With performance-related components, such as graphics cards, the latest hardware is always the best. It's faster, more powerful, and therefore, y'know, just better. Inevitably then, our best graphics card list is dominated by the new generation of GPUs AMD and Nvidia have unleashed upon the world in 2020.
With both the red and green team releasing a swathe of high-end graphics cards over the last three months or so, 2020's GPU game has been weighted very heavily towards the end of the year. That means the landscape has changed dramatically and incredibly quickly. Or at least it would have done if a fresh supply of these impressive new graphics cards were consistently filtering out into retail.
That's the wrinkly grey mammal in the room whenever we talk about next-gen graphics cards right now; basically 'why can't I buy one?' There are a host of reasons why the AMD RX 6000-series cards and Nvidia RTX 30-series GPUs are seemingly perpetually out of stock, but it essentially boils down to the new cards representing a huge generational leap in gaming performance, there being some Covid-related strains on manufacturing and component supply chains right now, and practically everybody being in the market for new tech while they're stuck at home bored and maybe a little depressed.
And bots. All. Those. Bots.
But that's not going to be the case forever. So, while you may not be able to buy a new GPU right now, as we move into the new year it's worth reiterating that we have seen an unprecedented performance jump from both sides of the graphics card divide. And these are the best we've seen this year.
Best Graphics Cards 2020: The nominees
AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
Somehow AMD did it. From a position well behind Nvidia in the last generation of GPUs, with no high-end card to call its own, AMD has managed to create a card with performance parity to Nvidia's flagship Ampere chip and for a slightly lower sticker price too. That's a hell of a catchup move from the red team, and shows what progress it's made on the GPU side.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
As the first of the new Ampere generation of graphics cards the sheer performance of the RTX 3080 has blown us away. At near half the price of the top chip from the previous generation, the RTX 2080 Ti, it absolutely destroys it in terms of gaming performance. In terms of a generation uplift that's pretty staggering. The RTX 3080 has also moved the ray tracing game along, to the point where the performance penalty has almost been negated.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti
The RTX 3060 Ti delivers gaming performance that's rather stupendous when you look at generational gains over even the RTX 20-series—next to the 10-series it's quite frightening, actually. There's exceptional 1080p and 1440p performance in a tiny package here, the likes of which would've set you back something close to twice as much cash only last year. As the most affordable Ampere around, the RTX 3060 Ti is a fantastic card.
It might seem strange that the heavyweight battle of this year's graphics cards awards is between the RX 6800 XT and RTX 3080, and not the absolute pinnacle of those AMD and Nvidia architectures, but the AMD RX 6900 XT (opens in new tab) and Nvidia RTX 3090 (opens in new tab) cards don't make sense for 90 percent of gamers. Hell, we struggle to figure out just who the RX 6900 XT makes any sense for.
The RX 6800 XT and RTX 3080, however, are two of the best graphics cards around, and either of those should be welcome in your gaming rig. If you could find one to actually buy. The RTX 3060 Ti has quietly come up on the inside, offering gaming performance which would have looked range-topping just back in the summer.
Who will win? Our run down of the full PC Gamer Hardware Awards 2020 winners will go live on December 31, ready to see this year out.