If you’re getting ready to build your dream gaming PC, it’s likely that picking out one of the best graphics cards is at the top of your to-do list. And, well, it should be – there’s no other PC component that impacts your gaming experience as much as the GPU. You’ve probably seen graphics cards like the $1,199 (£1,099, AU$1,899) Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, thinking that’s the way to go. And, sure, that graphics card will give you excellent performance, even at high resolutions—but it’s not the only option out there. In 2019, the best graphics cards come in every shape and size, and you should be able to find the perfect GPU, no matter what kind of games you want to play, or what your budget looks like.
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Budget gaming PC
(~$750/£750) - A good entry-level system.
Mid-range gaming PC
(~$1,250/£1,250) - Our recommended build for most gamers.
High-end gaming PC
(~$2,000/£2,000) - Everything a gamer could want.
Extreme gaming PC
(>$3,000/£3,000) - You won the lotto and are going all-in on gaming.
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If you’re trying to play titles like Metro Exodus in 4K at 60fps, you’re going to want to look at expensive GPUs like the RTX 2080 Ti. But, if you’re just trying to play some Overwatch or World of Warcraft with some friends, you can get by with something like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 or an AMD Radeon RX 590, which are a fraction of the price. No matter what you’re trying to do, there’s a graphics card out there for you.
Right now, if you're looking to balance budget vs performance and future-proofing, we'd probably recommend the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070. While it isn't the most powerful, it's great for multi-rendering and it's ready for Ray Tracing when that becomes prevalent. The EVGA Black RTX 2070 is our fav.
But it's all down to personal choice, and budget, so below you'll find the best graphics cards at their cheapest prices we could find, along with some notes on their performance. And here are some links to other features you'll find useful when building a PC.
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.
If you're looking for the best value, forget about the new RTX cards. On the other hand, if you're eying 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. 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.
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 games that enable ray tracing effects and DLSS. Those should start arriving in the next month or so with a Shadow of the Tomb Raider patch and Battlefield 5, but will the RTX 2080 be powerful enough to use the new features? Most likely not at maximum resolution and quality, but hopefully we'll be able to run at a reduced quality ray tracing mode that will look nearly as good and perform better.
The former heavyweight champion of the graphics card world still packs a punch, and with the RTX cards now available, prices have dropped quite a bit. Where these used to start at $700, cards are now available for $650, and occasional sales can drop prices even lower. You should have a 1440p or 4k display before buying a card like this, as it's overkill for 1080p.
The main concern with the GTX 1080 Ti is that it doesn't have all the new features of the RTX cards. It's basically tied with the 2080 for performance on existing games, but 25 games are already slated to use Nvidia's new DLSS algorithm, and 11 games will feature ray tracing effects. I wouldn't suggest upgrading from a 1080 Ti to a 2080, but if you're willing to pay $650 for a graphics card, another $50-$150 to get the latest architecture and features is probably worth doing.
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 widely available, and there are even a few cards at 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 everything for the time being, though that should start to change soon.
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.
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 if you want something that will carry you through the next couple of years without breaking the bank, Nvidia's GTX 1070 Ti is probably 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. Prices have also dropped over $50 in the past month, bringing prices below $400 for the first time since the card launched. The RTX 2070 is worth considering as a step up, but for existing games the 1070 Ti is a significantly better value.
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 more affordable. Plus you can make the argument of supporting the underdog to prevent an Nvidia monopoly.
The RX Vega 64 is AMD's fastest current product, and it will easily handle modern games at 1440p and even 4k in many cases. Where it comes up short is in efficiency: the Vega 64 often uses 100W more power than a GTX 1080 Ti, and 150W more than a GTX 1080. It's not just about power and heat, but noise levels. The reference blower cards from AMD run substantially louder than most other GPUs. The Vega 56 is the better alternative from AMD, only running about 5-10 percent slower. We really want something faster, as Nvidia is effectively unchallenged at the top. Unfortunately, that likely won't arrive until AMD's Navi ships in late 2019.
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 quite a bit faster. Check for sales and discount codes.
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 a safe bet that Turing will eventually come to lower tier products. However, the RTX cards are pushing down prices on existing GTX cards down, and the GTX 1060 is approaching all-time lows at a bit over $200.
AMD's Polaris architecture is back for round two in the Radeon RX 570/580. The RX 570 4GB currently is more affordable, and it's finally selling at or below 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. The 4GB VRAM is a bit of a concern, as more games are starting to push beyond that at higher quality settings. But really, AMD needs something newer than Polaris to keep pace with Nvidia.
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.
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 the GTX 1070 Ti remains as our pick for 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 jump to the RTX cards can be quite painful. 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 RTX 20-series, 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 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 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/CF 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 EVGA RTX 2070 review.
[Performance charts updated as of November 1, 2018]
Nvidia claims the top five spots with the RTX 2080 Ti, RTX 2080, GTX 1080 Ti, RTX 2070, and GTX 1080, followed by the Vega 64, GTX 1070 Ti, Vega 56, and GTX 1070. 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 manage to compete with Nvidia's previous generation high-end, high-price cards, but even so Nvidia's cards are generally better values right now, particularly if you factor in the higher power requirements of Vega. That doesn't include the RTX cards, however, which increase prices substantially for only a modest improvement in performance. You're basically betting on future games using ray tracing and DLSS if you buy an RTX card. Meanwhile, 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 November 1, 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 only looking to upgrade your GPU. The bottom charts look at framerates in terms of total system cost, using a decent mainstream (i5-8400) build as a reference point. Neither approach is a perfect representation of value, but the two give a better view of 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, with the more expensive GPUs falling to the bottom. While budget GPUs on their own may look pretty 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.
Notice that for our $1000 build (not including the graphics card), the most expensive cards are at the top, and in fact Nvidia claims all five of the top positions, followed by the two Vega options and the GTX 1070. (We used parts similar to those in our high-end gaming PC build guide—the system prices are $1000, £850, or €975, and include a Core i7-8600K 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. Nowhere is that more evident than Nvidia's recent GeForce RTX launch, which has the potential to reshape what we expect from our graphics cards in the future. 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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