The best graphics cards for PC gaming

Nvidia or AMD? High-end or low-end? No matter what you're looking for, our choices for the best video cards have you covered.

Best Graphics Card hub primary image Rob Schultz

Last updated August 17, 2017 to add AMD’s long-awaited Radeon RX Vega 56 and Vega 64 graphics cards to the 1440p and enthusiast sections, though overall prices still vary wildly due to cryptocurrency mining.

“What graphics card within my budget gives me the best bang for my buck?”

That simple question cuts to the core of what people hunting for a new graphics card look for: the most oomph they can afford. Sure, the technological leaps behind each new GPU can be interesting on their own, but most everyone just wants to crank up the detail settings on Far Cry and get right to playing.

Answering the question can be a bit trickier than it seems. Raw performance is a big part of it, but factors like noise, the driver experience, and supplemental software all play a role in determining which graphics card to buy, too. 

Nvidia AMD graphics cards Brad Chacos

Let us make it easy for you. We’ve tested damned near every major GPU that has hit the streets over the past couple of years, from $100 budget cards to $1,200 luxury models. Our knowledge has been distilled down into this article—a buying guide with recommendations on which graphics card to buy, no matter what sort of experience you’re looking for.

Note: There are customized versions of every graphics card from a slew of vendors. For example, you can buy different Radeon RX 570 models from Sapphire, XFX, Asus, MSI, and PowerColor.

We’ve linked to our formal review for each recommendation, but the buying links lead to models that stick closely to each graphics card’s MSRP. Spending extra can get you hefty out-of-the-box overclocks, beefier cooling systems, and more. Check out our “What to look for in a custom card” section below for tips on how to choose a customized card that’s right for you.

Cryptocurrency and sky-high graphics card prices

It’s impossible to buy most graphics cards at their suggested prices right now, with most models selling for hundreds of dollars over MSRP. That’s because Bitcoin-like cryptocurrencies that pay users for their graphics processing power are booming right now, prompting cryptocurrency miners to buy every graphics card from the $170 Radeon RX 570 on up in a quest for profit. It’s a major bummer if you’re just looking to game.

sapphire mining card Sapphire

Mining-specialized graphics cards like this Sapphire Nitro model often lack display outputs.

Only extremely high-end and extremely low-end graphics cards are available at reasonable prices. Hardware makers have rolled out mining-specialized graphics cards to combat the spiking demand, but until the current bubble pops, your buying options are limited. Unless you can afford the princely GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, our advice if you have to buy a right now is to snag a budget graphics card and ride it out until overall pricing returns to normal.

You might be tempted by used graphics cards but be wary. Miners ride graphics cards non-stop 24 hours a day, which can have a severe effect on the hardware’s expected lifespan. Caveat emptor.

Best budget graphics card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050

If you’re looking to dip your toes into the PC gaming waters without getting dunked, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 ($108 and up on Amazon) is the clear choice for entry-level gaming. Even better, you can often find custom models on sale for $99 after rebates.

Nvidia’s pitching the GeForce GTX 1050 as a superb upgrade option for e-sports enthusiasts and PC gamers on a budget. The card delivers on that mission in spades. You can crank in-game graphics to High and blow past 100 frames per second in Dota 2OverwatchCounter-Strike: Global Offensive, and more. (That’s a huge step up from integrated graphics.) The GTX 1050 hovers around the 60-frames-per-second gold standard in most games at Medium graphics settings at 1080p, or can pump out Ultra-quality visuals if you don’t mind a more console-esque 30 fps.

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The EVGA GTX 1050 Ti SC Gaming and MSI GTX 1050 2G OC.

The GeForce GTX 1050’s small size and sub-75-watt power requirement means it’ll fit in tight places, and without additional power connections. That makes it an ideal option for upgrading prebuilt “big box” systems from the likes of HP and Dell—most of which lack extra power connectors and extra space—into gaming machines with minimum hassle. When you combine those advantages with the card’s HDMI 2.0b and high-dynamic-range video support, the GTX 1050 also becomes an enticing prospect for home-theater PCs. Be careful while you shop, though, as some overclocked models of the GTX 1050 require an extra six-pin power connector, which prebuilt PCs may not have available.

If a bit more graphical oomph, is what you seek, Nvidia also offers the step-up GeForce GTX 1050 Ti ($140 and up on Amazon), which can also run off motherboard power along in some models.  The GTX 1050 Ti doubles the onboard RAM to 4GB and offers more under-the-hood firepower than the GTX 1050, making it a worthwhile upgrade if you plan on playing newer traditional games like Far Cry or Rise of the Tomb Raider. The GTX 1050 Ti allows you to hit nearly 60fps at High graphics settings in most modern games, and its 4GB of memory is much more future-proof than the GTX 1050’s 2GB.

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The Radeon RX 550.

AMD’s rival to the Nvidia duo is slightly cheaper Radeon RX 460, at $100 for a 2GB version and $120 for a 4GB version. The Radeon graphics cards are slower, hotter, and more power-hungry than the GeForce GTX 1050s, however. The GeForce cards are the obvious pick unless you’re looking to pair a Radeon RX 460 with a FreeSync monitor—though AMD’s RX 560 will replace the RX 460 in early May, packing an overclock and 16 compute units enabled, over the RX 460’s 14. That could push AMD’s card past Nvidia’s in pure performance. We’ll have reviews available as soon as possible.

People interested only in e-sports or bolstering a home theater PC’s media chops might want to check out the Radeon RX 550 ($80 and up on Newegg). It’s stellar for those use cases, but struggles in traditional AAA games. Most people would probably be better off with a RX 460 or GTX 1050.

Best 1080p graphics card: AMD Radeon RX 580 (4GB)

As noted earlier, extreme pricing bubbles for cryptocurrencies have sent graphics card demand through the roof, resulting in low stocks and wildly inflated pricing for Radeon and GeForce hardware alike. It’s virtually impossible to buy any mainstream graphics cards for anywhere near the suggested retail price right now. We’ve left this section intact with advice based on MSRPs, however.

Things bunch up a bit more in the $200 to $250 range, the so-called PC gaming sweet spot. Here, you’ll find a slew of contenders for the title of “Best 1080p graphics card”: the Radeon RX 570 ($170 and up on Newegg), the 4GB Radeon RX 580 ($200 and up on Newegg), the 8GB Radeon RX 580 ($240 and up on Newegg), and both the 3GB GeForce GTX 1060 ($190 and up on Amazon) and the standard 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 ($230 and up on Amazon), which feature different innards despite sporting the same name.

You can’t go wrong with any of these cards. They’re all excellent gaming options. Using the Radeon RX 580 (4GB) as a baseline, the RX 570 and 3GB GTX 1060 perform a little bit worse, while the cooler, much more power-efficient 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 performs a little better.

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Sapphire’s Radeon RX 580 Nitro+.

The Radeon RX 570 is the card to get if you’re interested only in pure 1080p gaming. It can hit 60 fps with all graphical options cranked to maximum levels in most games, delivering no-compromise performance at a damned fine price. Its ace in the hole is the 4GB of onboard RAM, which is the minimum needed for flawless 1080p gaming these days. The 3GB GTX 1060’s smaller memory capacity can already be exceeded in some games—that affects performance and causes stuttering.

But if you have an extra $30 to spare, we’d highly recommend picking up the 4GB Radeon RX 580. Both it and the 6GB GTX 1060 deliver even better 1080p gameplay at 60 fps with all the bells and whistles cranked to 11, damned fine 2560x1440-resolution play at High settings (especially with a FreeSync/G-Sync monitor), and even the ability to play VR games on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. That’s a tremendous amount of value for your money. Consider spending extra for the bigger memory capacities of the 6GB GTX 1060 or 8GB Radeon RX 580 if you’re planning to play at 1440p or in VR, though.

Best 1440p graphics card: Radeon RX Vega 56 or GeForce GTX 1070

The extreme demand by cryptocurrency miners discussed in previous sections has devastated GTX 1070 prices and availability, too. Most available GTX 1070 models are selling for significantly more than $450 at this time, or $100 more than MSRP. Bummer.

As we said in the previous section, the Radeon RX 580 and 6GB GTX 1060 are fine options for a decent 1440p/High gaming experience, but you won’t be able to crank graphics options to the max and still hit 60fps in many games.

There’s a massive price gulf between the $250 options and the $350 GeForce GTX 1070 or the $400 Radeon RX Vega 56, but the performance difference is just as immense. Those prices are somewhat theoretical though, as cryptocurrency mining has driven most GTX 1070 prices to $440 or more. The Radeon RX 56 won’t launch until August 28—and if it’s anything like its bigger brother, the RX Vega 64, it’ll sell out of stock quickly and be limited largely to pricier Radeon Pack bundles when you can find stock.

That said, you get a tremendous amount of performance for your money with these graphics cards at manufacturer suggested retail prices. The GTX 1070 delivers just as much performance as last-gen’s Titan X, while the Radeon RX Vega 56 clocks in slightly faster in many games.

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The Radeon RX Vega 56.

In practice, that means you’ll be able to hit 60 fps with everything cranked at Ultra settings at 1440p resolution. You’ll also be able to play many games at 4K resolution at High settings, if you don’t mind a lower 40fps-plus rate.

If you’re interested in 4K gaming, an adaptive sync monitor can help smooth out the visual hitches—but 4K G-Sync displays cost a pretty penny. One of the Radeon RX Vega 56’s strengths is its access to affordable FreeSync monitors. On the flip side, the Radeon RX 56 demands considerably more power than the GTX 1070, and the blower-style fan on the reference model gets loud. Pick your poison; both of these cards perform like champs. In reality, the one you choose will likely be whichever one is available for purchase at a better price.

Don’t even think of buying the GTX 1070 or Vega 56 for 1080p resolution unless you’re looking to max out a 144Hz monitor in the latest, greatest games—though 144Hz enthusiasts with 1440p monitors may want to move up to the GTX 1080 for even more performance.

Next page: High-end graphics cards, what to look for

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