Our guide to the best graphics cards for gaming is broken up into categories. If money's no object, the Nvidia GTX 1080 is today's no-brainer pick. It runs circles around the AMD RX 480! Then again, the RX 480 costs less than half the GTX 1080—they were never meant to compete in the first place.
But without those categories, which card is actually the better value for your dollar? As a companion to our overall recommendations in our graphics card buying guide, this is our breakdown of how every current graphics card delivers on performance-per-dollar.
If you want to make sure you're spending your money as efficiently as possible—well, we've got charts.
Before I get to the data, a few things are worth spelling out just so everyone is on the same page. First, while I've tested all of the cards, deciding how to best compare cards of different performance levels can be tricky. A card with 2GB VRAM will choke on a lot of games if you run at 'ultra' settings and high resolutions, but it might do great at 'high' settings and 1080p. The games you test—and the APIs used while testing—can also play a major role. If you want to skew things heavily in favor of AMD or Nvidia, there are ways to do exactly that.
I test a collection of 16 games, of varying ages, at settings that tend to be more demanding than budget cards can really handle. I'm working on retesting a few cards at lower settings (specifically, cards that cost under $200), but those results aren't ready yet. I'll keep this piece updated on a regular basis to reflect the changing prices and hardware as well, so you can check back any time you're in the market for a new graphics card.
My primary focus is going to be on upgrading your graphics card, so I'm eliminating the rest of the system cost from the picture. I've checked prices in the US and UK at the time of writing. All of the charts are also using my 1080p Ultra results for relative value, rather than averaging 1080p, 1440p, and 4K results. This is to help keep things relatively fair among all the competitors, though it potentially penalizes both the fastest (and most expensive) cards, where the CPU can become a bottleneck at lower resolutions, and the least expensive cards, where limited VRAM can be a problem.
If you're looking for the best bargain on a new graphics card, Nvidia's GTX 1060 3GB card comes out on top in the US. While there are ways to penalize a card with 'only' 3GB VRAM, in practice it just doesn't seem to make a huge difference right now.
With cards readily available at close to MSRP ($200 / £190), most games are easily able to break into the 60fps or higher range at 1080p and nearly max settings. If you fall a bit short now and then, tweaking a few settings should make up the difference without a drastic drop in quality. And you get all this in a card that uses less than 120W of power—unless it's a factory overclocked model, which many are.
But maybe you don't care for Nvidia, you want an extra gig of VRAM, you think DX12 is the way of the future, and/or you live in the UK. In that case, the RX 470 4GB is an excellent alternative, with significantly lower pricing than the 1060 3GB in the UK ($199 / £175).
I'll say this: Hitman DX12 and Doom Vulkan both give the RX 470 a clear advantage over the GTX 1060, and new releases with DX12 support like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Forza Horizon 3 appear to continue that pattern. (Interestingly, Ashes of the Singularity, the oldest DX12 game, actually favors the 1060 3GB by a few fps.) Ultimately, the RX 470 rates either slightly behind or slightly ahead of the 1060 3GB, depending on price, with very similar performance. And if you want to run CrossFire, you can do that with the RX 470.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the $200 GPUs place near the top of the value charts, but if that's still too much money, the RX 460 is an excellent budget alternative. Performance ends up being pretty similar to the GTX 950 (slightly faster or slower, depending on the game), but the card is a power miser and sells for around $110 / £105.
Just know that running 1080p ultra settings will present difficulties; set your sights for 1080p medium-to-high and you should do okay—or run lighter fare like LoL, DotA2, or StarCraft II, where the card has ample performance to hit high fps. There are 2GB and 4GB models, but you'll typically run out of GPU performance before you run out of VRAM.
Moving down the chart, after the 1060 3GB and RX 470 4GB, the GTX 1060 6GB and RX 480 8GB are the next best 'modern' cards to consider. The 1060 is about ten percent faster than the RX 480 8GB and costs less, so it's the better value at $250 / £250. If you want AMD's 8GB alternatives, though, I recommend the RX 480 over the RX 470; you can find it for around $270 / £245. As with the above 1060/470 comparison, the RX 480 tends to be faster in DX12/Vulkan games, but slower in DX11 games.
For high-end gaming, the GTX 1070 is another good option. It combines blisteringly fast performance with a high price of $400 / £380. It's slightly faster than the previous generation GTX 980 Ti at a lower price, and while it won't do 4K at max quality, 1440p ultra and/or 4k high are certainly within reach. The fastest current consumer graphics card, the GTX 1080, is a questionable value if all you're looking at is bang for the buck, but we'd expect no less from a card that costs $610 / £575 or more.
The remaining cards are mostly on their way out now, with prices fluctuating but in most cases increasing over the past month or two. The R9 300 series cards have definitely gone up in price, and the R9 Fury/Nano are trending up as well. GTX 970 is still a decent value, though I wouldn't go buy one at this stage (get a GTX 1060 instead), and GTX 980 is now effectively dead in the US market—you can find a GTX 980 Ti for a lower price! Basically, there's not much reason to bother with buying a new GTX 900 or R9 300/Fury series card these days.
There are other factors to consider beyond pure performance for your money, however. Even though it tops the charts right now, the 3GB VRAM in the GTX 1060 could prove limiting in a year or two, particularly with the next-gen consoles offering more RAM than ever before. I'd rather get a 6GB 1060 or 8GB 470/480 if possible, simply because they're less likely to run into memory limitations over the coming years.
Those who already have a decent card like a GTX 970 or R9 380 (or faster) don't need to rush out and upgrade, but if you're in the market, look to the latest models. Investing in the previous generation of graphics hardware several months after the next generation appears is generally a bad idea. And if you need additional advice, our best graphics card and idiot's guide to buying a graphics card can help.