No other component can have as big of an impact on your gaming experience as your graphics card. Your CPU and memory are still important, but the GPU is the beating heart of a gaming PC, pushing pixels onto your display at mind-boggling rates. And the good news is that prices continue the recent trend downward, with sales on the best graphics cards now routinely bringing prices below MSRP. That's partly because we're just a few weeks away from Nvidia's RTX 20-series GPUs, which will alter all recommendations.
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Graphics cards consist of a dedicated graphics processor (GPU) coupled to high-speed video memory (VRAM). Most modern cards have at least 3-4GB VRAM, with high-end models including 8GB or more. Having enough VRAM is important, as is memory bandwidth. With GDDR5 as the primary memory type, even budget cards provide over 100GB/s to keep your GPU fed.
With cryptocurrency mining profits dropping and the hot days of summer in the northern hemisphere, it's now possible to upgrade to a good midrange card for $200-$250, and budget cards are now closer to $100 on sale.
High-end buyers should hold off until the launch of Nvidia's RTX 2080 / 2080 Ti, which is officially set for September 20 with the RTX 2070 arriving a month later. So far there's been no official mention of any 2060 or 2050 cards, so those might launch next spring. Indications are that the 2070 could potentially keep up with the 1080 Ti, though we'll have to wait for final benchmarks to confirm..
We've revamped our guide with a streamlined format. Detailed testing results are at the end, and we have additional options that cater to gamers of all types and budgets. These are the best graphics cards right now.
1. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
The fastest graphics card for 4K and everything else
GPU Cores: 3,584 | Base Clock: 1,480MHz | Boost Clock: 1,582MHz | GFLOPS: 11,340 | Memory: 11GB GDDR5X | Memory Clock: 11Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 484GB/s
If you want the fastest graphics card on the planet, it's a no-brainer: the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti wins, hands down. Okay, the Titan Xp and $2,999 Titan V are technically faster, but at more than four times the cost the Titan V isn't even marketed as a gaming card. In our testing, the GTX 1080 Ti is about 30 percent faster than the GTX 1080, and more than twice as fast as a GTX 970. The only caveat is that you really need a 1440p or 4k display before this level of performance is even necessary.
The biggest concern with the GTX 1080 Ti is that Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti and 2080 will launch on September 20, with widespread availability by October. The Turing architecture includes many enhancements, which ultimately should give the RTX 2080 Ti Titan V levels of performance, plus ray tracing capabilities that neither Pascal nor Volta can match. Even though it costs substantially more than the 1080 Ti, at these prices performance has to be your driving consideration.
Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
2. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
Perfect for 1440p and 144Hz displays
GPU Cores: 2,432 | Base Clock: 1,607MHz | Boost Clock: 1,683MHz | GFLOPS: 8,873 | Memory: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 256GB/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. The GTX 1060 is a great card, but if you want a card that will carry you through the next 2-3 years, Nvidia's GTX 1070 Ti is the best option. It delivers performance midway between the 1070 and 1080, with a price that's closer to the 1070.
If you want to play games at 1440p, or at 1080p on a 144Hz display, the 1070 Ti has the chops to handle most games at close to maximum quality. Depending on price, the GTX 1070 might be worth the small step down in performance, or the GTX 1080 might be worth the small step up. Just be wary of the impending RTX 2070 launch, currently slated for October.
Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
3. AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 8GB
Powerful and packing HBM2, this is AMD's best GPU
GPU Cores: 3,584 | Base Clock: 1,156MHz | Boost Clock: 1,471MHz | GFLOPS: 10,544 | Memory: 8GB HBM2 | Memory Clock: 1.6Gbps | 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 failed to take down even Nvidia's year-old GTX 1080. But the RX Vega 56 is nearly as fast and costs less, all while drawing less power, effectively matching the GTX 1070 Ti on paper. Prices are also getting closer to the original launch price, though we're still above the target of $399 for the Vega 56.
At least you can find the RX Vega 56 (and Vega 64) in stock at a competitive price, and performance is very good—and in some DirectX 12 games, AMD GPUs are better than Nvidia's alternatives. There's also something to be said for competition in general, and we certainly don't want Nvidia to have any more of a stranglehold on GPUs than it already enjoys.
Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX Vega
4. AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB
The best card for mainstream gaming right now
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 1060 3GB/6GB are close to the original MSRPs, with sales even dropping below MSRP. The RX 580 8GB trades blows with the GTX 1060 6GB, typically winning by a few percent in performance but using more power. The overall victor of the midrange category is largely determined by local pricing, with the US market currently favoring the RX 580.
$200 to $275 is the sweet spot for mainstream gamers, and while the GTX 1060 3GB might seem tempting, the 3GB VRAM is a concern. Most games don't really need more memory, as the difference between high quality and ultra quality textures is often negligible, particularly on a 1080p display. Still, the RX 580 8GB is only about $30 more and is almost always faster. Check for sales and discount codes.
Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX 580
5. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
Great 1080p performance and a good price
GPU Cores: 1,280 | Base Clock: 1,506MHz | Boost Clock: 1,708MHz | GFLOPS: 4,372 | Memory: 6GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 192GB/s
The Nvidia alternative to the above RX 580 is the GTX 1060 6GB. The loss of 2GB VRAM 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. The biggest benefit of the GTX 1060 is that is uses about 50W less power than the RX 580. That's less heat and a quieter build, though power savings will likely only add up to a dollar or two per month (unless you game a whole lot).
Currently, Nvidia has made no announcements regarding an RTX 2060, though it's basically a given that Turing will eventually come to lower tier products. However, RTX 2070 will push prices on the existing GTX cards down, so don't be surprised if the GTX 1060 drops below $200 by October.
Read the full review: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
6. AMD Radeon RX 570 4GB
Another great 1080p card, for a bit less money
GPU Cores: 2,048 | Base Clock: 1,168MHz | Boost Clock: 1,244MHz | GFLOPS: 5,095 | Memory: 4GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 224GB/s
AMD's Polaris architecture is back for round two in the Radeon RX 570/580. The RX 570 4GB currently is more affordable, though it's still not back to the original $169 target. Overall, the RX 570 4GB comes out slightly ahead of or slightly behind the GTX 1060 3GB, with DirectX 12 games usually favoring AMD. The 570 does use a bit more power, but most desktops are more than capable of running this 150W card without any difficulty.
Depending on the games you play and current pricing, the RX 570 is a great card for 1080p gaming. As with the Nvidia cards, however, the future next-gen 20-series parts could dramatically outperform the RX 570 in the next few months. AMD needs something newer than Polaris to keep pace with Nvidia.
Read the full review: AMD Radeon RX 570/580
7. AMD Radeon RX 560 4GB
An affordable card that's great for esports
GPU Cores: 1,024 | Base Clock: 1,175MHz | Boost Clock: 1,275MHz | GFLOPS: 2,611 | Memory: 2GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 112GB/s
When it comes to budget graphics cards, the primary competitors are AMD's RX 560 and Nvidia's GTX 1050. Currently, the RX 560 4GB costs less than the GTX 1050 2GB 1050 and performs better, especially at low to medium quality and 1080p where competitive gamers like to hang out. That makes it the easy choice for the budget category, though keep an eye on GTX 1050 pricing as that could change.
The RX 560 4GB is great for lighter esports games, including CS:GO, LoL, Overwatch, and more. It can easily hit 60fps at 1080p in most games at low to medium quality, which is about as much as we can ask of a sub-$150 graphics card. Just know that performance of the RX 560 is a step down from previous generation cards like the R9 380, and more in line with the R9/R7 370.
Read the full review: RX 560 4GB vs. integrated GPUs
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 GTX 1070 Ti is a killer card, easily outperforming all older cards. It's overclockable, quiet, and efficient; more importantly, it's able to run every game we've tested at more than 60 frames per second at 1080p ultra, and most games break 60 fps at 1440p ultra. You can argue about price and whether you really need ultra quality settings, but right now, the GTX 1070 Ti is the best graphics card for gaming.
While the GTX 1070 Ti is the card we'd recommend to most—but not all—PC gamers, it's not the only option worth considering. Performance scales with price as you move from the 1070 Ti to the 1080 and 1080 Ti, and the same goes for moving down to the GTX 1070, 1060 6GB, 1060 3GB, 1050 Ti, and 1050. AMD's cards are a similar story, with the Vega 56/64 occupying the top of the performance charts but often going for more than twice the price of the RX 570/580, which in turn are about twice the price of the RX 560.
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 (ie, the GTX 1080 Ti), 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 23 percent on average.
What happens if you use a graphics card that's 20-30 percent slower than a GTX 1080 Ti? 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.
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 utilize 4GB VRAM. There's also very little (if any) discernible difference in most games when switching from 2GB to 4GB textures. All the cards we've selected have at least 3GB, 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 GTX 10-series and AMD RX Vega/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 those cards.
A word about SLI
If you're looking for maximum performance, you can run two GTX 1080 Ti cards in SLI. But it's becoming increasingly common for major games to completely ignore multi-GPU users. You don't absolutely need dual x16 connections, though it can boost performance by a few percent in some games. Our tests also show that AMD's Ryzen parts don't scale in SLI performance nearly as well as Intel's Core processors.
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 1070 Ti review.
The Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, GTX 1080, and GTX 1070 Ti are the three fastest graphics cards, followed by the Vega 64, GTX 1070, and Vega 56. As we move down into the mainstream cards, the RX 570/580 and GTX 1060 3GB/6GB deliver good performance as well.
AMD's RX Vega cards bring some needed competition to the high-end, high-price market. Nvidia's cards are generally better values right now, particularly if you factor in the higher power requirements of Vega, but at least Vega is getting closer to the original target price. AMD's RX 560 4GB remains a good budget card.
But how do these cards compare in terms of value?
[Prices for charts updated as of July 23, 2018]
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In terms of best value, we've provided two different looks at what the cards offer, both in frames per second per monetary unit. The top charts show the graphics cards in isolation, which can be useful if you have a PC and you're looking to upgrade your GPU. The bottom charts look at framerates in terms of total system cost. Neither approach is a perfect representation of value, but the two give a different look at how the cards rate.
The markets change the picture slightly, but the RX 560/570/580 and GTX 1050/1050 Ti/1060 3GB/6GB are consistently at the top of the GPU charts. While budget GPUs on their own may look pretty good, combine it with system price and you're almost always better off putting more money into your graphics card. Notice that for a mainstream build, the most expensive cards are at the top, and in fact Nvidia claims all four of the top positions, followed by the two Vega options. (We used parts similar to those in our best gaming PC build guide—the system prices are $725, £673, or €744, and include a Core i5-8600K and AIO cooler, Z370 motherboard, 16GB RAM, 500GB SSD, case, and 650W 80 Plus Gold PSU.)
Wrapping it up
Looking forward, computer graphics is a fast-changing field. There were about twenty new GPU models launched during 2017, but 2018 hasn't had much so far other than rumors and news. That will change next month with the RTX 20-series launch. 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 300 or GTX 900 series card (or better) should 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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