Graphics cards are back. That's a phrase to spark joy in all but the most hard-hearted of PC gamer. Or the poorest. Yes, GPUs once more became available in 2022, and the price did indeed drop from the infuriating highs of the supply and GPU mining crises, but the new graphics cards to drop this year have still been frustratingly expensive.
If you wanted to buy a new graphics card, last year sucked a big fat pixel pipeline. But the thing we've all been waiting for happened this year, the cryptocurrency market completely collapsed, taking with it GPU mining. It wasn't just the volatility of bitcoin that took it down, but the shift from proof of work to proof of stake for ethereum.
If those are meaningless words to you, all you need to know is there is no longer profit to be made from thrashing graphics cards to within an inch of their functional lives down a crypto mine. And that means supply is up and it's actually possible to go buy a new GPU right now.
We've even had whole new architectures, with Nvidia releasing its Ada design, offering much higher clock speeds and beefier pools of cache memory, and way faster gaming performance. AMD has also finally given us a chiplet GPU in the first RDNA 3 graphics cards.
Best graphics card 2022: the nominees
AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX
We've been waiting for AMD to give us the Ryzen moment in graphics cards and produce a chiplet-based GPU, and finally it's here. That's maybe tinged with a little disappointment that we're not talking about a GPU with multiple compute dies in there to up the core count, but still it's an impressive achievement and a generous gen-on-gen performance uplift over the RX 6950 XT. And it's a little bit cheaper, too. In all the RX 7900 XTX is an excellent 4K GPU.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090
The absolute biggest graphics card we've ever had in our test rigs, the RTX 4090 is an absolute monster. And it's the fastest GPU we've ever tested, too, delivering gaming performance that at points is twice what the $1,500 GeForce cards of the last generation could manage. That's maybe what you'd expect, given that this thing retails for $1,600 at best, but it is worth remembering that, given inflation, that almost a drop in price on a GPU from two years back...
AMD Radeon RX 6650 XT
When the RX 6650 XT dropped in the middle of this year with a ~$400 price point I'll admit we were pretty nonplussed. It delivers a little more performance over the RX 6600 XT, for a little more cash, but it was still a lot more than we were wanting to pay for a mainstream GPU. Fast-forward to the end of this year and the RX 6650 XT has become a bit of a budget hero, to the extent that around the big sales events this year it's been discounted as low as $230. At that price you're getting a card that smashes Nvidia's RTX 3060 for practically half the price.
The winner of the Best Graphics Card 2022 PC Gamer Hardware Award will be announced on New Year's Eve, so check back then to see which one of these GPUs is crowned the best.