It's the beating heart of any PC, so getting the best graphics card for PC gaming is absolutely essential. While the CPU may be the brain of a computer (check out our guide to the best CPUs for PC gaming if you're in the market), most games - particularly those at are the bleeding edge of visual technology - put a much higher load on the GPU, the independent processor that powers your graphics card. What this ultimately means is that graphics cards are the rock stars of high end gaming machines, and come replete with appropriate accoutrement, things like pulsing RGB lighting packages and hyperbolic names that evoke sports car levels of performance (adjectives like extreme and elite).
Peel away all the marketing, though, and what matters when it comes to the very best graphics cards for PC gaming are the raw numbers; things like benchmarks and price (take a look at our breakdown of the difference between Nvidia's 1070 Ti and 1080 Ti for a hard look at how specs can differ even within the same architecture). Luckily the proliferation of options now means that there’s something for every gamer, whether you’re looking for screaming fast hardware to power your 4K setup you put together with our handy high end gaming PC build guide, or you’re shopping on a budget and want something that’s going to keep up with modern games without costing you a fortune. We’ve sorted through the massive catalog of offerings from Nvidia and AMD and found the best cards at the best prices. And don't forget to take a peek at the best PC games to play on your shiny new video card.
1. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
The best graphics card for sheer performance
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
The best card on the market now in terms of performance and price. While the 1080 Ti is still an expensive proposition, the crypto-mining craze has abated somewhat and the announcement of the forthcoming RTX 2080 means that prices should continue to decline in the coming months, while availability spikes.
While Nvidia’s Titan line, which runs into thousands of dollars, will naturally outperform the Ti, gamers without a vast/unlimited budget won’t find a better option at the moment for sheer performance and future proofing your rig. The 1080 Ti will likely continue to run games effortlessly at 4K for years to come, and outperforms the vanilla 1080 by upwards of 30%.
2. AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 8GB
AMD's best card is a solid mid-range option
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
While in most testing, AMD’s Vega GPU can’t match Nvidia’s top cards, there are environments where Vega shows its potential as a top contender, like when running some DirectX 12 games and applications. The Vega sports second generation High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2), AMD’s answer to the rising power consumption and form factor concerns of GDDR5, and for AMD diehards (or those vehemently anti-Nvidia), the Vega 56 is the best card for the price/performance.
At its price point the Vega is an excellent choice and performs as well as or better than the competition (the vanilla 1070 range of cards) in most tests. As a mid-range solution it’s a solid choice, though concerns about heat and efficiency (as well as nagging supply issues) might be off-putting.
3. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
An excellent balance of performance and price
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 1070 Ti, another iteration on the now prolific Pascal, is one of the best mid-range cards on the market. If you’re looking for a card to power games at 1440p resolution and that can easily handle VR, and aren’t looking for the blistering performance of cards hundreds of dollars more expensive, the 1070 Ti admirably balances performance and cost.
Approaching the performance levels of the base 1080 for significantly less cost, the 1070 Ti is a granular answer to the challenge of AMD’s Vega line. And as with the 1080 Ti, the upcoming launch of the 2000 series promises to depress prices in the next few months.
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- You may want more RAM. Here's our guide to the best DDR4 RAM for PC gaming
4. Radeon RX 580 8GB
AMD's best budget card
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
If you have yet to make the leap to a 4K display, spending a tremendous amount of money on an overpowered GPU may seem like an act of excessive decadence. While you’re saving cash for a new 4K monitor/panel, the ~$200 the 580 shaves off the price of the next tier of cards is very significant, and AMD’s budget option can easily cope with the tail of the 1080p era.
For the budget conscious and anyone looking to ensure your PC is keeping pace with current generation consoles, the 580 is a great solution. And its 8GBs of GDDR5 is generous in comparison to Nvidia’s similarly priced 1060 line, overhead that will be greatly appreciated as rendering demands continue to escalate.
5. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
Entry level card at bargain basement prices
GPU Cores: 640 | Base Clock: 1,354MHz | Boost Clock: 1,455MHz | GFLOPS: 1,862 | Memory: 2GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 7.011 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 112GB/s
Gaming PCs aren’t cheap, and if you’re an impoverished college student or just generally trying to dip your toes into the wonderful world of PC gaming but are trying to hew closer to console prices, Nvidia’s bargain basement priced 1050 is your best bet. At slightly over $100, the 1050 is a fantastic entry level card that will let you play almost all modern games at modest settings.
It’s also a great choice for a second PC or to tide you over until Nvidia’s much-hyped RTX 2000 line launches. While the 1050 won’t win any prizes for performance, the price tag makes it an attractive choice for bargain hunters.
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