The best graphics cards are the rock star of the best gaming laptops and best gaming PCs for a reason. With the obsession amongst PC gamers, especially enthusiast builders, with having the very best hardware and cutting edge visuals (in large part, we admit, to shame our lowly console brethren), a killer GPU is less luxury and more necessity. While we don't want to discount the importance of building around one of the best CPUs for gaming, video cards will always hog the limelight with the way most games, particularly the latest and hottest triple-A titles, lean heavily into graphics rendering.
But picking the best graphics card is also a largely personal question, and figuring out which part is going to suit your lifestyle comes down to a number of factors. Did you just sink a bunch of cash into a beautiful 4K panel? You're going to need one of the top cards on the market to drive graphics at that resolution, something in the range of an RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti on the Nvidia side of the aisle, or perhaps AMD's top offering, the Radeon VII, if you're not fussed about having dedicated cores to handle ray tracing (or Nvidia's fascinating DLSS anti-aliasing tech).
Best deal today
AMD Radeon RX 590 is $215.99 at Walmart (save $64)
The RX 590 8GB is a powerful card for 1080p gaming and can even dip into the 1440p realm, with performance just ahead of Nvidia's new 1660 in large part due to it's 8 GB of VRAM. Knocking over $60 off the price makes it pretty irresistible, though the sky blue color may not be for everyone. Also, this card still includes game codes for The Division 2 and World War Z, making it an even better value.
Alternately, if you do want to embrace the ray tracing future but don't want to pay a fortune for the privilege, the RTX 2060 is a great choice, the least expensive of Nvidia's RT and Tensor Core powered beasts. Or if you're looking for the best pure value proposition and to push the most frames per dollar, perhaps consider Nvidia's Geforce GTX 1660, which packs Turing architecture in a Pascal card, or AMD's Radeon RX 580
The fastest graphics card for 4K, ray tracing, and everything else
GPU Cores: 4,352 | Base Clock: 1,350MHz | Boost Clock: 1,545MHz | GFLOPS: 13,448 | Memory: 11GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 616GB/s
Nvidia's GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is the latest and most potent GPU around, and it's also one of the largest consumer GPUs ever produced. The Turing TU102 is 60 percent larger than the Pascal GP102 in the 1080 Ti, with 55 percent more transistors. Those extra transistors went into more CUDA cores, but Nvidia didn't stop there, adding in Tensor cores to help accelerate deep learning algorithms like DLSS, plus RT cores to accelerate ray tracing.
There are plenty of other enhancements in the Turing architecture as well, but if you want the best, be prepared to shell out: the cheapest 2080 Ti cards start at $999, with many selling for $1,199 and up. Technically there's also the Titan RTX, which more than doubles the price of the 2080 Ti, but it's more of a prosumer card that anything we'd recommend for pure gaming purposes.
If you're looking for the best value, forget about the new RTX cards. On the other hand, if you're eyeing a 4k 144Hz HDR G-Sync display and you want the absolute fastest graphics card around, this is the card for you. You could even try adding a second card and using an NVLink connector, assuming you just won the lottery. (Note that the current ray tracing enabled games do not support multi-GPU with DXR (DirectX Raytracing) enabled, so we don't recommend this!) We're unlikely to see anything substantially faster for at least a year, so you'll be able to sit comfortably at the top of the pecking order for a while.
The biggest issue with DXR and RTX hardware right now is that lack of games. There are three major games (Battlefield 5, Metro Exodus, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider), plus a few tech demos (Quake 2 with RT) and some overseas games (Justice). But with Unreal Engine and Unity both supporting DXR, we should start seeing more ray tracing games this year.
Second fastest GPU at a more reasonable price
GPU Cores: 2,944 | Base Clock: 1,515MHz | Boost Clock: 1,710MHz | GFLOPS: 10,068 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
Sure, the RTX 2080 Ti is the fastest graphics card and has all sorts of cool and potentially useful features, but at the current prices it's a tough pill to swallow. Dropping down to the RTX 2080 will get you still excellent performance—it's the second fastest consumer GPU, edging out the GTX 1080 Ti—and save over $300. And you still get the same ray tracing and deep learning (eg, DLSS) features, albeit not quite as many of each core type.
The one major caveat right now is the same as above, we're still waiting for more games that enable ray tracing effects and DLSS. We've got Battlefield 5, Metro Exodus, and most recently Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The RTX 2080 can run all of those games with ray tracing ... but not at maximum quality and certainly not at 4K and 60fps. Even with a $700 GPU, 1440p typically works best at slightly reduced ray tracing quality mode and with DLSS enabled.
Fast and more affordable than its big brother RTX models
GPU Cores: 2,304 | Base Clock: 1,410MHz | Boost Clock: 1,620MHz | GFLOPS: 7,465 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
The ray tracing future may sound great, but what if you can't afford $700 or more on a graphics card? That's where Nvidia's RTX 2070 enters the picture, the third Turing GPU and the most affordable of the bunch. More importantly, it's relatively affordable, with cards even falling below the base recommended price of $500. That's still a lot of money for a graphics card, and the 2070 is actually slower than the previous generation 1080 Ti (see below), at least in games that don't support DLSS—which is still most games.
The RTX 2070 effectively takes over where the GTX 1080 left off. It offers slightly better performance for the same price, and like the other RTX cards it features the new Tensor and RT cores. The Founders Edition wasn't particularly impressive, given its $100 price premium, but we liked the EVGA 2070 Black quite a bit and it makes for a fine addition to any new gaming PC. The Gigabyte 2070 Windforce and Asus 2070 Turbo are two more options to consider, and all the 2070 GPUs tend to reach similar maximum overclocks.
Considering the RTX 2070 is a trimmed down version of the RTX 2080, it should come as no surprise that 1440p and 4K are mostly too demanding with ray tracing games. 1440p with DLSS is often viable, but 1080p is a more likely goal.
Perfect for 1080p and 1440p and 144Hz displays
GPU Cores: 1,920 | Base Clock: 1,410MHz | Boost Clock: 1,680MHz | GFLOPS: 6,451 | Memory: 6GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 336GB/s
The best graphics card isn't simply the fastest graphics card, or the cheapest graphics card. Instead, the best graphics card needs to balance performance, price, and features. There are many great graphics cards, but for a great GPU that won't break the bank, Nvidia's RTX 2060 is probably the best option. It delivers performance roughly equal to the outgoing GTX 1070 Ti, with a lower price, plus all the new RTX features.
If you want to play games at 1080p or 1440p on a 144Hz display, the RTX 2060 has the chops to handle most games at close to high to ultra quality. Unless you enable ray tracing in games that support it, at which point it tends to come up short. Still, with a retail price of $350, it's hard not to like the RTX 2060. About the only thing threatening its price/performance ratio is the GTX 1660 Ti.
For DXR and ray tracing games, 1080p with DLSS often works well, and in a few cases 1440p with DLSS. Don't be shy about turning the ray tracing setting down a notch as well, as in most games so far there's not much visual difference between ultra and high quality DXR modes.
Powerful and packing HBM2, the Vega 56 now has a mainstream price
GPU Cores: 3,584 | Base Clock: 1,156MHz | Boost Clock: 1,471MHz | GFLOPS: 10,554 | Memory: 8GB HBM2 | Memory Clock: 1.6 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 410GB/s
We had high hopes for Vega prior to its launch, and ultimately it couldn't live up to the hype. Instead of being the Titan-killer we hoped for, the Vega 64 and Vega 56 failed to take down even Nvidia's year-old GTX 1080 / 1070. But they come close, often leading in DirectX 12 games, and at least prices are affordable these days. Plus you can make the argument of supporting the underdog to prevent an Nvidia monopoly.
Out of the Vega offerings, the RX Vega 56 is the better buy at current prices, and it will usually handle modern games at 1440p and maybe even 4k. It can also overclock decently, especially on the HBM2, so that it's only about 5 percent slower than its big brother Vega 64.
Where it comes up short is in efficiency: the Vega 56 often uses as much power as a GTX 1080 Ti, with performance closer to the new RTX 2060. It's not just about power and heat, but noise levels and longevity. More power on the GPU means more power on the PSU, which means both have fans that need to spin faster. We really want an RTX competitor from AMD, and unfortunately the Radeon VII isn't it. Until AMD's Navi ships in 2019, the Vega 56 remains a good upper midrange value.
The best card for mainstream gaming right now
GPU Cores: 1,536 | Base Clock: 1,500MHz | Boost Clock: 1,770MHz | GFLOPS: 5,437 | Memory: 6GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 12 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 288GB/s
A more recent GPU from Nvidia, the GTX 1660 Ti is an odd departure for the new Turing architecture as Nvidia removed the ray tracing and deep learning hardware that has so far been the focus of a lot of hype, not to mention a little controversy. But along with dropping those features Nvidia delivers a lower priced and impressively efficient design. It mostly takes over from the previous GTX 1060 cards, with more bandwidth and better performance at a similar price. In fact, it's almost a direct replacement in performance for the GTX 1070.
There are a few minor drawbacks, however, like sticking with 6GB of VRAM. Yes, the GDDR6 memory delivers 50 percent more bandwidth than the 1060 6GB GDDR5, but some newer games are starting to push beyond 6GB at some settings. There's also the missing RTX features. Ray tracing and DLSS might not seem like such a big deal right now, but $70 more gets you the faster and potentially more capable RTX 2060. But if you don't want to go above $300, the GTX 1660 Ti is a great graphics card.
Great 1080p performance just become more affordable
GPU Cores: 1,408 | Base Clock: 1,530MHz | Boost Clock: 1,785MHz | GFLOPS: 5,027 | Memory: 6GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 192GB/s
The arrival of Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 1660 has basically ended the era of the GTX 1060 as the most popular mainstream gaming solution. Or at least, the 1060 cards are no longer in contention, as they've been discontinued, though tens of millions were sold.
For roughly the same price as the outgoing 1060 6GB, the new 1660 boosts performance by about 10-15 percent. That puts it ahead of the RX 580 and tied with the RX 590, and it's a more efficient card as well. You'll typically only need a single 6-pin connection to power the GTX 1660.
The loss of 2GB VRAM relative to the RX 590/580 isn't really a concern in most games, especially at 1080p, which is where these cards do best. 1440p is possible, but only at sometimes significantly lower quality settings. But while Nvidia wins on efficiency, the RX 580 and 570 remain exceptional values for budget minded gamers.
A potent mainstream card
GPU Cores: 2,304 | Base Clock: 1,469MHz | Boost Clock: 1,545MHz | GFLOPS: 7,120 | Memory: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 256GB/s
Originally a $280 graphics card, the RX 590 now routinely sells for $220. That makes a world of difference in value, and performance is still good. The GTX 1660 is roughly tied with the RX 590, at the same price, and it's a more efficient card. However, there are games where the 6GB on the Nvidia card can be a bit limiting. We rate the RX 590 just ahead of the 1660 for performance, though that's splitting hairs.
Compared to the older RX 580 8GB, the new revision has higher clockspeeds that boost performance by 15 percent. That's thanks to a refined '12nm' process, as otherwise the architecture remains effectively the same. The price is also about 20 percent higher, but if you're looking at total system cost and not just the graphics card, we recommend faster GPUs even if they cost more. Just make sure you have a PSU with a the necessary 8-pin and 6-pin power connections that most 590 cards use.
An impressively priced mainstream card
GPU Cores: 2,304 | Base Clock: 1,257MHz | Boost Clock: 1,340MHz | GFLOPS: 6,175 | Memory: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 256GB/s
Many gamers are on a budget, and while faster cards might make you envious, if you're running a 1080p display they're often overkill. Mainstream GPUs like the RX 570/580 and GTX 1660/1060 are often on sale now for far below the original MSRP. Nvidia's new 16-series cards are faster, but the RX 580 8GB typically beats the GTX 1060 6GB for around $170.
That hits the sweet spot for mainstream gamers, undercutting both GTX 1660/1060 models as well as AMD's own RX 590. The 590 mentioned above is certainly worth a look, but the 580 8GB remains one of the best values in graphics cards.
Another great 1080p card, at a bargain price
GPU Cores: 2,048 | Base Clock: 1,168MHz | Boost Clock: 1,244MHz | GFLOPS: 5,095 | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 224GB/s
AMD's Polaris architecture has been around a while, and while we'll get an updated architecture this summer (Navi, aka Radeon RX 3000), we don't know exactly what to expect yet. In the meantime, the RX 570 4GB has now dropped well below its original $169 target, and if you're looking for a 1080p card you really won't find a better bargain.
Overall, the RX 570 4GB typically comes out slightly ahead of the GTX 1060 3GB, and while it does use a bit more power, it costs less than Nvidia's substantially slower GTX 1050 Ti.
Most desktops are more than capable of running this 150W card without any difficulty, though you'll need at least a 6-pin power connector, or possibly an 8-pin connector. Sales routinely drop the price of RX 570 4GB cards to $120-$130, so as long as your PSU is up to snuff, the RX 570 pretty much kills off the market for anything lower.
No extra power connector required
GPU Cores: 896 | Base Clock: 1,485MHz | Boost Clock: 1,665MHz | GFLOPS: 2,984 | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 128GB/s
Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1650 is the latest addition to our GPU results, taking over from the GTX 1050 for the budget segment. It still uses the Turing architecture, now trimmed down about as far as it can reasonably go. Official pricing starts at $150, but don't be surprised if online prices end up lower in the coming months. This is an entry-level GPU, targeting 1080p gaming for lighter fare like eSports, so plan accordingly.
Performance is a step down from the GTX 1060 cards, which was expected. At the same time, it's also about 30 percent faster than the outgoing GTX 1050 Ti. Perhaps most importantly, most GTX 1650 cards appear to be going after the market for graphics cards that don't need any extra power. The GTX 1650 is a 75W card capable of drawing everything it needs from the motherboard's x16 PCIe slot. (There are a few models with 6-pin connectors as well, but we'd just as soon avoid those.)
AMD's RX 570 is clearly faster, but it uses twice as much power and always needs at least a 6-pin connector, if not an 8-pin connector. If your PC has a weaker PSU, or if you're going for a media streaming PC, the GTX 1650 may be just what you want. Unfortunately, Nvidia didn't include Turing's updated NVENC engine, so VP9 and HEVC 4K decoding isn't quite as good as on the other Turing chips.
How we test graphics cards and performance
While the CPU is still the 'brain' of your PC, dozens of games every year will push your graphics card to its limits. It's the component you'll want to upgrade most frequently, but if you buy the right card, it should last you at least two years. For gaming systems, it's also likely the most expensive part in your build. On a practical budget, it's critical to find the graphics card with the best ratio of price to performance. That's why we've previously looked at cards in the $300/£250 range, though the best values are currently either above or below that mark.
Recent graphics card reviews
For raw performance, Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti is a killer card, easily outperforming all older cards. It's also modestly overclockable, quiet, and reasonably efficient. But it costs an arm and a leg. You can argue about whether you really need ultra quality or what resolution to run, but your wallet will likely end up pointing you at cards in the $200-$350 range. That's why the RTX 2060 is such an impressive card, even if it's not the fastest new kid on the block.
We recommend the RTX 2060, or maybe the RTX 2070, to most—but not all—PC gamers, it's not the only option worth considering. Performance scales with price as you move up the ladder, but near the top you get greatly diminishing returns. The same goes for moving down to the ladder, though: go too low and while the price might look good, performance could leave you wanting. So we factor in all of these elements when reviewing and recommending graphics cards.
Do you need a new graphics card?
If you're doubtful that your current PC is fast enough to warrant purchasing a better graphics card, I have some data for you. Even with the fastest graphics card around, running at a resolution that puts more of the burden on your CPU (1080p ultra), there's often only a minor improvement in gaming performance. Yes, truly old CPUs are going to struggle, but going from a Core i7-4770K to a Core i7-8700K only improves gaming performance by 20 percent on average, at 1080p ultra.
What happens if you use a graphics card that's 20-30 percent slower than an RTX 2080? Your CPU becomes even less of a factor. If you have at least 8GB of system memory and a Core i7-4770K or better CPU, you should be fine with everything up to about the GTX 1070 Ti / RX Vega 56 level of performance. We wouldn't recommend buying an i7-4770K these days, however, so when it comes time to upgrade look at our choice for the best CPU for gaming.
Don't be fooled into thinking VRAM capacity is more important than the GPU, either. It can be a factor, but slower GPUs with 4GB VRAM usually can't handle settings that actually need 4GB VRAM, and games that need 8GB will also tend to favor GPUs closer to the RTX 2080 than the RX 580. There's also very little (if any) discernible difference in most games when switching from 2GB to 4GB textures, never mind 4GB to 8GB. All the cards we've selected have at least 4GB, which is more than sufficient for high quality, and it's usually enough for ultra settings as well.
Testing graphics cards
Our graphics card recommendations are based on our own extensive benchmarks and testing, and then factoring in the price. We have benchmark data for the complete range of Nvidia and AMD graphics cards, including all the RTX 20-series, GTX 10-series and AMD Radeon VII, RX Vega, and RX 500 series. We've previously looked at the R9 Fury/300/200 series and GTX 900/700 series, but due to time constraints and availability we're no longer actively testing most of these cards. However, I've included one or two representatives from each generation as a point of reference.
A word about SLI and CrossFire
If you're looking for maximum performance, you can run two cards in SLI or CrossFire. However, it's become increasingly common for major games to completely ignore multi-GPU users. That includes all DXR games. Still, if you want two GPUs, it's an option, and these days we'd worry less about dual x16 connections (ie, X299) and more about the CPU. Our testing indicates AMD's Ryzen parts don't scale in SLI/CF performance nearly as well as Intel's Core processors, and an i9-9900K or i7-8700K generally beats out the i9-7900X and other X299 CPUs.
Graphics performance isn't the only consideration. The quality of game drivers and other features supported by the card are important. The card's noise level, power draw, and temperature matter, too. Thankfully, nearly all modern cards are fairly quiet, even under load, and temperatures are within the acceptable range as well, though Nvidia still has an advantage when it comes to power.
We test each card on a high-end PC at 1080p medium, 1080p ultra, 1440p ultra, and 4K with ultra/high settings. We take the results from fifteen games, mostly newer releases, using the 'best' API for each GPU on each game. That means low-level APIs are used for AMD cards if they're available, while DX12/Vulkan are only used in certain games for Nvidia cards.
Here's how the cards stack up in terms of average and minimum frame rates across these games. You can see individual game charts including most of these GPUs in our GTX 1650 review.
[Performance charts updated as of May 21, 2019]
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Nvidia claims most of the top spots for performance, with the new Radeon VII coming in below the RTX 2080 RTX 2080 and GTX 1080 Ti, but above the RTX 2070. That's how far behind AMD is, unfortunately: its latest $700 graphics card ends up being a hair slower than Nvidia's 2-year-old $700 card. That's probably also a big part of why the RTX cards cost so much more than their 'equivalent' 10-series counterparts.
But you don't need to buy at the top of the chart to get good performance, as mainstream cards like the RX 570/580 and GTX 1060 3GB/6GB are still totally viable, and at lower settings the GTX 970 and R9 390 still plug along nicely. They might not do so well at 1440p ultra, but they're more than capable of running most games at 1080p medium to high quality, sometimes more.
But how do these cards compare in terms of value? Here's a look at fps per monetary unit, for cards that can still be purchased new at reasonable retail prices (eg, only 'current' generation hardware, not the GTX 1080 Ti through GTX 1070 Ti).
[Prices for charts updated as of May 21, 2019]
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In terms of best value, we've provided two different looks at what the cards offer. The top charts show the graphics cards in isolation, which can be useful if you have a PC and you're only looking to upgrade your GPU. The bottom charts look at framerates in terms of total system cost, using a decent (about $800, not including the GPU) build as a reference point. Neither approach is a perfect, but the two give a range of how the cards rate in terms of value.
The markets change the picture slightly, but the RX 570 / 580 / 590 / Vega 65 and GTX 1660 / 1060 cards are consistently at the top of the GPU charts, with the more expensive GPUs like the Radeon VII and RTX 2080 Ti falling to the bottom. No other GPU even comes close to the RX 570 4GB right now.
The problem is that while budget and midrange GPUs on their own may look good, combine it with system price, especially on a powerful modern PC, and you're almost always better off putting more money into your graphics card. The RTX 2070 leads in all three markets based on current prices, with the Vega 56 being AMD's best showing (third or fourth place, depending on the market). For our 'mainstream' build (the build is similar to our high-end gaming PC build guide but with less storage capacity), the more expensive cards are at the top, midrange cards are mostly in the middle, and budget cards fall to the bottom.
But whichever chart you look at, keep in mind the types of games you want to play as well as your monitor, because higher resolution displays tend to need more powerful GPUs.
Wrapping it up
Looking forward, computer graphics is a fast-changing field. AMD released the first ever 7nm GPU in February, but it certainly won't be the last. Navi looks like it's coming in June or July. Nvidia has also finished filling out it's GTX 16-series parts, and it may be another year before Nvidia joins the 7nm party. Our recommendations are based off performance combined with current prices, and price cuts or a limited time sale could easily move a card to the top of the list.
If you find your current system isn't keeping up with the gaming times, look at the performance charts and decide how far up the ladder you're looking to climb, then buy accordingly. Those who already own an R9 390 or GTX 970 or better should still be able to run any current game, though not necessarily at 60 fps and maximum quality. Games continue to push for new levels of performance, but tuning a few settings should keep most graphics cards viable for at least a few years.
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