There are only two players in the graphics card business: Nvidia vs AMD. But which GPU should you buy? Until Intel launches its Xe cards some time in the future, it’s a choice between Nvidia’s RTX and GTX cards, and AMD’s Radeon or RX cards. Sure, integrated graphics (small GPUs that are part of a CPU package) have come a long way, but nothing beats the pixel-pushing power of an add-on GPU if you want the highest framerates or resolutions for your PC games. They don’t have to be hugely expensive, either, although they often are. For most of the best gaming PCs, they’ll be the most expensive component.
Before we resolve the fight between Nvidia vs AMD graphics cards, let’s consider what the GPU actually is and does for a gaming build. A GPU differs from a CPU in that it is a hugely parallel processor that only does a few things. Your CPU may have eight cores, but those cores can be programmed to do almost anything. The main processor on your graphics card, by contrast, may have over 1,000 cores, but those cores have limited programmability and are tuned purely toward coloring and texturing pixels, shading vertices and otherwise manipulating triangles, then converting this mess into something that can be displayed on a screen.
Each manufacturer has a range of basic, mid-range, and top-end cards available, so let’s look at what’s out there. If you need more advice check out our best graphics card guide.
Should you buy Nvidia?
Team Green has just refreshed its range with a new set of Super cards that retail at the same price as the cards they replace but provide improved performance. The current Nvidia range has RTX model numbers that begin with a 20: 2060, 2070 and 2080. These 20 cards are the latest tech, and offer support for ray-tracing and DLSS, a clever ‘deep learning’ way of upscaling images that offers a bit more resolution with less of a performance hit. There are also cheaper GTX 16 series cards, which have the ray-tracing and DLSS cleverness stripped out, but perform excellently in games that don’t require such things.
Disregarding the RTX Titan, because we don’t assume our readers are millionaires, the top of the range Nvidia card is the RTX 2080Ti, which hasn’t yet received an upgraded Super version. Rumours are swirling that one is coming, however, but that hasn’t had much of an effect on the Ti’s price tag. It’s been an expensive card since it was launched, and isn’t even capable of running something like Red Dead Redemption 2 at 4K, 60fps, Ultra settings. However, it’s the most capable consumer graphics card out there, and is perfect for the high-end PC build where price is no object.
Beneath the 80 cards is the RTX 2070, which has a Super variant. The 70 cards have always been Nvidia’s best value in terms of bang per buck, and the original RTX 2070 right now represents great value, if you can find one. If you game at 1080p you’ll be overjoyed with its performance, and it’s no slouch in the lower reaches of 4K gaming either. We’re recommending this one over the more expensive/powerful RTX 2080/Super because it’s just such good value.
There’s an RTX 2060 too, but even though that card gets you ray-tracing cores it’s not really beefy enough to use them in any meaningful way - we always think you should go big or go home.
Dropping down to the GTX 16 series, we find the GTX 1660 Ti, which gets you 6GB of onboard memory and superb 1080p performance for half the price of the RTX 2070. If you can do without the new ray-tracing/DLSS tech, then this is a great value way to get amazing framerates in your games.
Should you go AMD?
Team Red is currently walking all over Intel in the CPU wars, but its graphics hardware often comes in second to Nvidia’s, and it currently doesn’t have an answer to the RTX 2080Ti. That may not be true for much longer, however, as there is talk of new high-end cards on the horizon. AMD’s offerings don’t, currently, have toys such as ray tracing, but as these are only applied in certain games, and they run perfectly well without, their importance is arguable. For now, though, these are AMD’s offerings.
The top chip is the RX 5700 XT, which has similar numbers to Nvidia cards in terms of core count and memory bandwidth, and comes packing 8GB of on-board memory. This is a new architecture for AMD, launched this year, and it turns in framerates not too far removed from the RTX 2070 Super, depending on the game, at both 1080p and 1440p. It does better in titles that use the DirectX 12 API, the number of which is increasing.
Its little brother is the RX 5700, which gives up a little in core count but nothing in VRAM. It’s a lesser, and cheaper, card than the XT, but puts in figures in the neighbourhood of the RTX 2060 Super or original RTX 2070 in 1080p and 1440p, while managing 30fps in Battlefield 5 in Ultra quality at 4K. Many won’t be happy with that 4K performance, however, and the higher resolution is better left to more capable cards.
If you can still find one, the Radeon VII, with its 16GB of exotic HBM2 memory, is an older card that still holds its own. It was designed to take on the RTX 2080, and largely succeeds in this - it’s definitely faster than an RTX 2070, but the SUPER cards muddy the waters here. In Battlefield 5 at 1440p you can expect 90fps on Ultra, something that, when it was launched, you’d need an RTX 2080Ti to beat.
Nvidia vs AMD: which is best?
No graphics card manufacturer is inherently better than the other. What matters is getting the performance and features you want at a price you can stomach. If being on the bleeding edge of technology is important to you, then right now you have only one choice: an Nvidia RTX card. If mid-range value is more to your tastes, then there’s a feast on offer. Both manufacturers are pushing cards more cards into that marketplace than you can shake a power connector at, and that means it’s a great time to be a buyer.