It's a crazy exciting time to be hunting for the best graphics card. Not only have we seen major releases from the two big players, with Nvidia's RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 Super already in the wild (and the RTX 2080 Super on the way later this month), and AMD rolling out their new Navi architecture cards, but even Intel is prepping to get in the game. All these new cards inevitably mean some of the older cards are dipping in price, so if you're looking for a vanilla RTX card, for instance, it's a great time to shop around. With ray tracing becoming more ubiquitous, there are more and more convincing reasons to get on the bandwagon.
So which of the best graphics cards is going to suit you best? I'm sure I don't need to tell you, the first consideration is always going to be budget. Beyond that, though, there's the question of value. Sure, Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti remains the best performing consumer-facing card on the market...but it also costs $1,200 or more. If you don't have a massive budget to fritter away, a dollars per frames comparison becomes a lot more important, in which case cards like AMD's RX 570 and RX 580, and the GTX 1660 and 1660 Ti on Nvidia's side, start to look a lot more attractive. That said, if you picked up a 4K version of one of the best gaming monitors, you're going to need some beefy hardware to push those resolutions, likely at least a 2070 Super.
The best graphics card
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 a few major games (Battlefield 5, Assetto Corsa Competezione, 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 - Cyberpunk 2077 and the Call of Duty reboot have already announced they'll support ray tracing, as well as Bloodlines 2, Control, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and more. By this time next year, the major question around ray tracing won't be does your newly announced game support, but rather to what extent?
The best graphics card for 1080p on a budget
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 it's beginning to show its age, it's also significantly cheaper now than when it launched. It's an excellent card to tackle the current 1080p era of gaming, and if you're still leaning on integrated graphics or an older card, it's a cheap upgrade.
Overall, the RX 570 4GB typically comes out slightly ahead of the GTX 1060 3GB. It does draw more power than Nvidia's Turing-in-a-GTX-shell 16-series of cards and the 1060, but it can also regularly be had for $80 or more less than either of Nvidia's closer competitors.
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. If you're building a budget PC or upgrading from an older, outdated GPU, the RX 570 is a great starting point.
The best graphics card for 4K at a (fairly) reasonable price
GPU Cores: 3,072 | Base Clock: 1,650MHz | Boost Clock: 1,815MHz | GFLOPS: 11,151 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 15.5 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 496GB/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 brand new RTX 2080 Super will get you still excellent performance—it's the second fastest consumer GPU, edging out the base 2080 and GTX 1080 Ti—and save a bunch of cash, as the Founder's Edition retails for $700. And you still get the same ray tracing and deep learning (eg, DLSS) features, albeit not quite as many of each core type (though still more than the vanilla 2080).
The one major caveat right now is that we're still waiting for more universal adoption of ray tracing and DLSS. We've got Battlefield 5, Metro Exodus, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and, you know, Quake 2 (with unreleased games like Cyberpunk 2077 and the Call of Duty reboot recently climbing on the bandwagon). And there are more games in the pipeline, like Wolfenstein: Youngblood and the upcoming Control. The RTX 2080 Super can run all of those games with ray tracing, though if you're looking for 4K Ultra and 60FPS the Super isn't quite there. That said, it can deliver very playable frame rates in the vast majority of triple-A titles at 4K, though on the extreme end you may need to tweak some settings down (Metro Exodus for instance, with its taxing global illumination ray tracing, is a strain). Even with a $700 GPU, 1440p typically works best at slightly reduced ray tracing quality mode and with DLSS enabled.
The best graphics card for solid 4K RTX performance and price
GPU Cores: 2,560 | Base Clock: 1,605MHz | Boost Clock: 1,770MHz | GFLOPS: 9,062 | 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 Super enters the picture, the middle option of the new lineup (with the 2080 Super launching on July 23rd). The 2070 Super retails at $499, the same price as the vanilla 2070 at launch, and offers a substantial performance improvement. That's still a lot of money for a graphics card, and the 2070 is only about tied with the previous generation 1080 Ti (see below), at least in games that don't support DLSS—which is still most games.
The RTX 2070 Super moves to the TU104 chip from the base version's TU106, enables more cores, and increases clockspeeds. The performance bump is pretty predictable but also very welcome when it doesn't come with an increase in price. As a play to stay ahead of AMD's RX 5700 and 5700 XT launch, it's very convincing, though as a new product stack it's not earth-shaking.
The 2070 Super can attack triple-A games at 4K if you're willing to turn down graphics settings to medium or high, and it does an excellent job of pushing more than 60 FPS at QHD. Needless to say, if you're got an incredibly high refresh monitor or TV, you can squeeze some very high rates out at 1080p Ultra. The 2070 Super may not be a revolution, but it's an excellent card at a very convincing price.
The best graphics card for 1440p and 144hz FHD performance
GPU Cores: 2,176 | Base Clock: 1,470MHz | Boost Clock: 1,650MHz | GFLOPS: 7,181 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/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 Super is probably the best option. It delivers performance roughly equal to a vanilla RTX 2070 but retails for $100 less.
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. It's more powerful than a 1080 but costs less, and is nearly twice as fast as an RX 570.
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.
The best graphics card for those who crave AMD efficiency
GPU Cores: 2,560 | Base Clock: 1,605MHz | Boost Clock: 1,905MHz | GFLOPS: 9,754 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
After a bevy of leaks, gossip, and rampant speculation, Radeon's Navi 10 GPU is finally out in the wild, with three RX 5700 models leading the charge. The 5700 XT is technically the middle offering, between the base 5700 and the 5700 XT 50th Anniversary Edition, and takes full advantage of the shiny new RDNA architecture update and a capacious 8GB of GDDR6 to deliver performance just ahead of Nvidia's 2060 Super.
The 5700 XT is a fantastic card if you're looking to push really high frame rates on on a high refresh display at 1080p, or you crave a stable 60(ish) FPS at QHD. With AMD's last minute price drop (knocking the 5700 XT down to $399), it's an extremely viable alternative to Nvidia's 2060 refresh.
It may lack dedicated hardware (or driver support) for ray tracing and DLSS, but in terms of sheer in-game performance, it edges out the 2060 Super by a narrow margin. If you're not overly concerned about DXR (or Vulcan-RT) support, or if you're squarely in Red Team's camp, the 5700 XT is an easy recommend—especially if you're upgrading from a card that's a couple of generations old.
The best graphics card for mainstream gaming
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.
The best graphics card for Turing architecture at a very low price
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.
The best graphics card of AMD's mid-tier
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.
The best graphics card for frames/dollar
GPU Cores: 2,304 | Base Clock: 1,465MHz | Boost Clock: 1,725MHz | GFLOPS: 7,949 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
The launch of the 5000-series of cards is a landmark moment for AMD, which has been struggling to find its footing in the graphics card market in the face of Nvidia's dominance. While their previous RX cards have been aggressively priced and allowed AMD to maintain a foothold in the budget space, the mid- and high-tier range has been all Green Team for the past generation plus.
The 5700 and 5700 XT radically change that dynamic. In them, AMD has a card with the price and performance to genuinely challenge Nvidia's RTX offerings (including the new Super launch), not in small part due to the last second price cut AMD announced just before launch. At $349, with performance exceeding that of the vanilla 2060 by 10% or more, the 5700 is an excellent value even in the face of Nvidia's Super counterpunch.
The three core components that make this such a massive event for AMD's lineup are the Navi 10 GPU, the brand new RDNA architecture, and the 7nm process. While the 5000-series isn't the first deployment of a 7nm GPU (after the Radeon VII and Vega 20), it's easily the most impressive, and certainly the most important for gamers. While the 5700 may lack marquee features like ray tracing or DLSS support, in terms of base performance at this price point it's currently head of the class.
Graphics card retailers
If you can't find exactly what you're looking for here, a good tip is to check out some of the big retailers' landing pages, where they're constantly updating prices and deals. Some common options are below, leading straight to their latest selection of graphics cards.
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 Super, RTX 2070 Super, or maybe the RX 5700 XT to most—but not all—PC gamers. They're not the only options 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, RX 5000 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 the i9-9900K or i7-8700K generally beat out the AMD Ryzen and X299 CPUs for multi-GPU.
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 July 11, 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 July 11, 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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