How to protein-up your holiday muffins. Hint: don’t add powdered crickets

Enlarge / The whey and cricket definitely stand out.

Beth Mole

If I could, I’d eat baked goods for every meal. And if there’s one time of year to try to get away with this, it’s the holidays. Festively seasoned cakes, breads, pastries, and cookies abound. That said, there’s one baked good that usually doesn’t make the cut: muffins. In fact, I kind of loathe muffins.

But, it is the holidays—‘tis the season to be jolly and all. I felt like I should give muffins another shot. So, I set out to try to make them suck less. I was generally successful, I think. Though, thanks to my lovely editor, Eric Bangeman, the journey to redeem muffins involved eating powdered insects. He meant well (at least I hope he did), but it was definitely a step backwards for the baked goods.

First, my beef with muffins: basically, they have so much potential to be great but generally fail miserably. They’re easy to make, can be packed with pretty much any flavoring or ingredients imaginable, and have the potential to be delicious. Better yet, they’re portable and easy to eat—perfect for breakfast. They fit right in the palm of your hand so you can mindlessly shove one toward your face while running to work or plopping at your desk. They also look like they should be good for you in some way. They could be the perfect breakfast baked good.

But, sadly, they’re usually just dull sugar bombs, loaded with empty calories that leave you hungry again in 30 minutes flat. If I wanted a sweet, fattening, un-filling baked good, I’d eat something super scrumptious, like a chocolate croissant or a cream-filled donut. Move aside, muffins.

To try to lift muffins from their pitiful position, I decided to pack them with protein as well as flavor. Studies have found that protein is satiating, and there are a variety of ways nowadays to easily bake in the mighty ingredient—protein powders from milk, plants, insects even. But which is the best? Some studies have suggested that certain protein sources may be more filling than others. But I wanted a good taste and texture, too. So I designed a little baking experiment.

I started with my favorite muffin recipe (which is to say, a rare formula for a muffin I didn’t want to chuck at a wall). Its base is buttermilk and oatmeal, and it creates a relatively tasty, low-calorie, not-too-sweet, filling breakfast muffin. For this experiment, I boosted the flavor and tested out three different types of protein powders: whey, plant protein, and cricket flour (which is, as the name implies, just ground-up crickets).

The basic recipe is:

  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups AP flour
  • ½ cup raisins or currants
  • ½ cup apples
  • 1½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon clove

There’s one trick to this recipe that requires planning: you have to soak the oats in the buttermilk overnight (or at least six hours).

Once that’s done, the rest is easy. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl, mix the buttermilk-soaked oats with the sugar, butter, egg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Then gently stir in the flour, fruits, and spices. Evenly distribute the batter in 12 muffin pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Let them cool for about five minutes and then turn them out.

To add the protein, I did a little bit of jiggering. I wanted to make each muffin have about the same amount of protein in it, for comparison purposes. Then I had to readjust the recipe to account for the added ingredients and try to keep the texture and consistency as close as I could.

Here are the protein powders I decided on:

Here’s how I incorporated each powder:

  • For the whey: I cut the flour by ½ cup and added ¾ cup (~75 grams) of whey powder
  • For the plant protein: I cut the flour again by ½ cup and added 81 grams of plant powder
  • For the cricket muffins: I simply replaced ¾ cup of flour for ¾ cup of cricket

Here’s how the nutrition information broke down:

The results

The plain muffins had a festive holiday flavor without being too sweet. Its cake-y innards were moist and tender. And they were the satisfying muffins I remember. The addition of the protein of the whey and plant definitely made these relatively satisfying muffins seem like a real breakfast. They kept me full for at least three hours, which is a win in my book. But which one was best?

The whey protein’s flavor was similar to the plain muffin, but its innards were dense and rubbery. It’s possible that if I cut the flour back a bit, it could be less rubbery. But this is a known problem when baking with whey, so I’m not sure it’s worth playing with it.

The plant protein had a good flavor but was a bit sweeter and vanilla-tinged because I used a flavored protein mix. If I was going to do this again, I would try an unflavored plant protein mix, likely solely pea protein. That said, the texture and innards of the muffin was generally very good. I might add a tablespoon or two of extra milk to make it a little moister next time.

The cricket muffins, to me, were inedible. The powder smells and tastes exactly like crickets—go figure. And baking doesn’t make that go away. If you’re having trouble conjuring cricket flavor in your mind, it’s like an earthy, bitter dirt flavor with a hint of “wrong.” The muffin batter does its best to mask that horror, but it’s still there. Behind the pleasant clove and nutmeg notes, the icky basement insect notes lurk. And worse, they stay in your mouth to haunt you until you eat real food. And whatever you do, don’t burp. It… yeah, I just can’t.

For a second opinion, I sent all four muffins to Eric. Here are his thoughts:

When Beth and I were discussing this baking project, I was really excited. I’ve been trying to eat right and work out this year, and one of the things that has been helpful is emphasizing lean protein and trying to keep most of my carbs complex. And as someone who used to order crickets by the thousand (I used to have 30+ frogs, toads, and geckos), I was curious as to how the high-protein cricket flour would taste in a recipe.

First and foremost, you should know that Beth has mad skills when it comes to baking. At our 2016 staff meet-up in New York, she brought some chocolate chip cookies to share, and they were some of the best I’ve eaten. So my experience with her baking had my hopes high. One bite of the cricket flour muffin and those hopes were cruelly dashed.

That’s a bit of an overstatement, but they definitely had something to them that tasted more than a bit off. It’s not just that they tasted bad; there was a flavor that didn’t belong in baked goods. I’d even say they had a flavor that doesn’t belong in food.

The “control” muffin was excellent, but the whey and plant protein muffins were winners as well. The whey muffins were a bit glossy looking and had a slightly different mouthfeel, but there wasn’t enough of a difference to put them in the category of “not muffin.” The plant protein muffins tasted a wee bit different from the controls, but they had a very pleasant taste. If I were looking for a high-protein muffin, this is what I’d use.

The best part of taste-testing the muffins was getting my 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son to participate… unknowingly. I told them they all were basically the same muffin with slightly different recipes. After they had swallowed a bite of each one, I screamed “YOU JUST ATE CRICKETS HA HA HA!” as they started retching.

Actually, since I pride myself on not being a bad dad, I didn’t do that. Instead, I told them what each muffin was baked with and asked for feedback. Both of them (and my wife, who was clued in ahead of time) came to the same conclusion as Beth and I did: let’s leave cricket-eating to frogs and lizards for now.

The winner

To me, plant protein clearly won. Although there was an added vanilla flavor due to the mix I used, there were no unpleasant notes, beating out crickets. And the overall texture was not just better than the rubbery whey, it was indistinguishable from the plain muffin. I would make these muffins again—and wouldn’t chuck them at walls.

Best Mechanical Keyboards: Holiday 2017

Continuing our run of holiday buyers’ guides, this afternoon we’re taking a look at peripherals. Considering that a PC’s peripherals can easily outlive the main system’s components and usually stay the same even after several main system upgrades, they are often not given the attention they deserve. Keyboards are just such a component; it is the main interface with the PC, yet most casual users hardly stop to consider what would be the most practical/comfortable choice for them.

Mechanical keyboards in particular became popular during the past few years. Mechanical keyboards are not a new invention – on the contrary, the first mechanical keyboards were produced back in the 1970’s – but slowly gave away their market share to membrane and other electronic keyboards due to their much lower cost. However with the production cost of mechanical keyboards dropping to reasonable levels about a decade ago, they have slowly but surely resurfaced and, despite their higher pricing, managed to grab a significant portion of the market away from electronic keyboards.

In this holiday buyer’s guide we are having a look at mechanical keyboards, aiming to offer suggestions to their two main consumer groups – gamers and professionals. We present this guide from an objective point of view, meaning that we weight the overall features and quality of a device against its current market value. Still, keep in mind that the selection of a keyboard can be highly subjective and prone to individual wants and needs. 

AnandTech Mechanical Keyboard Recommendations: 2017
(Prices are Nov-17 or MSRP)
Category Gaming Option Professional Option
Low-Cost Cougar Attack X3 $60 Nixeus Moda Pro $50
MainStream Cougar 700K $100 Azio MK Retro $90
G.Skill RipJaws KM780R $120
Top-tier Corsair K95 Platinum RGB $200 Das Keyboard 4 Professional $150

Why Do I Want a Mechanical Keyboard?

There are many arguments regarding the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical keyboards: they are far more durable than membrane keyboards and easier to maintain, yet noisier and significantly more expensive. However, what makes mechanical keyboards so popular is, as vague as this sounds, their feeling. It is very difficult to put it into words but if someone uses a mechanical keyboard for a few days, all membrane keyboards will be feeling like a toy afterward.

Membrane-based keyboards have their actuation point at the bottom of the key travel and require maximum pressure force at the beginning of their travel, requiring a relatively large amount of strength to be pressed that will inevitably force the key to bottom down. Mechanical keyboards are very different, with both the actuation point and the pressure point somewhere along the travel distance of the key, with several different switch variations offering better flexibility for the consumers. There are tactile and linear switches, audible and quiet, with various key travel lengths for consumers to choose from.

There are many arguments about how mechanical switches can make you type or react faster because they are easier to actuate and/or because the key does not have to bottom down. In terms of speed, the truth is that the difference usually is marginal at best. Mechanical switches are however much more comfortable (and arguably healthy) for long-term use, making mechanical keyboards a nearly necessary tool for professionals and hardcore gamers who value their tendons. Similarly, many argue about which mechanical switch is the “best”. Simply put, there is no “best” switch. Whether you prefer strong linear switches because soft linear switches are too easy to bottom down or audible instead of quiet switches, it virtually always is a matter of individual personal preference.

Low-Cost Mechanical Keyboards
Cougar Attack X3 ($60)
Nixeus Moda Pro ($50)

Before we begin this section, we should point out that we are aware of the many Asian manufacturers that flooded the market with $35-60 mechanical keyboards. However, we prefer not to have an opinion on their products before they are actually tested in our labs.

The mechanical keyboard that possibly offers the best bang for your buck is the Cougar Attack X3. With its retail price currently just below $60, there are just no other options that offer this combination of quality and features anywhere near this price range. The Cougar Attack X3 is using original backlit Cherry MX switches and, on top of that, features full per-key programmability. Cougar’s software is not the best in the market but is actually quite good and adequate for professional use and gaming. Only very advanced/professional gamers will seek an aftermarket macro recording software solution. Having a fully programmable keyboard is not something to pass lightly; even if the programmability does not sound like a useful feature to you at this point of time, it can easily become useful in a future game or application.

If you want an elegant, no-frills mechanical keyboard, the tested and proven Nixeus Moda Pro would be our recommendation. It is aesthetically simple but very reliable and the price dropped a bit since our review, with the retail price tag of $49 making it a relatively attractive deal. However, once you consider that $10 more will get you original Cherry MX switches, backlighting and a fully programmable keyboard, it is clear that the Cougar X3 holds much better value.

Mainsteam Mechanical Keyboards
Cougar 700K ($100)
G.Skill Ripjaws KM780R ($120)
Azio Mk Retro ($90)

Selecting a “mainstream” mechanical keyboard for gaming is a tricky endeavor, especially after the great value that the Cougar Attack X3 holds. It is difficult to find mechanical keyboards even around the $100 mark that offer a better overall feature set. Therefore, assuming that the Cougar Attack X3 does not fill your needs, we are going to make two suggestions here – one of a keyboard with extra macro keys and extended profile support and one of an RGB keyboard.

Our recommendation to those that want a fully-featured mechanical keyboard with extra macro keys and extended profiling support without spending too much is the Cougar 700K, which essentially is the big brother of the Cougar Attack X3. It features original Cherry MX switches and per-key programmability with a fairly good stock software. The added features of the 700K are five extra macro keys, a split spacebar button, additional multimedia functions, per-key backlighting programmability and extended profiling support. Its elegant appearance and reasonable price tag of $100 make it an ideal choice for the advanced gamer or professional.

If RGB lighting is what drives you, the G.Skill Ripjaws KM780R is excellent alternative for a fully programmable gaming keyboard with RGB lighting. It has about the same features as the Cougar 700K does, trades the volume control buttons for a wheel and adds RGB lighting. Its current price tag of $130 is reasonable considering its quality and features. However, G.Skill’s software is mediocre and most advanced gamers/professionals will have to seek a third-party macro recorder.

For strictly professional use, our keyboard of choice would be the Azio MK Retro. It is not a programmable keyboard and has no backlighting or any other advanced features. Its main selling points are the circular keycaps and its linearly adjustable tilt. Most people would just look at it and see a device trying to resemble an old typewriter. However, the truth is that it is exceptionally comfortable and satisfying for long-term typing sessions and professional use. It retail price tag of $90 is a little steep but not overly so for users who will appreciate its retro aesthetics and the level of comfort it offers.

Top-Tier Mechanical Keyboards
Corsair K95 RGB Platinum ($200)
Das Keyboard 4 Professional ($150)

For this category, we largely ignore the price tag of the products and recommend those that we found to be the best in their respective categories based on their overall quality and features.

For advanced gamers and enthusiasts, our recommendation is the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum. It is a fully featured keyboard with extra macro keys, RGB lighting, per-key programmability and extended profiling support. So far it does not sound much unlike the G.Skill Ripjaws KM780R and, excluding the very limited use of plastic, it is not much different on paper. Corsair’s software however, the Corsair Utility Engine (CUE), is by far the best in the market right now, allowing for very extended programmability options without the need for third-party software. The Corsair K95 RGB Platinum is also using the latest Cherry MX Speed RGB mechanical switches, which are slightly shorter and smoother for fast-paced gaming sessions. It only has one disadvantage – a $200 price tag.

Our recommendation to professionals seeking a top-tier mechanical keyboard is the Das Keyboard 4 Professional. It might seem a little odd that we recommend a $150 keyboard that does not even have backlighting, but its quality and feel are not easily comprehensible without a hands-on experience. It is the ultimate choice for the office user who wants a very elegant device that will last him/her for many years. If you are even considering of features such as programmable profiles and backlighting though, you need to look towards Cougar’s 700K and just do not look back.

Best Video Cards for Gaming: Holiday 2017

In our series of Best Video Card guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended graphics cards for gaming PCs. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (Nov 15th).

Best Video Cards for Gaming: Holiday 2017

For gaming PCs that push the pretty pixels on the screens, the video card is the most important component. And given the sheer amount of custom options, choosing the right graphics card for your budget can be very difficult. In our Video Cards for Gaming guides, we give you our recommendations in terms of GPU models and current prices representative of an affordable non-blower custom card. Our guide targets common gaming resolutions at system-build price points similar to our CPU guides.

Click the category links to jump to the appropriate section. For an MSRP table, click here

The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, while considering power consumption and graphics ecosystems.

Death of the 2017 GPU “Sweet Spot”:
Pricing, Cryptomining, and Monitor Ecosystems

Before we dive into our recommendations, we have to talk about the elephant in the graphical room: high prices of mid-range cards. In what is now well-documented, cryptocurrency mining demand for graphics cards caused prices to skyrocket earlier this year. Primarily driven by Ethereum mining, demand first affected RX 480s in late 2016, before spreading to the rest of AMD and NVIDIA’s mid-range offerings earlier this summer. Those inflated prices have not quite recovered even today.

In the past generation, the upper performance/price sweet spot around $300 was occupied by the stalwart Radeon R9 390 and popular GeForce GTX 970. But from the beginning, this generation has not quite seen an equivalent. When NVIDIA began the FinFET GPU generation last year, they launched their cards not only at price points higher than the GeForce 900 series, but also with Founders Edition premiums, where in the first post-launch months only Founders Editions were in stock. On AMD’s side, their Polaris based RX 400 and RX 500 series cards were firmly targeted at the sub-$250 mainstream market, while their high-end $400+ RX Vega cards were only launched a few months ago.

Why does the $300 “Sweet Spot” matter? For gamers looking to min-max their PC builds, the bulk of the budget goes into the highest performing graphics card priced right before diminishing returns. In recent years, this price range is in the $250 to $350 area. But in the lead-up to the 2017 holiday season, no card naturally falls in this range with performance to match.

Today, the $300 Sweet Spot also matters because of the current VR headset and variable refresh monitor market. High-end VR headsets continue to drop in price, while FreeSync and G-Sync monitors have become much more widespread. The variable refresh technologies themselves are capable of providing smoother gaming experiences, in particular enabling mid-range cards to punch above their traditional weight. The kicker is that only AMD cards support FreeSync and only NVIDIA cards support G-Sync.

So if you want a variable refresh monitor, your choice of video card locks your options. NVIDIA charges a premium for G-Sync, which is reflected in higher monitor prices. But because AMD does not have a strict certification program outside of FreeSync 2, there are some questionable FreeSync monitors, and annoyingly, some without support for Low Framerate Compensation (LFC). If you are looking to purchase a FreeSync monitor, LFC is almost mandatory as it maintains the variable refresh experience when the refresh rate dips below the monitor’s minimum, which for many monitors is still 40Hz+.

Returning to you, the consumer, this means that min-maxing for a VR build or new monitor has become that much harder. Particularly if your game tastes veer towards either DX11 or DX12/Vulkan games; as a rough rule of thumb, GeForce cards tend to perform better on DX11 games while Radeon cards tend to perform better (or at least punch above their weight) on DX12/Vulkan. We will keep these complications in mind when we list our recommendations.

The $2000 4K Gaming PC:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti ($730)

With the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, we have finally seen arguably the first single GPU solution for no-compromises 4K gaming. This comes at a time where both AMD and NVIDIA are stepping back from CrossFire and SLI respectively, leaving single GPU solutions as the all-around preferred option. While SFF GTX 1080 Ti cards exist, they may not fit a given mini-ITX case.

In terms of performance, the reference GTX 1080 Ti is able to push around 40 to 50fps at 4K on maximum settings for the most demanding games, with custom cards offering even higher performance. At 1440p, this often translates to high fps suitable for high refresh rate monitors (96Hz and above), and so a good match for high-end G-Sync monitors. In the case that 4K or multi-monitor gaming starts to push past 8GB VRAM somehow, the GTX 1080 Ti’s 11GB GDDR5X frame-buffer has you covered.

This high performance is also coupled with relatively reasonable power consumption, though the card’s price here is pushing well past $700. Compared to the pricier reference-only Titan Xp and Titan X (Pascal), prosumer cards that don’t come with professional driver support anyway, the GTX 1080 Ti is close enough or superior in gaming performance to be the better purchase.

Runner Up: None

AMD essentially has no current GTX 1080 Ti tier competitor, with their highest performing card being their Radeon RX Vega 64 Liquid Cooled card. Price-wise, the RX Vega 64 Liquid has an official SEP of $699 as part of AMD’s Radeon Pack bundles. But outside of CrossFire setups, that may be the option for gamers who already own a top-of-the-line FreeSync monitor.

Beyond this point, you will have to opt for 2-way GTX 1080 Ti or Titan Xp SLI, as NVIDIA no longer officially supports configurations higher than dual SLI.

The $1600 1440p Gaming PC:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 ($520)

At around the $500+ price point, the GeForce GTX 1080 remains a very strong card despite being a year and a half old. Its price has been largely unaffected by cryptomining demand thanks to its atypical GDDR5X memory, and as such its place reflects the last official price adjustment this February. Given its time on the market, quite a number of custom cards are available and in stock, with a slight refresh in the form of 11Gbps GDDR5X equipped custom cards.

Performance-wise, the reference GTX 1080 is capable of pushing around 60fps or more on 1440p on high or maximum settings for the most demanding games. By adjusting graphics settings, the GTX 1080 is also able to handle 4K, particularly with a G-Sync monitor.

Runner Up: AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 ($570)

While AMD’s launch of RX Vega finally offered competition in the enthusiast video card segment, availability has continued to be uneven, in turn affecting price. Additionally, custom designs are yet to reach store shelves, leaving AMD’s reference cards as the only option. Radeon RX Vega 64 at its official $500 SEP would be much more compelling than its current $570, which puts it as more expensive than GTX 1080 custom cards.

Performance could be summed up as the reference RX Vega 64 trading blows with the reference GTX 1080 Founders Edition, at the expense of much higher power consumption, and in turn noise. Otherwise, the reference RX Vega 64 would work fine to match a FreeSync monitor for high quality 1440p and dialed-down 4K gaming. At a higher price than the GTX 1080, much of the RX Vega 64’s value would come from enabling a FreeSync monitor.

The $1300 1440p Gaming PC:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 ($430)

Like its older brother, the GeForce GTX 1070 has been around for some time, and offers GTX 980 Ti+ performance at much lower power consumption levels. There are many custom cards on the market, and outside of a brief window this summer, escaped the worst of the cryptomining demand, though card prices still run above NVIDIA’s official $379 MSRP.

In terms of performance, the reference GTX 1070 is up to the task of 1440p60 for most games, though being in the realm of 20% behind the GTX 1080, the most demanding games will need settings adjustments. And with 8GB of GDDR5, the GTX 1070 is generally set for increased VRAM requirements.

Runner Up: AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 ($470)

AMD’s other RX Vega card, the Radeon RX Vega 56, is a capable card and the reference version at its $400 MSRP generally undercuts the GTX 1070 Founders Edition by around 8% greater performance, at the cost of higher power consumption and noise. Unfortunately, today’s prices of $460 hurts the value, putting it very close to the more powerful GTX 1070 Ti custom cards, and with only reference versions in sight, there aren’t custom RX Vega options to mitigate noise/heat or offer higher performance. At $470, this also prices it above the higher performing $450 GTX 1070 Ti Founders Edition, but for FreeSync gamers, the 5% greater performance for $10 less isn’t enough to justify losing variable refresh. The RX Vega 56 is the minimum performing card to get you over the no-compromises 1440p60 hump on FreeSync, and in the right games, the minimum requirement in providing a pseudo-60fps experience on 4K FreeSync monitors.

Why not the GeForce GTX 1070 Ti? Reference-to-reference, the GeForce GTX 1070 Ti is around 13% ahead of the GTX 1070 and 8% behind the GTX 1080. A middle-of-the-road GTX 1070 Ti currently goes for around $470 to $490, with its main selling point being that it is a proportional option between the GTX 1080 and 1070. Additionally, shipping clocks are indeed standardized for all custom and reference GTX 1070 Ti cards, negating some of the out-of-the-box advantage for custom cards. Right now, blower GTX 1080s go for $500 while cheaper custom cards run between $500 and $520.

At higher system-build price points like this, gamers have much more leeway in stretching for a better graphics card, including choosing a lower-end case, halving RAM, sticking with the stock CPU cooler temporarily, or sticking to one sub-1TB and/or SATA SSD. Any one of those choices would free up enough to stretch for a GTX 1080 (or RX Vega 64), where a custom GTX 1080 will come with higher stock clocks out of the box. And understanding that G-Sync monitors are meaningfully pricier than non-G-Sync monitors, keeping to the GTX 1070 would allow putting extra to get G-Sync. As a further point, while some PC builders min-max heavily into a beefy $250 to $350 graphics card and invest as little as practically possible in the rest of the components, the $450+ price point is well beyond that sweet spot. $50 means a lot less when your budget is $1300 than when it is $650, and for min-maxing graphics performance, putting off that comfy AIO CPU cooler or 4TB HDD for now to stretch for a GTX 1080 or G-Sync monitor today is a better option. Though in the case that you are looking to upgrade and already own a G-Sync monitor, the GTX 1070 Ti may be a good choice.

The $1000 1080p+ Gaming PC:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB (1280 cores) ($270)

The cryptomining demand hit hardest on this tier of video cards, and right now the 1280 CUDA core GeForce GTX 1060 6GB still hovers above its $250 MSRP. Nevertheless, that leaves it the best option out of the upper mid-range cards, even though the price essentially a little past what would be considered mainstream.

In practical terms, the 1280 core GTX 1060 6GB will net you 60fps on maxed out 1080p settings, which may include more anti-aliasing. This also translates into decent 1440p performance, though well shy of 60fps in more demanding games. While this would suit a wide range of G-Sync monitors, the high prices of these mid-range cards makes a G-Sync monitor purchase a difficult proposition.

Runner Up: AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB ($290)

The Radeon RX 580 and RX 480 suffered the brunt of the cryptomania, and right now the RX 580 8GB is at the $290 mark. This makes it difficult to recommend over the cheaper 1280 core GTX 1060 6GB, which on average out-performs the RX 580 by 7% at 1080p and 1440p, and with less power consumption, though the Radeon card takes the lead in certain games. Overall, the higher clocked RX 580 performs around 3% over the RX 480, with a further hit to power efficiency.

8GB is indeed more future-proof friendly, especially if you’re thinking about experimenting with CrossFire, but right now that increased video memory comes at a not insignificant premium. $290 is almost too much to ask for the core mainstream market, so until RX 580 8GB prices settle down it wouldn’t be the ideal mid-range purchase. For the more adventurous, a post-mining price crash may result in affordable RX 580s, but that would be little consolation for today’s budget-conscious gamer.

Ultimately, the mining-inflated prices severely hurts the performance/price of cards in this range, both NVIDIA and AMD.

The $800 1080p Gaming PC:
AMD Radeon RX 580 4GB ($250) & AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB ($240)

This video card tier was hit equally hard by cryptomining, leaving us with less than palatable pricing to this day. One of the results is that at the time of writing, the Radeon RX 580 4GB and RX 570 4GB are separated by just $10. Generationally, the RX 570 performs about 7% over the RX 470 thanks to core and memory clockspeed increases, but is still significantly inflated at $250. In terms of performance in most games, this translates into strong 1080p and playable 1440p performance for the RX 570, and still a good match for a 1440p FreeSync monitor. Of course, going with the 4GB RX 580, there is always the caveat that 4GB VRAM could be limiting at 1080p in the future.

Despite the RX 570 4GB being $25 more expensive over the 1152 core GTX 1060 3GB, it is difficult to recommend the GeForce instead considering that the 3GB frame-buffer results in sub-GTX 1050 Ti 1080p performance in games like DOOM and Hitman. Particularly for Hitman, the 1152 core GTX 1060 3GB manages an unplayable sub 20fps average at 1080p. For a $200+ graphics card, this regression cannot be understated, and gamers should be aware that performance may vary wildly even for the target use-case.

The RX 580 and RX 570, on the other hand, does not require such attention to detail settings and inconsistent 1080p performance, and is much more likely to handle future games in that manner. With variable refresh monitors, the RX 580 and 570 can power equivalent experiences at 1440p, but the 1152 core GTX 1060 3GB is a gamble.

Runner Up: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB (1152 cores) ($215)

All that being said, the 1152 core GeForce GTX 1060 3GB is still cheaper, and with the right tweaking could be the right option, although an inherently limited one.

The $500 “1080p” Gaming Toaster:
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 2GB (
$120) & AMD Radeon RX 560 4GB ($130)

At the lowest end of builds with discrete graphics card, reasonable graphics horsepower begins around the $100 mark. Here, the GeForce GTX 1050 provides a good solution at low power consumption, a factor that matters when budget concerns include PSU capacity. Performance-wise, the difference between the GTX 1050 and Radeon RX 560 largely comes down to game selection (i.e. DX11 vs DX12/Vulkan), price, and power consumption; the 2GB frame-buffer doesn’t necessarily make a strong impact at this level of performance.

For the RX 560 and the fully enabled Polaris 11 inside it, the cards offer somewhere in the region of 5 – 10% performance over the RX 460 and its partially enabled Polaris 11. Single-fan cards are typically around the $100 MSRP while dual-fan cards will be a little pricier at $130. The RX 560 is able to hold its own against the GTX 1050 with somewhat higher power consumption, though the delta isn’t as large as it is with the mid-range and high-end cards. At $100, the RX 560 is definitely a strong purchase, but it may not always be found this low.

Overall, both cards can power reasonable framerates at 1080p with medium settings, or in other words performance typically more suitable in less demanding eSports titles and 720p.

Runner Up: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB ($160)

Typically, the high $100s mark would see the RX 570 or RX 470 rather close by, but because of cryptomining inflation the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti is all alone in the bracket just above the GTX 1050 and RX 560. So stretching a little bit further will net you the GTX 1050 Ti (4GB), offering faster performance over the GTX 1050 and RX 560, though at the current $160 price, it may not be compelling enough in performance/price beyond the GTX 1050.

Ones to Watch:
AMD Vega 11 and Custom RX Vega Cards

Earlier, we talked about the $300 Sweet Spot, and on that note NVIDIA is not publicly planning to release any models in this range, their last released GeForce card being the GTX 1070 Ti. For AMD, we know that cards based on Vega 11 will arrive at some point, presumably with performance in between the RX 580 and RX Vega 56, and with a price to match. Looking at the prices now, this would suggest that it would land in the $300 region, though how much it would be affected by cryptomining is hard to say. In any case, this would bridge the gap between the core mainstream and high-end enthusiast markets, and hopefully reduce the price creep of this generation or relieve the mining pricing of mid-range cards.

The ASUS ROG STRIX RX Vega 64 OC Edition, one of the first custom cards announced

As for the existing RX Vega 64 and 56 cards, only reference cards are available on shelves right now. AIB partners have announced or teased a few upcoming custom RX Vega cards, and theoretically they should be arriving soon. When they do, they will offer consumers more options, which is always welcome. Ideally, this would coincide with a stabilization of prices and availability. In particular, custom RX Vega 56 cards in the $400s against GTX 1070s and the new GTX 1070 Ti’s would be a good development for cost-conscious consumers in the market for high-end cards.

Late 2017 Video Card MSRP Table

As a reminder, all the previously mentioned video cards in this guide have the following MSRPs:

Late 2017 MSRP/SEP Comparison
Radeon RX Vega 64 LC
(Radeon Pack pricing)
$699 GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
Radeon RX Vega 64 $499 GeForce GTX 1080
  $449 GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
Radeon RX Vega 56 $399  
  $379 GeForce GTX 1070
  $249 GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
(1280 cores)
Radeon RX 580 8GB $229  
Radeon RX 580 4GB $199 GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
(1152 cores)
Radeon RX 570 $169  
  $139 GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB
  $109 GeForce GTX 1050 2GB
Radeon RX 560 $99  

Links to Other Guides

Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon are already offering holiday discounts

Walmart will begin offering holiday discounts online on Thursday. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, but Black Friday has already begun — at least for some retailers.

Best Buy on Wednesday began offering “Black Friday” discounts on hundreds of items, including big-screen TVs, Apple Watches and tablets. Walmart followed a day later, with $6 pajamas and $998 Samsung TVs., meanwhile, started its “Countdown to Black Friday” on Nov. 1, offering dozens of new deals each day. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

In an ever-frenzied race to win over shoppers — and their money — retailers are trying to fast-forward to what has historically been the year’s largest shopping day. Over the past decade, big-box chains have slowly moved up doorbuster discounts — from Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving), to the Thanksgiving holiday itself, and now even earlier, as they try to lock in sales during the crucial fourth quarter, which can account for up to 40 percent of a retailer’s annual revenue.

“No matter how you look at it, Black Friday has already begun,” said Sarah Engel, chief marketing officer at retail analytics firm DynamicAction. “As soon as the calendar turned to Nov. 1, our inboxes were full of promotions and discounts.”

In-store door busters are shifting earlier, too. J.C. Penney plans to open its stores at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving day, while Toys R Us, Best Buy and Kohl’s will follow three hours later. Walmart and Target are planning to open at 6 p.m.

Walmart this year is doing away with its “rolling” in-store discounts, aimed at getting customers to come into its stores multiple times on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Instead, the retailer will make all of its Black Friday deals available online beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Those same discounts, executives said, will be available at the company’s stores beginning at 6 p.m. that day. (Best Buy, meanwhile, will open its stores at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving.)

“No rolling deals” this year, Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., said in a media call on Wednesday. “It’s kind of one event.”

As the country’s biggest retailers shift their focus to earlier in November, others are following out of fear of being left behind. After all, she said, a customer isn’t likely to need more than one big-screen TV or tablet. If they pick up big-ticket items in early November, they likely won’t be looking to shell out again on Black Friday, regardless of how deep the discounts are.

The earlier discounts, she said, could also create challenges down the line for retailers. (More than 40 percent of Americans have already started their holiday shopping by Nov. 1, according to the National Retail Federation.)

“If everything is already 40 percent off, it’s going to take a lot more to get shoppers excited about Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” the traditional start of holiday shopping online, she said. “How do you convince them to keep buying?”

The earlier-than-usual Internet sales also serve another purpose: Helping retailers test-drive their websites ahead of the frenzied rush on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Now, this year’s Black Friday is expected to be the busiest online shopping in history, according to recent data by Salesforce.

“If your system goes down for even five minutes on Black Friday, it’s millions of lost dollars,” said Roland Gossage, chief executive of GroupBy, an e-commerce platform used by retailers such as CVS, Urban Outfitters and the Container Store. “Pre-sales allow retailers to test their systems before the after-Thanksgiving barrage.”

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