Choosing the best graphics card to slot into your PC can be a complicated procedure. With the new array of 20-series offerings from Nvidia and the announcement at CES of AMD's highest performing card ever, the Radeon VII, there's a lot to take into consideration. Is ray tracing really the future? Will AMD be able to compete at the highest end of GPU performance? Will prices continue to stabilize, or are we on the brink of another massive fluctuation in line with the crypto-mining madness that infected GPU manufacturers and consumers so recently? Fear not, we've done the research (and extensive testing) and sorted out this current blitz of cards from both major builders to pick out the best cards currently available, regardless of your budget and performance needs.
What are the most important features when determining the best graphics card? The most obvious considerations are, of course, price and performance, but there are a number of factors that go into evaluating both. The most expensive cards might outperform their cheaper counterparts, but at a certain ceiling the dollars-per-frames value proposition starts to fall off a cliff. Sure, the Titan RTX is an absolute powerhouse, but for around $2,500 it costs way more than the ultrarich are likely to want to spend on a GPU, and doesn't deliver ENOUGH of a performance boost to justify that massive gulf in price. On the other end, however, comparing for example the 2060 to the 2070, for a significant price break you aren't sacrificing that much in terms of capability. Of course, need is always a huge consideration; if you don't have a 4K display, shelling out a ton of cash for a top-end GPU doesn't make a ton of sense, or if you're not sold on Nvidia's promise of ray tracing or the power of DLSS for anti-aliasing, a 10-series or AMD card will serve your needs as well or better than a new RTX.
Of course, if you just want to skip the components conversation entirely, head over to our best gaming PC guide to grab an awesome prebuilt machine. Or if you need some killer new peripherals with which to test your shiny new video card, have a look at the best gaming keyboard and best gaming mouse money can buy.
1. Nvidia GeForce GTX 2080 Founders Edition
The best graphics card for performance at a (semi-)reasonable price
GPU Cores: 2,944 | Base Clock: 1,515MHz | Boost Clock: 1,800MHz | GFLOPS: 10,958 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
The best card on the market now in terms of performance and price. While the 2080 is still an expensive proposition, the crypto-mining craze has abated somewhat and it's finally possible to find the Founders Edition at the listed MSRP, $799 (or cheaper). While the step-up version, the 2080 Ti, is more powerful, the additional $400 isn't worth it for a relatively marginal increase in computing power (between 10 and 30 percent), especially considering the relatively limited use cases for ray tracing that exist at the moment.
While Battlefield V looks great with ray tracing enabled (and will reportedly perform 50% better after the recently announced patch), it's one of an extremely limited field of games currently taking advantage of the technology. As more games that exploit ray tracing make their way into the wild and the Ti's price declines it may look like the stronger value proposition, but right now the 2080 is king of cards.
2. 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 you can afford to upgrade to a new 20-series card (or perhaps AMD's shiny new Radeon VII). While the 1050 won’t win any prizes for performance, the price tag makes it an attractive choice for bargain hunters.
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. If you want killer performance but aren't ready to upgrade to something in the 20-series family, the 1070 Ti is a great upgrade option that will save you a few bucks, at least until Nvidia starts to properly phase them out.
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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 RTX 2060
Nvidia's latest card delivers the lowest price for ray tracing
GPU Cores: 1,920 | Base Clock: 1,365MHz | Boost Clock: 1,680MHz | GFLOPS: 12,902 | Memory: 6GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 336GB/s
Nvidia's latest release in its RTX line, the 2060, is the cheapest way to prepare your rig for our ray tracing, DLSS enabled future. As well as packing Nvidia's much touted new features, the 2060 outperforms the card it's meant to replace, the 1070. It gets you everything packed into the 2070's stable, just slightly less of each, but if you're looking to grab a card to handle 1080p and 1440p gaming the 2060 is the least expensive way to get onboard the ray tracing bandwagon.
If you've already got something in the 1070 range, the jump to the 2060 might seem premature, especially around launch when they'll be hovering near full price. But if you're looking to step up from a 970 or lower card, the 2060 is your best bet for great performance that will, to some extent, future proof your setup for the inevitable proliferation of DXR.
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