Performance comparison

For these tests, I have used various synthetic and built-in game benchmarks to assess the performance of each card. It’s worth noting that I downclocked the Sapphire card by 40 to 1000 MHz to represent a ‘stock’ R9 390.

The Maximum overclock I could manage with my R9 390 was 1110 MHz and 1600 MHz memory (6.4Gbps). The GTX 970, however, managed nearly 1500 Mhz, with the card bouncing between 1490 and 1503 during the benchmarks. Memory on the 970 was happy to take 7.8Gbps.


Firestrike is rendered at 1920×1080 resolution, and here we can see the R9 390 has a slight lead when both cards are at stock, but the GTX 970 pulls ahead once overclocking is thrown into the mix.

Firestrike Extreme

Upping the resolution to 1440p, Firestrike Extreme shows a similar outcome as regular Firestrike; 390 leads at stock, whilst the 970 commands a lead when both cards are overclocked.

Firestrike Ultra

With the resolution at 3840×2160, Firestrike Ultra is a brutal graphics test. Continuing the trend, the 390 is the winner at stock, but the 970 just about edges it out once overclocked.

Unigine Heaven

Unigine Heaven is a benchmark based on DX11 and includes heavy tessellation. With that in mind, it’s surprising to see the R9 390 take the lead in both 1080p and 1440p resolutions. With 8XAA thrown into the mix; the 384GB/s of bandwidth provided by Hawaii’s 512-bit memory interface could be flexing its muscle here. However, the GTX 970 manages to take the lead – only by 2 fps – once overclocked at 1920×1080, but is unable to best the overclocked 390 at 1440p.

Unigine Valley

Another DX11 benchmark from Unigine, Valley sees much of the same performance from both cards as Heaven, but the 390’s lead appears stronger both at stock and overclocked.

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs can be quite graphically demanding, and the game’s built in benchmark reflects this. At 1080p resolution, the GTX 970 has the lead both at stock and overclocked. But once the resolution rises to 2560×1440; the 390 edges ahead stock to stock but is unable to best the overclocked GTX 970 at this resolution.

Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor is renown for its heavy VRAM usage. For this test we use the game’s built-in benchmark. R9 390 has a commanding lead here at both resolutions, stock and overclocked. It’s interesting to note that the 970’s results varied quite a bit from run to run. This, combined with the 970’s comparatively small 4GB framebuffer being literally filled the entire benchmark indicates the 970 is heavily memory limited in this game.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider also features an in-game benchmark, which we used here. Yet again we see the R9 390 beating the competition both stock and overclocked – albeit marginally – as both cards results are well within the playable range.

Metro 2033

For this test, the average frame rate was measured from the start of the game to the end of the prologue. GTX 970 has a clear lead in this game (at least in this scene).

Grand Theft Auto V

Using the game’s built-in benchmark which provides five passes with their respective framerates, I then calculated the average from these. At 1440p, the 390 has a dominant lead at stock speeds, but both cards provide very similar frame rates once overclocked, with the 390 having a slight edge. At 1080p, the 390 leads the pack at stock, but once GM204 flexes those overclocking muscles, the GTX 970 pulls ahead.


Before I started this comparison, I knew roughly where both card stood with regards to performance.And these tests reflect that standing quite well. The Radeon R9 390, with its 8GB framebuffer, is in a good position to win- though it depends heavily on the game. Some games, like Shadow of Mordor, the lead is substantial, whilst in others, such as Sleeping Dogs, the two cards are pretty much neck and neck. Maxwell’s exceptional overclocking capability often allows the GTX 970 to pull ahead, however.

With regards to actual playability; both cards do very well at 1080p, and provide a respectable showing at 1440p. During gaming, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any difference between these two cards. That is, unless you look at some of the edge cases.  However, with future games utilising more and more VRAM, the Radeon R9 390 stands better equiped to tackle these titles. The results in Shadow of Mordor clearly demonstrate the significant disadvantage of the 3.5/4GB framebuffer of the GeForce GTX 970.

As a result, the Radeon R9 390, with its 8GB, is the winner of the performance show down.