastically) when G-Sync was enabled, making those low-ish frame rates feel smooth and consistent, something that is impossible with V-Sync.

Closing Thoughts

At 2560×1440, the competition for the top performing single GPU solution for Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is fierce though the AMD Radeon R9 290X takes the edge over NVIDIA’s new GeForce GTX 980 by a small margin. The same result is seen between the GeForce GTX 970 and the AMD Radeon R9 290 with AMD have a slight edge in performance at both Very High and Ultra quality presets.

Our 4K testing shows another story with more significant performance leads for the R9 290X (10%) and the R9 290 (14%) over the competing NVIDIA GPUs. In reality though, 4K gaming on Shadow of Mordor would be pretty tough with any of these single card solutions at Very High settings and until we have the multi-GPU fix from the developer you are going to running in sub-45 FPS experiences.

Though I don’t consider this article to be a graphics card review, I should note that pricing has shifted in the last week on GPUs as well. AMD and its partners have lowered quite a few R9 290X and R9 290 SKUs to new prices of $399 and $299, respectively. That puts the R9 290X flagship single-GPU card from AMD at a price that is $150 lower than the GTX 980 – that is more than enough to make gamers second guess themselves. When the GTX 970 launched at $329-349, it was a shot across the bow of the AMD, dominating in both performance and price. With some R9 290 cards hitting $299 that debate is reinvigorated.

To reiterate – the above pricing discussion is not meant to be all inclusive as we are only showing the results from a single game in this story. My full review of the GeForce GTX 980 and the GTX 970 will show you more results from titles like Battlefield 4, Metro: Last Light and Crysis 3 that might spin things differently.

Expect both AMD and NVIDIA to spend some time optimizing for this game going forward; the wild reviews success for Shadow of Mordor are likely ratcheting it up the priority list. If anything dramatic occurs we’ll be sure to check in again and hopefully we’ll have that multi-GPU patch available soon to see if we can run at 4K at more comfortable frame rates!

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