In a world where motherboard, CPU and RAM purchases can last anything up to five years – or even higher – the most often upgraded component of a typical gaming PC is undoubtedly the graphics card. After months of ridiculous prices owing to the cryptocurrency mining boom, the cost of a good GPU upgrade is finally starting to return to recommended retail pricing – though curiously the lower-end and mainstream products do seem to be a little on the costly side, possibly owing to a shortage of memory in the marketplace. Regardless, if you’ve been holding out for a better deal, now may well be the right time to consider a purchase.
If you just want our direct, no-nonsense GPU upgrade recommendations, that’s cool. Nvidia’s GTX 1080 Ti our current top pick for the best graphics card, and if you’re looking for the best price vs performance offering, the trusty GTX 1060 is our current best value graphics card. In terms of our pick for the best value offering, we’ve targeted a degree of longevity and better-than-console throughout for our best budget graphics card – in this case, GTX 1050 Ti.
Choosing the right graphics card is critical because it does most of the heavy lifting that brings your games to life, influencing performance more than any other single component in your system. Graphics hardware capable of easily running triple-A titles starts at around the £120/$120 mark, with Nvidia’s GTX 1050 and AMD’s RX 560 offering (on paper at least) significantly more graphics processing horsepower than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, meaning that every major multi-platform title should run at least with ballpark equivalent performance. From there, it’s all about paying more and scaling up, with GTX 1060 our choice as the best 1080p GPU and the GTX 1080 Ti standing tall as the best of the best – and the most viable video card for 4K gaming at 60 frames per second without making graphical fidelity sacrifices.
Of course, it’s also important to match your graphics card with a suitably powerful processor, RAM and other components to ensure that your system isn’t bottlenecked. We recommend that your system should have at least 8GB of system RAM, with 16GB being preferable. If you’re using an AMD Ryzen or a mainstream Intel CPU, using two RAM modules in dual channel mode will give you better performance. Your choice of processor is also crucial to building a balanced system. AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Intel’s Core i5 are the price/performance champions for 60fps gaming, but if you’re looking to run the latest games at the highest possible frame-rates on a high refresh rate display, we would recommend the Intel Core i7 8700K.
Thankfully, we’ve reached the point where even the budget end of the discrete GPU market offers some good results. Beyond that, there’s seemingly a GPU for every kind of use-case, and that’s where this guide comes in – every card worth considering is summed up here, and if you’re looking for detailed performance breakdowns, we can link you through to the most detailed and intensive benchmarks around.
Best graphics card
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti: 4K gaming at 60 frames per second? Yes, please.
The top dog, the numero uno, the best choice for PC gaming: it’s the GTX 1080 Ti. This powerful card stands head and shoulders above other cards in the consumer market, and only lags behind Nvidia’s incredibly expensive Titan V workstation card when it comes to raw performance.
This powerful card will work well for resolutions up to 4K, and performs well at high refresh rates too (remember that high refresh rates also demand a powerful processor, so don’t spend all of your cash on a GTX 1080 Ti without at least a Core i7 7700K in your build.) The GTX 1080 Ti is also the standout choice for VR gaming, especially for newer high resolution VR headsets such as the HTC Vive Pro.
Expect to see around 120 frames per second at 1080p, 90 frames per second at 1440p and 60 frames per second at 4K, assuming the rest of your build is up to snuff. Obviously, more recent and intensive titles may show poorer performance, while older esports-focused games are likely to perform better.
Until Nvidia announces a successor or AMD offers up a real rival, the GTX 1080 Ti is the best graphics card for gaming, bar none.
- Fastest consumer graphics card available
- Excellent 1440p and good 4K performance
- Relatively cool and power efficient
- Most expensive consumer graphics card available
- The most demanding games still struggle at 4K
- A more powerful replacement isn’t that far away from release
Best budget graphics card
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti: compact and capable for 1080p gaming
If you’re looking for the best budget card, we like Nvidia’s GTX 1050 Ti – at least until we’ve managed to test the upcoming GTX 1050 3GB.
This card just about outperforms last generation’s GTX 960 in terms of raw performance and also sports twice as much VRAM, with 4GB on tap. It also sips power and doesn’t take up much space, making it a good choice for pre-built systems that wouldn’t work with more powerful graphics cards.
In-game, you should expect around 30 frames per second in modern titles on ultra settings. If you’re willing to compromise and adjust key settings such as shadow quality and anti-aliasing, hitting 60 frames per second at 1080p becomes possible, depending on the game.
It’s worth keeping in mind that going for a relatively low-end card means your system will need to be upgraded sooner rather than later. However, if you’re working to a tight budget or need a card that doesn’t consume much power, the 1050 Ti is still a wise choice. Our recommendation would be to choose a GTX 1050 Ti without the PCI Express power input – it’ll integrate into more systems and it overclocks almost as well as the more expensive versions.
- Excellent performance for its price
- 1080p and 60 frames per second is within reach
- Consumes little power, available in small form factors and most models don’t require PCI Express power input
- Won’t hit 1080p and 60 frames per second on highest settings
- Higher-end versions with PCI Express power inputs don’t offer any performance boost you’ll notice
Best value AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB
The best value option for AMD fans is the RX 580, which boasts better performance than the GTX 1060 but at a slightly higher cost, with a higher CPU overhead in DX11 titles and not-as-robust driver performance. By and large, it’s still a great product though, and you can expect to game at 1080p and 60 frames per second comfortably, rivalling the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in terms of graphical fidelity at double the frame-rate. The card can even stretch to 1440p gaming, usually hitting at least 40 frames per second in modern games at high or very high settings.
There are two variants available for the 580: a full-fat 8GB card and a cheaper 4GB option; we recommend the better-performing 8GB model. If you’re considering a 4GB model, you should also consider a good quality RX 570 – this card overclocks to near 580 performance and usually saves you a decent amount of money.
- Slightly better performance than GTX 1060
- Good option for 1080p; can sometimes stretch to 1440p
- Usually more expensive than the GTX 1060
- Just a faster version of the RX 480, no Vega tech
Best AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX Vega 56
The Vega 56 is a slightly cut-down version of AMD’s flagship Vega 64 GPU, losing eight compute units and some memory bandwidth. The good news is that the HBM2 memory can be overclocked to match Vega 64, helping to close the performance gap, while under-volting can cool the card considerably and open up more overclocking headroom on the core.
The Vega 56 is capable of handling 1080p and 1440 with ease (though be prepared to hit CPU limits at full HD under DX11) and can stretch to 4K gaming as well, as long as you’re realistic with settings management. In this space, a FreeSync monitor works wonders in providing smoother performance. At launch, Vega 56’s key advantage was its performance leadership over GTX 1070. The issue now is that AMD’s card is significantly more expensive, propelling it into competition with GTX 1070 Ti, which is the faster performer overall.
- Excellent 1080p and 1440p performance
- When combined with a FreeSync display, 4K gaming is possible
- Cooler and more power-efficient than the Vega 64
- Offers good value for money in a relatively future-proof package
- Can’t comfortably run 4K games without compromise
- Power consumption remains an issue compared to Nvidia cards
Best value graphics card for 1440p: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
The GTX 1070 is an excellent card at the price, straddling the high to ultra-high performance tiers in the marketplace. It offers a noticeable performance increase over the GTX 1060 for a reasonable price premium. To give you some perspective on its prowess, the 1070 marginally outperforms 2015’s Titan X Maxwell – which was once the very best of the best in terms of graphics hardware.
The performance level on tap allows the 1070 to tackle higher resolutions (1440p versus 1080p) or higher refresh rates (like 144Hz). If you’re willing to experiment with lower detail settings or you’re playing less demanding esports-focused titles like CSGO or Rocket League, your PC could easily drive a popular 1440p/144Hz monitor combo flat-out. Remember that high refresh rates and low resolutions shift more of the load to your processor, so ensure you’ve got a worthy CPU on board; we recommend a Core i7 7700K or its 8700K successor for optimal performance.
- Great 1080p and 1440p performance
- Can stretch to 4K gaming, particularly with a G-Sync monitor
- Relatively cool and efficient
- GTX 1070 Ti offers better performance, often at a similar price
- Can’t deliver 4K at 60 frames per second
Fastest AMD graphics card: AMD Radeon RX Vega 64
The Vega 64 is the most powerful graphics card produced by Team Red, capable of matching the GTX 1080 in most games and benchmarks.
You can expect good performance from 1080p all the way up to 4K, and good support for ultrawide resolutions and VR gaming as well. However, the card still falls short of our top pick, the GTX 1080 Ti, particularly at higher resolutions and in more demanding titles. The Vega 64 also draws a lot of power and runs quite hot, so the Vega 56 remains a better option for most people.
However, if you’re outfitting the ultimate AMD rig, complete with a fast Ryzen CPU, the Vega 64 should take the place of honour in your PCI Express slot. Just make sure you’re using a third party Vega 64 card, such as the Asus Strix model – the standard cooler (pictured above) isn’t particularly impressive.
- Reasonable 4K performance
- Comfortable performance at 1440p
- More expensive and not much more powerful than Vega 56
- Can’t match the GTX 1080 Ti for horsepower
Best value graphics card for 4K or high refresh rates: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080
If you can’t quite stretch to GTX 1080 Ti, the second-placed 1080 is worth considering.
It won’t handle 4K anywhere near as comfortably but you can get close to 60fps with careful settings tweakery. Similarly, the high-resolution, high refresh rate combo of 1440p/144Hz monitors can also be tamed by the 1080. Finally, the 1080 also works well for new monitors capable of hitting 240Hz, although you’re not likely to see these frame-rates in the most demanding titles even at 1080p. It’s important to remember that running many games at high refresh rates but low resolutions requires a strong processor, so a seventh or eighth generation Core i7 is just as important to high performance as the choice of video card.
- Delivers a big chunk of GTX 1080 Ti’s 1080p frame-rates
- Lots of breathing room at 1440p
- Reasonable power efficiency for the performance delivered
- Still an expensive card, often priced higher than RRP over two years from launch
- 4K gaming is viable on most titles, but careful settings management is required
The graphics market at a glance: the GPU power ladder
This page has our key recommendations for the best overall GPU, best value and best budget offerings, and we’ve provided links for some of the most detailed benchmarking available, but in order to give you a basic idea of the current GPU power ladder encompassing all current cards, here’s a sample 1080p benchmark, covering Rise of the Tomb Raider with even the GTX 1080 Ti providing a full 30 per cent uptick over the GTX 1080, suggesting that we aren’t CPU-limited here even at the very top end. Start the YouTube embed to kick off real-time benchmark telemetry or click on the barchart to switch between frame-rates and percentage differentials with full mouse-over support for comparing each card.
Rise of the Tomb Raider: Very High, SMAA
- RX 560 4GB
- GTX 1050 2GB
- GTX 1050 Ti
- RX 570
- GTX 1060 3GB
- GTX 1060 6GB
- RX 580
- GTX 1070
- Vega 56
- GTX 1070 Ti
- Vega 64
- GTX 1080
- GTX 1080 Ti
By and large, this gives a pretty comprehensive look at the power differentials between the various cards though of course, one benchmark can only go so far – Vega 64 often draws closer to or can even better GTX 1080, while the factory OC on our RX 580 is likely to have tipped the balance here against the reference version of the GTX 1060. This bench is more intended to give an overall lie of the land – feel free to take a closer look at our various benchmark pages to get a deeper look at how the various cards compare.